The practical part of preparing your child for ski school — having proper equipment and how to layer, for example — is only one aspect of it. Equally important (if not more so) is emotional preparedness, which will help the child get the most out of his or her lesson, plus provide the foundation for a long-term interest in skiing or snowboarding.
At Aspen/Snowmass, this less-tangible side of learning to ski or snowboard is at the heart of every lesson. Pros use the CAT model (which has cognitive, affective, and physical components) to help their students achieve. And the “affective” piece of the equation — the emotional aspect — “almost supersedes all other things,” says Alex Kendrick, Buttermilk Children’s Coordinator for the ski schools.
“If a child is a very strong skier but they’re afraid or don’t feel included, it doesn’t matter what they physically can do,” says Kendrick. “We want to make sure they’re comfortable before anything else. We’re teaching people here — I call them little humans — and everyone comes to us with different needs and different experiences.”
Here are some questions to consider when enrolling your children in ski school, along with Kendrick’s tips to help them have a positive experience that can translate into a long-term affinity for the sport:
How can I, as a parent, help prepare my child emotionally for a ski or snowboard lesson?
Ask your child what they’d like to do, what their goals are (the way you ask the questions will depend on the child’s age). Ask what they’re excited about and what they’re concerned about. Understanding what the child’s expectations are can help mold the parents’ expectations.
Especially with kids who are tentative and may not want to go, it’s important to have this conversation. Tell them that this is an opportunity to learn a lot, to make new friends, or to have an instructor who can show them all the cool stuff on the mountain. Sometimes, it’s just about taking the time to introduce them to their instructor and talk to them about what they’re going to be doing that day, and who they’re going to be with.
What about at the end of the day, especially the first day? What should I talk to my child about to make sure the remainder of the lesson goes well?
As a parent, we want to ask our kids, “What did you learn today?” But typically a child will not know how to answer that; they’ll say, “Nothing.”
A good set of questions starts with, “Did you have fun?” To find out what they learned, you have to be more creative. Ask them what the best part of the day was, and what would they have changed if they could. If they say they wished they could go faster, maybe they need a higher-level lesson. But if they say they were scared or had trouble getting down the slope, maybe it’s worth talking to the instructor about whether they’re in too advanced of a class.
What can I do at the end of the lesson to best prepare us for skiing or snowboarding together as a family?
We strongly recommend that the parents talk to the children’s instructor at the end of the lesson. Ask what runs are appropriate for the family to ski together. Ask what skills they’ve worked on throughout the lesson. Then, allow your child to shine and to show off the skills he or she learned in ski school. Let them lead you down the run.
We also talk a lot about safety, so let the child tell the parents about the safety tips he or she learned as well.
Some additional tips for getting ready:
- If you have a child who is tentative or has never experienced snowsports before, there are plenty of online opportunities to get them prepared visually before leaving home. Look at the website of the resort you’re going to; show them trail maps and photos. If they can start to see some of things they’re going to experience online, then when they arrive it won’t all be so brand-new looking.
- Talk to your kids about what the experience is going to be like. In order to set them up for success, sometimes kids need to know in advance what it will be like to get that emotional reinforcement.
- If possible, come out to the mountain the day before the lesson starts. This gives children the opportunity to see where they’re going to be, to see the instructors dressed in red uniforms, and to get a feel for what they’re going to be doing. For a child, information is power; it can assuage a lot of fears.