Children have an inherent desire to play in the snow. Making snowmen, having snowball fights, and going sledding are rites of passage for any kid raised in cold climates. That said, making the leap from playing in the snow to sliding on the snow on snowboards or skis shouldn’t be difficult. Unfortunately, due to the sheer amount of gear required, and costs associated, family ski trips can be overwhelming. But they don't have to be. With a little planning, a few tips, and the right gear, the time on snow will be fun for everyone.
If you wear them, then so should your kids. Good baselayers will keep junior warm in the cold without overheating, and baselayers for young children are offered by a number of companies. REI has a good selection of their house brand, and Columbia, Volcom, and Burton all make some, too. I've got two boys under the age of 6, and the Patagonia Baby Capilene 3 mid-weight sets have been a staple since the oldest was a toddler. They offer all the same benefits and functionality as the adult Capilene, but with kid features and style. They can even double as pajamas on chilly nights. The baby sets run $50 for the pants and onesie-style top, but you can get them for $35 during sales or in the company outlets. The sizing does run big—a size 3T can be worn by an average-size 4-year-old pretty easily. Once they outgrow the baby stuff sell them on eBay and jump up to the kids separates.
2. One-piece snowsuit
Sure, your kids can get by in snow pants and a jacket, but if you truly want them to be comfortable, a one-piece snowsuit is the way to go. They won't get snow down their backs, the jackets won't ride up, and paired with the aforementioned baselayers, you simply zip it up and you're done. There are plenty of these available on the market from a variety of brands, but the key thing to watch for in this category is comfort, and the way the pants fall over ski or snowboard boots. The connection should be solid, with no chance of riding up over the boot in the deepest of snow banks. For this reason, I like the Burton Mini Shred Girls' Illusion or Boys' Striker one-piece and its interior gaiters to keep out the snow. Also, thanks to Room-To-Grow cuffs and legs that can be extended by removing a specially marked thread, the suit should last at least two seasons. The Mini-Shred one-piece suits retail for $149 and come in four colors for boys and four other options for girls.
3. Gauntlet-style mittens or gloves
When it comes to gloves and mittens for little ones, the closure is key. Kids will stick their hands in and out of huge snowdrifts all day long, and you want to make sure their skin never feels cold. A gauntlet-style glove or mitten will keep the snow out and prevent you from trying to put wet gloves on sticky and cold little hands a hundred times a day. Again, you're going to find a lot of brands and options here, but if you concentrate on the closure you'll be good. Remember that an extra $5 spent on this feature will go a long, long way toward your sanity. DaKine offers a variety of gloves and mittens with single-pull, one handed cinch gauntlets in a range of prices and colors like the pictured Yukon that retails for $25.
4. Helmet and goggles
While helmets and their benefits are obvious, goggles are one area that some parents feel tempted to skip out on. Goggles will keep your kids’ eyes protected from wind, sun damage, and potential injury. It's money well spent. Plus, if you take care of them, goggles are one thing your kid won't grow out of by next year. In these areas, fit is going to be key. Helmets and goggles should be tried on and purchased through a retailer whenever possible, so they can help you with adjusting the fit not only on the helmet but paired with the goggles, too.
Again, there are lots of brands and options to choose from in this category. A couple favorites on my list include the Anon Boys Star Wars Rime Helmet ($59.95) with its Boba Fett styling as well as Spy Optics' Targa Mini goggles (from $39.95).
5. The hardgoods
When it comes to hardgoods there are two ways to go: rent or buy. If you're not going to go more than a few times a year with the kids and don't mind an extra stop, renting is a good option for this fast-growing age group. However, if you'd like some flexibility in your travels without having to worry about getting your equipment back to the shop by a specific time, or plan to take your kid to the snow a lot, consider getting them their own gear. You can always pass it on, sell it, or even trade it in once they've outgrown the boots and skis or snowboard. A local retail shop can help you figure out the best deals and what equipment size is best for your child. Also keep your eye out for package deals such as the K2 Indy Skis with Fasttrack2 4.5 bindings, or the Burton After School Special. Both options are priced at $239.95 and require that you also purchase boots separately.
6. Kids training harness
If you're going the ski route, a harness is going to be essential. The Lucky Bums kids ski trainer is a little backpack-style harness system with two detachable learn-to-ski leashes and integrated handle. It comes in handy for getting kids on the lift as well as preventing big crashes on the mountain. The two-leash system allows Mom or Dad to ski behind the child and still "guide them" while allowing plenty of room for learning.
When it comes to teaching your littlest child to snowboard, however, things are a bit more complicated. This harness would still work if you thread the leash handles together to double the length of the leash, therefore doubling the distance between your little ripper and you to allow him or her to make turns. Also, Mom or Dad should be on skis or just in boots on the bunny hill.
7. A backpack
You don't have to go out and buy anything new for this category, but having a backpack is essential for parents in the snow. You're going to use this for a number of things: carrying snacks, gloves, hats, goggles, a camera, and everything else that won't fit in your pocket. If you do decide to purchase one, look for something that has water bottle pockets on the outside and extra straps to clip helmets onto. It should be low profile if you plan to ride the lifts and also have some waterproofing. A snow-specific pack like the Pro II 26L from DaKine ($130) is one of many good options.
8. A cheap plastic sled
A quick stop at the local drugstore in any mountain town is a must for any parent of toddlers. Not only will the cheap sleds they sell there come in handy when you're not on the mountain, they’ll become your new on-snow wagon. Once you get to the resort and your kid is dressed and ready, throw him or her into the sled and then pile on the gear. A cheap sled makes for easy hauling to and from the lodge to the base of the bunny hill. Stash it in the snow bank or behind a tree while you ride and load it back up when it's time to go home. Trust me—your arms cannot carry two boards or sets of skis, a tired kid, and all the gear everyone’s shed throughout the day.
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