During some recent early-season family ski days, I got a powder shot of reality: Most kids need motivation to uncover the magic of a day on the mountain. And we can't really blame them. I was a physical kid, but I don't remember any activity that I begged to do all day with unbridled joy—at age 6.
While it's easy for parents to see the benefit in learning to ski and spending quality family time in a lifetime sport, young kids don't have the perspective to grasp that element of adventure. Plus, there's a lot stacked against them:
It's a "long" drive to the slopes.
It's cold outside.
They have to lug a lot of equipment.
There's those lift lines.
They lack the endurance and stamina required by the sport.
They're off their mealtime schedules.
They're friends are doing something "cooler," to name a few common obstacles.
The fact is children are not adults. The quicker we face the facts, the easier we can make the path to everyone having an enjoyable day on the slopes. Children need external rewards, personalized motivators, creative parenting tactics, independence, and plain old food and water.
As reality sunk in last week, it quickly reminded me of some go-to motivating tricks that I've come to rely on over the years. Of course, I modify them as my children age, but perhaps you'll find some of these tips helpful to keep your kids energized next time you hit the mountain for a ski day.
Dress for success. One of the drawbacks to skiing and snowboarding is you have to brave the elements as part of the adventure. Adults know this is just part of earning our turns, but kids don't. They're cold, wet, and occasionally frozen, and that makes having fun on the slopes that much harder. While this point might sound obvious, when was the last time you really checked your kids' ski gear? Sure, you rented them the best skis out there, but that's not going to overcome a perpetually chilly core, frozen toes, wind-burned cheeks, or a wet bum.
Be sure your children, who if they're like my guys may range vastly in heat regulation, are dressed in appropriate layers for the day ahead. If you're battling wind and snow, get that shell on. Solid mittens that go over coat sleeves are crucial for avoiding snow in the glove after a fall. Always load up on sun/windscreen (and bring more along for the day). Throw in some hand and toe warmers for when you're in a real pinch. Sometimes kids don't even let on how cold they really are until it's too late. So comb through those gear bags and load up on the right stuff before you get to the mountain.
Bring on the treats. There is nothing my kids like more than knowing there's a treat coming at lunchtime or at the end of a long day of ski runs. It doesn't have to be something complicated, expensive, or overly sugary, but a simple treat or two helps when someone wants to go longer and another kiddo is willing to hang on knowing a treat is coming in "just two more trails." Sometimes even a packable homemade energy bar that kids can carry or a novel piece of long-lasting candy that they don't usually get is enough to keep them smiling for an extra half hour. Other alternatives might include a turn on a game in the lodge lobby, an end-of-day snow tubing session, or some iPad time during the car ride home.
Halt the “hangry.” While we're on the food subject, kids need food and plenty of water on the slopes. It's so easy to forget about hydration until you get to the cafeteria and have to settle for a tiny cup of water—after you're already dehydrated. It's hard for adults to come back from that kind of deficit, let alone a child. Consider a mini-Camelback or water bladder to tuck into your child's coat. There's something about sipping from that big, long straw that my kids can't get enough of. Also, make sure everyone hydrates with big water bottles on the way up to the mountains so don't start the day with a debt.
That goes for food, too. We all know the children and adults in our families who suffer most when they missed a meal. When kids get "hangry" it's even worse, often resulting in a full-on temper tantrum, physical breakdown on a run or in the lift line, and various other general irritability issues that we all know too well. The point? Feed your kids small snacks throughout the day on the mountain, especially since they might not be in a regular mealtime routine that day.
Take a break. Sometimes the kid in us comes out on the slopes and we're so giddy gliding from lift to lift that we want to go all day. Problem is we're a kid in an adult body—one that can handle longer ski trails, more ski runs, steeper terrain, big dumps of powder, mentally challenging tree runs, and more. While they sure give it a good go, our kids can't handle all that stuff, all day long. Physically, they don't have the muscles, cardiovascular endurance, and general physical stamina to navigate that long and hard on the slopes. While a tree run is great and powder is a cool challenge and that steep run shows our kids what they're made of, they need these things in small bursts with lots of breaks in between.
Waiting in lift lines might seem like a good cover for a break, but it's not. It can be taxing on little legs to simply stand that long in ski boots. Chair lifts require a certain amount of strength just to hold the legs elevated, especially when they don't even reach the footrest. Ski gear is heavy. Just making turns down the mountain can be a mountain of effort for a child. Try to remember these things when you ski with people of different ages and abilities. Take plenty of pauses. Sit down mid-slope. Add in a short water break. Learn some lift-line stretches. Settle for a half-day of happy runs over an unhappy slog till the lifts close. Take your time.
Mix it up. I've found one of the greatest motivators for keeping my kids engaged on the slopes is to make things novel—to make skiing interesting, not just the same run after run. Children with short attention spans respond to new things, different mountain challenges, simple games, and a little extra effort in the entertainment department, especially if they're part of the decision-making process. Here are a few go-to items that you might want to add to your own bag of tricks:
- Hit the terrain park: Challenge your child to try a new jump each time.
- Head for the trees: As they become more proficient skiers, kids love the mental challenge required by weaving between the trees.
- Try the sides: Instead of skiing straight down the middle of a busy run, lead the way to the far sides of the trail, where there's a better chance for powder stashes, mini jumps, quick tree mazes, and tighter turns—all the stuff that adds intrigue to a mundane ski run.
- Call some friends: Can't stress this one enough. Often there's no better motivator than skiing with a buddy of the same or better ability, creating some on-mountain cousin time, or getting to know a whole new family during a ski day. A little camaraderie can go a long way.
- Give up control: For part of the day, let your kids make the calls. When they get to know a mountain well enough, they will start asking for the adventure park, mini half pipe, or steep bump run. If making the next decision motivates them, let them make it!
- Lessons in separation: Getting better at ski skills can be a great inspiration for self-motivated kids. I know that's true for my "perfectionist" 8-year-old. The better he turns, the better he feels. Teaching kids to ski, like any other sport, is better left to the experts, who are not only novel instructors, but come with the whole novelty package of skiing in a group while learning to turn. Lessons, at least for part of the season, can be a great way to keeps kids motivated—and parents sane.
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