First Time On The Slopes

Crisp mountain air, bright blue skies, family snowball fights, cosy chalet suppers and hot chocolate sipped under an Alpine sun. Conjuring up a vision of the perfect family ski holiday is easy. Turning it into a reality takes planning, experience and a better than average sense of humour. Whether you’re a lifelong powder hound determined to get your toddler on a black run by Easter or a first-timer yourself testing the (frozen) water with older children in tow, we’ve asked our favourite experts, snow fans and mountain loving families their top tips for making sure your child’s first time on the slopes is a success.

So before you set foot on the snow this season, read on for tips on how to prepare them, packing that kit bag, choosing the best lessons, keeping them interested and enjoying that aprés.

THE PREP

Pick a resort with good beginner slopes and facilities (‘magic carpet’ lifts are useful for helping young children gain confidence) but think about what it has to offer besides skiing to keep the kids entertained – many have tobogganing areas, ice rinks, swimming pools, bowling rinks and fun activities such as husky sleigh-rides. Family tour operator Mark Warner Holidays.

For first-timers March or April are good times to plan a trip – you’ll hopefully be able to enjoy some sunshine on your vino/hot chocolate breaks. Jo Mihajlovic, former chalet owner and mother of two skiers aged 12 and 10, a 3-year-old first-timer and a snow-loving 8-month-old.

Consider taking kids old enough to learn to ski to an indoor snow centre for a lesson or short course prior to your holiday – they will progress much faster if they have some idea of the basics, will be less apprehensive and will benefit from familiarity with putting on and wearing ski boots and skis. Mark Warner Holidays.

I would say avoid dry ski slopes. They’re ok if that’s all you’ve got but if you’re about to go and experience the real thing it’s hardly worth the friction burns. Joe Barry, Chamonix local and father of two skiers aged 3 and 6

If you don’t have a dry ski slope nearby don’t worry about it. It’s actually quite nice for the first encounter with skiing to be on ‘real’ snow. Kirsty Edwards, ski product manager for luxury family holiday company Scott Dunn 

Having a lesson at a ski slope back home can be good for first timers, to get used to putting on all the kit. Try to go to a ski slope that has artificial snow (like the Snow Factor in Glasgow, SnowDome in Tamworth, Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, or Snozone in Milton Keynes and Castleford) rather than the artificial dry ski slopes as these are hard and could put them off. Don’t try to teach them yourself – always put them in a lesson with professionals. Mags Nixon, Chamonix local, blogger at The Family Freestylers and mother of two skiers aged 5 and 7

There is a reason why insurance companies charge a premium for winter sports. Don’t go without insurance. Accidents can happen. Angelique Arnold, mother of four skiers 13, 11 and twin 7-year-olds.

A ski themed story book is good to read before you go to explain all about the mountains and what happens when you go skiing. Kirsty Edwards, Scott Dunn

Leave the buggy at home – it won’t like the snow and ice. For tiny kids, bring a sling/baby backpack for getting out and about within the resort. Mark Warner Holidays.

Make sure you’re in good shape yourself before you set off and not just so you don’t put your back out on the slopes. You’ll be carting your and your children’s kit around all week and it’s exhausting. Jane Simpson, mother of one skier aged 5

THE KIT

One set of ‘outerwear’ is usually fine and take at least three sets of thermals. Thermals, polo neck, fleece then ski wear is a good set up. A buff or neck warmer is a good idea too. Don’t take too many non-skiing clothes as generally kids enjoy running around in their thermals after skiing rather than changing into another full set of clean clothes. Kirsty Edwards, Scott Dunn

Dungaree-style salopettes are easier for lunch stops and loo trips than all-in-ones. And mittens are better for keeping hands warm than gloves. Yanouchka Wenger Sabbatini, mother of two skiers aged 7 and 9

All-in-ones are much warmer for little ones but are a nightmare to go to the loo in! Up until the age of five we put pull-ups on ours for their ski lessons to avoid this issue. It’s always good to have a spare pair of salopettes just in case they have an accident. Washing out ski wear and attempting to dry it over a radiator overnight is no fun. Mags Nixon

Make sure they wear their ski socks under their thermals – this is key to the ankles of the thermals not rubbing in their boots. And pocket warmers are great when it’s really cold. Lucy Oates, mother of two skiers aged 5 and 7

Pack loads of layers including lighter items. Skiing is hard work and if it’s sunny they might even be too hot in anything other than a light t-shirt & jacket. Gemma James, mother of two skiers aged 8 and 10

Make sure they wear sun cream even if it doesn’t look sunny – snow reflects the sun massively and getting burnt is no fun. Joe Barry

There’s lots of falling over and getting wet at first so spare gloves/mittens are a must. Helen Mazarakis, mother of three early skiers, now in their 20s.

Attach ski gloves/mittens to string that runs through their jacket – or get ones with wrist straps that keep them in place. Do this and STILL take spares. Most importantly teach them to NEVER take their gloves off on a chair lift. Angelique Arnold

Make sure there are no hoods on any clothing other than the ski jacket – they’re annoying. Once they have their goggles on they must stay on or you risk a day of fiddling because they’ve ‘smeared up again’. And don’t expect your child to be happy in an old hand me down jacket – our daughter’s skiing was immense after we let her choose a cool new one. Kate Mitchell, mother of two skiers aged 7 and 9

THE LESSONS

Book ski lessons with instructors who are either native English speakers or fluent in English. Mark Warner Holidays.

Start with just a half-day of lessons when they are starting out and spend the rest of the time ice-skating or sledging. A full day is way too tiring. Yanouchka Wenger Sabbatini, mother of two skiers aged 7 and 9

One-on-one private ski lessons worked better for us than big group lessons. And make sure there’s a good ratio of skiing to messing around in the snow and drinking hot chocolate at first. Claire Henry, mother of one skier aged 8

Don’t teach them yourselves – leave it to the experts! It’s often tempting to ski with little ones between your legs but they are usually much heavier than you expect and if things go wrong and they don’t enjoy it, it can become stressful. The instructors know all the tips and tricks to get little ones skiing whilst parents can watch with pride, take videos, photos etc. Kirsty Edwards, Scott Dunn

If you’re a first-timer yourself don’t make the mistake of thinking it’ll be fun to have lessons all together. Kids learn much faster and better if they’re not being held back by nervous adults. Rhonda Carrier, travel writer and mother of three skiers aged 14, 12 and 9

Choose their lessons with care. Ours struggled with the group lessons we booked for them (about 20 kids and two teenage French teachers with limited English and hangovers) but one hour of private tuition and they nailed it. Giving them skiing alter egos also helped: Diamond Flash and Black Ninja. Andrew Wood, father of two skiers aged 5 and 7

Fill their pockets! Ours usually have a small pack of tissues on them, a snack (we usually go with fruit YoYos as they don’t melt or break if you fall on them) and a laminated piece of card with both parents phone numbers on it. Gemma James

Choose a smaller ski school if you can. In my experience, these tend to have smaller classes and show more compassion to the kids when they take a tumble. All this makes a huge difference to how kids enjoy the mountain. Don’t try to teach them yourself. It never ends well. Jo Mihajlovic

Pack snacks to give them energy during the day. And make sure they drink lots of water. It’s easy to forget to drink enough and get dehydrated at altitude Angelique Arnold.

Don’t force them. On our first family trip we booked lessons for our then six-year old but she refused to ski after the second day. We didn’t push it but made sure she had lots of fun in the snow sledging and so on. We also made sure she got a bit bored as it’s an expensive trip to sit and do nothing on. On the last day when we were up on a plateau in the glorious sun she put her skis back on and loved it. It was all about the long game for us as both my husband and I LOVE skiing and want to have many more seasons ahead of us. Rosie Fish, mother of two skiers aged 5 and 7

No child should be expected to go to their ski lesson without a Kit Kat in their jacket pocket. My kids start getting excited about their daily chocolate fix the second we get to Geneva. Kate Mitchell

THE APRES

Make sure they have fun. Lots of hot chocolate and snowball fights after their lessons mean they’ll learn to love the snow and you’ll be back again next year. Jenny Whetstone, mother of two skiers aged 5 and 7

Don’t be tempted to teach kids yourself, but do make time to ski together – perhaps in the afternoons, after morning lessons. Beforehand, study the piste map and plan your excursion carefully – don’t go too far from resort in case the kids suddenly get tired and want to head home. And make sure you are armed with snacks, water and a fully charged mobile phone. Mark Warner Holidays.

Take their snow boots with you when you pick them up from lessons so they can rest their feet straight away. Yanouchka Wenger Sabbatini

Before you go to bed lay out everything they have to wear the next day as nothing in the world takes longer than dressing and remembering everything for a day skiing. Kate Mitchell

THE REST

Remember that the rules for appropriate hot chocolate consumption are exactly the same as those for appropriate vin chaud consumption. There are none. Kate Mitchell

A team battle cry to generate excitement works wonders at low morale moments. It’s all about emphasising just how brilliant it is to be in the great outdoors. Thanassis Mazarakis, father of three skiers, now in their 20s.

Even if your children don’t usually suffer from car sickness, travelling up winding mountain roads is a test for even the most resilient stomach. Pack travel sickness medication. Angelique Arnold

Make sure you capture that first snow plough moment on video for posterity! Kirsty Edwards, Scott Dunn

If all of the above fails and it’s a total disaster. Make sure you have your trusty Coldpole ski poles to hand, filled with favourite tipple. George Blizzard, mother of two skiers aged 10 and 11 and a 2-year old first timer.

Compiled by: Emma Howarth
Images: Mark Warner (first three); Molo (last image)

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