Five Hot Tips for Parents on Making the Most Out of Ski School for Kids
By Suzanne Stroh
The Ski Nanny trend is upon us. If your budget doesn't factor in the cost of a hired nanny (and most don't), be your own Ski Nanny. Here's how.
Hot Tip 1
Ski Nanny Says "Get the Most Out of Online Resources."
From filling out rental paperwork to preparing waivers and having lift tickets printed prior to your arrival, online registration "Puts you in the VIP line," according to Greg Willis who runs the Children's Ski & Snowboard School at Beaver Creek. "It moves faster and it's much quicker to get out on the snow."
Print & Pack checklists.
Every ski school has its own list. Check your resort online or see our list at Ski Trip Survival 101 . Going through checklists with every child is a great way to prepare kids for the excitement and adventure of ski week.
Hot Tip 2
Ski Nanny Says "Plan Ahead."
Private or Group lessons?
Now's the time, before you leave, to do your research and decide. "If a student is learning disabled," says Jim Kercher, director of Beaver Creek Ski & Snowboard School, "we really like to see them in private lessons. But in general, an important part of learning in group lessons is the camaraderie. And even first time skiers bring skills to the group. When children build a group dynamic, they actually help each other learn faster."
Think in threes.
Whatever you choose, studies show that full days of instruction are most beneficial, even for small children. "We like to see kids in school three consecutive days," says Kercher. "The first day is about regaining balance. The second day is learning more, progressing to the next phase. Big breakthroughs happen on the third day."
Test sunscreen on every member of the family.
"Everybody has their personal preference, and kids should be used to it by the time they arrive," Kercher says.
Buy each child a good-fitting helmet in your local ski shop.
They're just as cool as the ones on the mountain - and much cheaper. At the cash register, stock up on pocket sized hand-warmers to pack in parkas each day along with an energy bar.
Research Child care
Consider options for ski school nights when small skiers and preteens will be starving by 6:00, barely able to get through bath time and will be fast asleep by 7:00 or 8:00 at the latest.
Talk it up!
Nothing beats a great chalk talk for getting kids excited about skiing on their own. Gordon Briner, general manager at Taos New Mexico, says that managing separation anxiety is the number one challenge for children's instructors at Taos. "It's the combination of being away from a parent and being in a new environment. Talk about the idea that you're going to be away from the children on vacation," he suggests.
Jim Kercher agrees. "Talk to the kids before the trip, especially the younger ones. If they're returning to ski or board school, did they have a favorite instructor last year? Parents can call ahead and find out if this instructor has returned. Kids love to see a familiar face, and so do instructors." The incentive system at Beaver Creek, for example, means that "instructors make every effort to stay with kids and follow their progress year after year. For older kids, let them know that they'll be warming up nice and easy on the first day. The snow may be different where they're from. It's higher."
Hot Tip 3 Start healthy. Reduce stress before traveling and address cold symptoms before starting out.
Ski Nanny Says, "Travel Smart."
Don't rush. Stress lowers the body's immunity response. This is a vacation, remember!
Stay hydrated. Avoid sodas. Pack bottled water in carry-ons, or buy a bottle of water for each family member at the airport. Start drinking water before the trip begins.
Stay healthy. Wash hands with warm water and soap often, at least after every meal. Pack antibacterial soap just in case warm water isn't available.
Hot Tip 4
Ski Nanny Says, "Acclimatize Gradually."
Don't underestimate the effects of altitude
Gordon Briner notes that flyers are more apt to recognize and respect big elevation gains than drivers. "We're at 9,300 feet. Once in a while somebody within driving distance to Taos will get up at five in the morning, drive through lunch and put the kids in ski school the same day." Lifts take skiers to 12,300 feet at Taos. That's an invitation to altitude sickness.
Understand altitude sickness, treatment and prevention.
Aspen native Ducky Knowlton-Coombe is a ski patroller, EMT and emergency room nurse at Aspen Valley Hospital. She says: "When kids go from sea level to altitude, it puts a bigger demand on their heart" above 5,000 feet. Chair lifts taking skiers to 10,000 feet and higher increase that burden exponentially. The result: altitude sickness. Aspen Valley hospital (elev. 8,140) treats more preteens and teenagers for altitude sickness than any other group. Look for symptoms like headache, nausea and apathy. "Parents might not notice it right away. Symptoms may start during the night. When you're nauseated you don't want to eat or drink and it becomes a vicious cycle."
Hydrate! Sodas and very sweet juices don't count. Promote water and soups.
Give it time.
Good hydration is key to staving off altitude sickness, but it's just as important to give your body a chance to adjust. Knowlton-Coombe advises families to "warm up" to altitude on arrival by gradually increasing activity over a couple of days. "Rest after travel," says Willis. "Remember that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eat well, and don't put kids in ski school the day of arrival," or even the next day if you arrive late. Knowlton-Coombe agrees. "That's the day to sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, explore your surroundings."
Front-load the trip with luxuries & leisure
Instead of putting off the window-shopping for later or saving the spa day as a reward at the end of the trip, it's more beneficial to front-load your ski vacation with a luxury day. Here are some ideas:
- Check out the schedule of events at the resort and in town.
- Scope out cool activities for everyone in the family.
- Rent boots, skis and boards but take it easy on the schlepping. "Store the kids' gear at the ski valet," advises Willis.
- Double check ski school paperwork and tickets.
- Investigate babysitting options, if you haven't done this already, and firm up commitments.
- Shop for healthy snacks and stock up on bottled water.
- Write postcards, take pictures.
- Try an easy hike on foot or snowshoes. Just remember to limit your time high on the mountain.
- Drink sensibly. Adults should avoid alcohol, and children should avoid food and drinks with too much sugar.
- Eat smart. Avoid high carb meals. James Rouse, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, runs a Denver-based family practice clinic. He says, "I encourage patients to build 'stress resiliency' with whole grains, nuts and nut butters, along with healthy oils and adequate protein."
Hot Tip 5
Get enough rest
Ducky Knowlton-Coombe advises that children in all-day ski school programs need to eat dinner early, relax their muscles with a warm shower or bath at the end of the day and get to bed hours before adults in order to recharge their batteries. Inadequate rest takes its toll on the immune system and can make sore little muscles unbearable the next morning when kids try to get into their ski boots. Dr. James sees the signs of "over training" every day in his family clinic. "The running down of the immune system, increased moodiness and general fatigue, are signs that may encourage a 'time out'," he says. When kids and adults have competing priorities, put little ski schoolers first. Parents can tag-team those 8:00 dinners. Or consider childcare options so parents and older kids can stroll around the village or see a movie while younger kids get the sleep they need. Rouse advises learning techniques that help parents and kids empty their minds of stress and clutter before bedtime so that everyone can enjoy the renewing benefits of a deep sleep. "Take breaks mindfully, refuel the body regularly and you may just find that you exceed last years personal best with flying colors!"
Pack "Strategic snacks"
Have pocket? Pack snack. "These snacks can be whole grain energy bars, made without refined sugars, potassium rich bananas, mineral rich almonds and be sure to hydrate throughout the ski day - important for all functions and especially important at altitude," says Dr. James. "I like adding Vitamin C and electrolyte effervescent powders to my kids' drinking water for greater nutritional support. Kids love them and they're readily transportable, helpful with muscle cramps. And they're immune supportive too."
Eat and drink well at mealtimes
Restaurateur Gwyn Knowlton has spent the last 30 years stoking the furnaces of family skiers at her slopeside restaurant on Snowmass Mountain where she feeds 2,000 people a day during the ski season. Many of them are returning families into their third generation of family ski vacations, and she notices that they are gradually making healthier food choices. Gwyn's High Alpine now offers 12 to 15 different salad choices and six soups a day, including a clear soup and a veggie soup. Where else can you eat wild salmon and organic chicken at 10,400 feet? But families still grab for pizza slices. "Ski instructors are growing up in a more nutritionally aware climate," says Knowlton. "So many instructors are interested in nutrition. They're trying to get the kids to make good choices. Parents can work at it too." She advises parents to push the juice or milk over hot chocolate and sodas on the mountain. Or better yet, dilute the juice. Encourage fresh fruit rather than chips on the side. And market the box of raisins for dessert, playing down the giant cookie. "But remember," she grins, "keep it fun. You're on vacation!"
.... Suzanne Stroh ... A veteran ski nanny to her four-year-old daughter, Suzanne Stroh is a Washington, D.C. based writer, skier and mountaineer who has made high mountains her second home for the past 10 years. Stroh and her daughter will return to ski school in Colorado this winter.
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