Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Introducing Skiing to Young Children Part 1 - Stop and Go

My very first job was teaching skiing lessons to 3-7yr olds, and I know a few people who are taking their children skiing for the first time this season, so I thought I'd write up some tips on introducing the sport, and some tips/tricks I used to teach. 

Prep work: 
Before you even get to the mountain, there are some things you can work on.

- "Make a Pizza"   To stop, you put your skiis in a wedge shape, for kids, this is a "pizza" (you can choose another triangle shaped object if you prefer, but keep in mind that in ski school, "pizza" is what instructors will most often use).    Have the child practice this technique with their feet, bare foot, or in shoes.  Move their feet into the correct position, with toes pointing at each other with a bit of space in-between, and heels apart.

- "Make French Fries" - This is the "go" position, feet parallel.   "French fries" is most often used.   Have the child put feet side by side with space in-between.   Alternate between "Pizza" and "french fries".  Make it a game, make it silly, make it fun.  And do this randomly (waiting in line at the store is a good place to practice for example) until the child can switch between the two easily without you having to adjust their feet.

-"Tall as a house, small as a mouse" - Have the child put their feet "french fries".   Tall as a house = arms up tall above their head.   Small as a mouse = bend down, hands on knees.   Small as a house is the position the child should be in while skiing, knees bent pushing forward, weight forward.   Position the child if needed and practice "small, tall".

- "Red light, green light" -  Play traditional red light, green light, but have the child stop and "make a pizza" whenever you say red light. 

All of these you will do later when the child has skiis on!

Lastly, talk it up!   Make sure skiing sounds fun, exciting, and wonderful.   A kid having fun learns best.   (and the whole point of skiing is to have fun, so make it fun!)


- Warm clothes: LAYERS!   A cold child is not a happy child, and a cold child will not ski well.   Layer them up, and play in the snow to ensure the clothing is warm enough before you head to the mountain.    Extra gloves are good to have handy, new skiiers fall often, and wet gloves are no fun.   Proper ski socks are important too, regular socks are not warm enough, and not very comfortable.  

- Helmet:  YES your child needs a helmet.  Doesn't matter if they are staying on the magic carpet all day, they need to get used to it.  Many resorts require helmets for children or those in lessons.    Mom and dad, you should be wearing one too (both to set a good example and protect your own head!).  Even if you are the best skier on the mountain, it takes one out of control person to mow you down and cause injury.  A helmet should fit snugly and come down on the forehead just above the eyebrows, with goggles on it will touch the goggles.  When buckled, it should stay in this position (I see many children in ill fitting helmets that expose forehead, this is not safe weather its a ski helmet or a bike helmet).   Teach from day 1: No helmet = no skiing.
A properly fitting helmet

- Goggles:  UV Goggles or sunglasses are a must.  Snow blindness hurts and can be very damaging for young eyes.   Get your child used to them  in advance, and make sure to try them on with the helmet to check fit and comfort.    No goggles = no skiing.  

- Boots:  Ask for "2 buckle" boots when possible, many kids boots only have 1 buckle, which makes them harder to properly adjust and fit.  
Get boots that fit properly.  Do not get boots to "grow into",  boots that are too big teach bad habits like leaning back, and they can cause injury when the ankle is not supported.   Its also very important to tighten them properly.  Most kids will complain that the boot is "too tight" when properly buckled.   Redirect to focus on what fun skiing will be, and explain that boots need to be tight!     Practice wearing the boots in the house for a while before the first time on skis - this will help the child get used to how they feel.     Play the games listed above in "prep work" with boots on.

- Skis:   Make sure you get skis the right size for your child's height.   Rental companies and some ski schools will help with this.   This chart is a good source for checking height.    Skis will be adjusted for your child's weight and ability.     Have your child carry their own skis as much as they can.  Even when Levi was 2.5 I had him carry his skis for short distances (arms out, lay them across, give them a hug).  This helps teach caring for their own equipment, and saves you from having to lug them later (and their skis get bigger/heavier!)

- Magic worm- (A.K.A. Edgie Wedgie).  Find one on amazon here.   When you get it, tie 2 knots into it or it will be too long.   Not every kid will need this, but its very good to have on hand if they cannot get the hang of "make a pizza" with skis on right away.  This will force their skis into the correct position, helping them to develop muscle memory for the "pizza" shape.    Many kids just need a few runs with this on, some need longer.  More on the magic worm later!  

- Snacks:   Skiing makes kids hungry!  Stash a granola bar or similar in your pocket to avoid having to run to the snack bar after 5min of skiing.  

- Sled:  Optional, and may depend on the resort you are going to, but I found it very useful for hauling both the kid and equipment.   This is particularly true for 2-4yr olds who have a very hard time walking in boots!   Save the "wearing out" part for the slopes, instead of the walk to them! 

Now onto the teaching part....

First steps: 

-  Make sure your child is well rested and hydrated, has eaten, and has gone potty first.  Make sure they are have all their clothing in place, helmet/goggles/gloves on.  

- Once you are at the mountain and have your gear sorted, scope out where you will be practicing.  Point out other kids who are learning and watch for a while (see if your child can spot someone making a pizza or french fries!).   If you are using a magic carpet, have them watch how it works (where to go, how to get on, etc).

- Have the child walk around a bit in the boots to get them warmed up.  (practice pizza and french fries in the boots again!)

- Talk about how much fun they will have!  

Putting on skis:

Show child the skis - have them locate where toe and heel goes, the front and the back of the ski, and if the skis have it (most do) the left and right stickers. 

- Demo first:   Have the child watch while you put your skis on.  Explain each step as you go.   Put your toe in the front, and "squash the bug" pushing down the heel. 

- Have child put on 1 ski:   Many kids, especially the really tiny ones will need help "squashing the bug", but have them put their toe in themselves (using you for balance), and attempt to "squash" while you pull up on the back of the binding for assistance. 

- Start by having the child scoot around on one ski - kind of like a scooter.   This will help them feel how the ski slides and help with balance while still giving them a foot to stand on for a little control/confidence.   If they fall, show them how to position both feet as if they had both skis on, and push themselves up (teaching kids to get up on their own was always one of the first things I focused on, it will save your back later!   Especially for ski instructors who have 8 preschoolers to help!)

- Once the child is confident with that, make sure you are on level ground, and put on the second ski. 

Warming up:

- On level ground and staying still with skis french fry, play "tall as a house, small as a mouse".   When the child is "small" check that they are leaning forward in their boots.   If not, put your finger in the front of their boot and have them squish it.   When they do, make a big show of how much it "hurt" (which they will love for whatever reason).    Its really important to get them in the "leaning forward" position right away, this is a very difficult habit to break later.      Many kids will sit back (i.e. sitting in a chair position) because this is more natural.  Break this habit now and it will make for a much better skier later.  

- Now, try the "penguin walk":  Have the child shuffle forward on their skis.  Hold out arms for balance if needed, but try not to hold their hand (this gets them in the habit of leaning to the side).   Explain that this is for moving on flat ground, and for getting onto the magic carpet, etc.  

- Next stop and, practice making a pizza.   If the child has trouble, physically position their skis.   Have them switch between french fries and pizza until they get it down.   If its difficult, stand facing the child and grab their hands, pull forward slowly/gently and then have them try (if they don't have much leg strength, this can help)  
IF they cannot do it even after you reposition them several times, try the edgie wedgie.   Put it on the skis and have them "stretch the worm".  Show them how the worm magically helped them make a pizza!    You basically want them to do the splits, and the "worm" pulls the skis into the angled pizza shape.    They should be able to penguin walk with this on, but if they have trouble, you can remove one side while they get to the top.   Leave the worm on for the first few runs, and then try it without to see how they do, leave it on until they can easily stop.  

- Last, have them practice the "penguin walk" in combo with "make a pizza".   Play red light green light.

 Magic worm in use (Pizza)

Magic worm in use (french fries)

We all fall down!  

Explain that EVERYONE falls down.   Watch the hill and see how many people you see fall (tip.. watch the beginner hill)
Now comes the fun part - Fall down!   Make a nice dramatic show of falling over. 
Now you can demo how to get up!

- Put your body up hill
- put skis "across"
- push behind your bottom and reach for your tips.

For the most part, this gets you up!   Kids sometimes fall on their bottom, in a super uncomfortable looking fallen down pizza shape - in this case, just have them reach for their toes. 

Now, tell your child to fall!   Gently knock them over if needed.   Have them practice getting up, helping them to maneuver their skis if needed.   

Magic Carpet: 
- Before you start, watch for a while and point out the steps to getting to the top.   Then, go for it!   Try to help as little as possible with the shuffling - be near by if they waiver, but try and avoid holding hands, lifting and maneuvering the child.   Give verbal directions, and then help them to follow through.   The more you are helping, the less they are learning!  

- Shuffle to the start of the magic carpet
- quick quick penguin walk onto the carpet
- check that skis are in french fry position
- hands on knees and look up to the top.
- at the top, penguin walk off, and out of the way.   

Side Stepping: 

-Some places reserve the magic carpet only for children in lessons, so if you don't have one to use, you can teach the child to side step up to the top, skis parallel.  

Hit the slope! 

Once you are all warmed up and at the top of the magic carpet (or other small slope), you will now play red light green light on the hill! 

Start slow, and "stop" often.  Alternate between pizza/french fries all the way down -  this is pretty much it for day 1 for most kids - the goal is to get them to stop right away EVERY time you yell "red light" (or they are near a tree, pole, rock, you) 

You can also play Tall as a House, Small as a mouse - this will help with balance, and proper "leaning forward" positioning.   

Leaning forward tips:
- make sure boots are as tight as you can get them.   
- "squash my finger" (put your finger in the front of the boot and have them squish it, remind them of this as they ski)
- hands on knees
-superman/girl (hands forward, eyes front.
- stand up tall (this helps for kids who crouch down/squat too much)
- bend your knees (some times this alone helps

Once the child has "stop" and "go" (pizza and french fries) down, you can move on to the next step.   Don't move on until this is established!!


Stop while you are still having fun.   If you end on a fun note, the child will remember this for the next time.   If you end with a hungry/tired/cold child, this is what they will remember.   Have them make a perfect pizza, cheer, take pictures, and call it a day.   Young kids can only handle 1-2 hours or less, so keep this in mind.  Take a long break and try again, or go home for the day!   
Some kids will get their "pizza" on the first try, some will take several days before they can do it with confidence, some will take the whole season.   As long as they are having fun, they are learning (and getting used to the equipment, the mountain, the snow, the feeling of movement, the muscle memory).  So even if they don't seem like they've progressed much after one session, they've learned more than you think.  

#1 goal is to have fun!  

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