Picture the scene: you’re out on a ski holiday with friends or family, perhaps part-way down a challenging red run. Just as you nervously negotiate another sweeping turn, you see — out of the corner of your eye — a flash of colour.
You stop to watch as a young skier flat-lines the icy piste at top speed, bouncing gracefully over the snow and leaving all in his or her wake. You look on with a pang of jealousy and realise, yet again, that you’d be that good if you’d starting skiing as a kid…
According to research undertaken by the Ski Club of Great Britain, 25% of the current UK ski market’s skiers first took to the slopes aged 14 and under * — that’s a lot of youngsters mastering the basics on the snow. We’ve talked in the past about the benefits of spending time at UK indoor snow centres, but the question is, how early is too early?
There are no hard and fast rules, but general consensus among the ski schools we partner with indicates that 3 to 4 years of age is a good time to introduce your little ones to the snow. The majority of ski schools welcome youngsters into group classes from age 4 and private lessons from age 3. But one 3-year old may take to the sport like a duck to water while a 5-year old hates it, and vice versa.
When deciding the right time for their kids to take to the snow, parents can consider how strong and co-ordinated their child is in day-to-day activities. “As a guideline,” say those experienced folk at Altitude Verbier Ski & Snowboard School in Verbier, “the physical strength and co-ordination of a child may tell you how ready they are for skiing.”
Tentative first turns
Of course, even if you decide your child isn’t up to a full trip to the Alps just yet, there’s a whole host of alternative options to help them get used to the feeling of skiing right here in the UK. Daniel Crawford, Centre Manager at Chel-Ski in London adds, “Children from as young as 3 (for skiing) and 8 (for snowboarding) can enjoy the revolving slopes here at Chel-Ski. Our instructors are BASI and CSIA trained to help teach and prepare children for the best possible time. Peace of mind is guaranteed to parents, as greater confidence, technique and ability is demonstrated on the mat before hitting the slopes!”
Making your first trip memorable, in a good way
If, upon reading this, you decide that this winter is the perfect time to set your child onto the path of skiing glory, here are a few things to bear in mind for the first trip out to the slopes. Considerations such as choosing the local nursery ski garden over the nearest black run or picking a sunny spring week over a January blizzard may seem obvious, but there’s a little more to it than that.
· Ensure your ski school of choice has specific experience with youngsters aged 3 to 5, and perhaps ask a few probing questions on the setup for kids’ first ever ski lessons before you go ahead and book.
· It’s better to pack plenty of light layers instead of one super-thick layer — that way it’s easier to dress your child according to the prevailing conditions.
· You’ll likely want plenty of photos of your child in action, but spotting Mum or Dad on the slopes during a lesson can quite easily upset the apple cart. Our advice? Buy a zoom lens and stay outta there!
· Look out for that all-important connection between instructor and pupil. A good instructor will take the time to earn the trust and confidence of his or her young charges, in order to help get the most out of the lessons.
Learning to ski is a daunting prospect for anyone, no matter their age or size, but for a kid of 3 or 4 there’s a lot to take in. Go too hard too soon, and you risk putting your child off skiing for life! But time your child’s first trip to the slopes carefully, and you could find yourself off to a flying start on the slopes as a family for many years to come.
* Ski Club of Great Britain Snowsports Consumer Research 2014