Learning to ski: For parents new to snowboarding or skiing
By BILL ZIEGLER
For The Daily News
CRYSTAL FALLS – With all the good skiing and snowboarding opportunities on our area, many kids want to take up this sport.
Parents who have not done much skiing growing up are asked to set them up for ski/snowboarding by their eager children. For parents who are not experienced, this can be a large and puzzling task.
These sports require a fair amount of equipment and parents want to make sure the child likes it before they invest large sums of money acquiring all the necessary equipment.
As parents my wife and I already went through this period as our three children took up cross country skiing, snowboarding and downhill skiing.
In each case it started very modestly on a low budget, although cross country skiing and snowboarding competitions eventually resulted in higher level equipment. Still, along the way we learned many things trying to pursue all these sports on a budget.
Renting equipment is always an option to expose your kids to skiing, although that seems to work best at a commercial downhill ski area and mostly for Alpine (downhill skis).
In this area it is possible to rent equipment for cross country skiing and snowboarding but it is typically for older youths. Borrowed equipment from friends or family and going out with the more experienced friends and family is always an option.
If you use that option make certain that the equipment is safely matched to your child size and weight.
We introduced our children to snow sports at an early age so the equipment and their use of it is not as big of a deal as trying to outfit youth that would be skiing on their own.
Toddlers enjoy going with dad or mom on a ski trail or small ski hill like Crystella Ski Hill but sessions should be kept short.
It is particularly helpful to parents of younger children to have a warming shelter available. Luckily, we have shelters available at Crystella, Ski Brule, Pine Mountain downhill areas, and the Listening Inn and George Young CrossCountry Ski Trails.
When taking a toddler downhill skiing all that is necessary for them is a pair of little skis with bindings. We used an old fashioned ski with a cable binding that held their small felt pack boots. The newer form of toddler skis have plastic binders to fit over their warm boots.
At this age they ski without ski poles and it works best if a parent skis with them between their legs as they snowplow down a “bunny” (low gradient) hill. Of course the child needs to be dressed warm from head to toe. It will cut the session short if their hands or feet get really cold. As your little skier gets so they are accustomed to going down hill and learn to stand up on their skis as they go down a slight hill you can move them to next level.
The biggest problem is a little skier’s inability to control their speed down hill. The easiest way to help them with that is to ski behind them with the child held back by a short rope around there waist. The parent can put the “brakes on” by snow plowing when needed.
If this sounds like more than you want to take on as a parent or you can’t ski some downhill ski areas may have special ski programs for beginners. The best way to find out is to call the ski areas or check their websites.
When it comes to equipment we found several ski swaps available for downhill and snowboard equipment. If your son or daughter sticks with a particular type of winter sport you would want to eventually think about buying new equipment, although when they are rapidly growing that can get very expensive.
We had good luck with the ski swaps at Pine Mountain and Marquette Mountain. Ski Brule also has a ski swap annually. Parents need to check on exact dates and times for the swaps but they often take place before deer season.
Ski swaps are best for finding equipment for children and youths since adults often do not turn over there equipment very often.
The ski swaps I have attended typically have some knowledgeable skiers available to answer questions from perspective buyers and aid with fitting. Any used downhill ski equipment should be taken in to a reputable ski and binding dealer to have the safety binding releases adjusted to your child’s weight.
If you are buying used downhill skis you should determine if the bindings are “indemnified” which means are not obsolete so a ski shop will be able to “legally” adjust the bindings. We were usually able to equip all of our kids at the larger ski swaps provided we were not to picky on colors or styles.
Lastly some parents would take note of local families they knew that had several kids a few years older than theirs involved in skiing or snowboarding. When our kids were progressing through equipment we had other parents asking to buy our equipment once our youngest child had grown out of it.
Briefly, young skiers should have skis with bindings, appropriate size poles, ski boots, warm cloths and a light-weight ski helmet and goggles.
Snowboarding is extremely popular with young teen agers in recent years. I would recommend most young children learn to downhill ski first since it is easier to pick up at a very young age and it teaches many basics that carry over.
Our daughter learned to downhill ski first although by the about 6th grade wanted to switch over to snowboarding to join her friends.
Kids that take up these sports at about junior high school age often want to just take up snowboarding. Snowboards are similar to downhill skis although there is less equipment and the bindings and boots used are much different.
Snowboard bindings are much simpler than downhill ski bindings and do not release when you fall down. The most common snowboard fall is just sitting down on the snow.
It is human nature to try to brace yourself with your hands which means you can hurt your wrists if you hit hard.
Inexpensive wrist guards are a good investment for your snowboard enthusiast. Local hills like Cyrstella, Ski Brule and Pine Mountain all have groups of snowboarders from local communities.
Typically most youth want to take up snowboarding because their friends are doing it. The kids at the local hills are good at sharing their skills with their friends and acquaintances. At their young age much of the learning is by mimicking their friend’s skills and techniques.
Briefly snowboarders need a snowboard fitted with bindings, snowboard boots, warm clothes, a helmet, goggles and wrist guards.
Cross Country Skiing
Cross country skiing is a very good sport for parent to participate with their young children.
If you are going out on a cross country ski trail you should only take a young beginner on a short loop (about one mile or less) although you can always turn around and go backwards on the easy rated trails.
Make sure you do find faster skis as your child progresses in cross country skiing.
Anyone would be frustrated if they had the skills to propel their skis faster although they were stuck with skis that amount to walking in the woods with wood slats on their feet.
Cross country skis are matched to the skier primarily by their weight. Properly matched skis have both good kick and a good glide making the skier’s experience more fun.
We never found much cross country ski equipment at Downhill Ski Swaps. The closest cross country ski swaps I am aware of are in Marquette put on the Superiorland Cross Country Ski Club and Houghton by the Ski Tigers Cross Country Ski Club.
Briefly young cross country skiers need cross country skis (waxable of no kick wax skis) fitted with bindings, cross country ski boots, fitted poles, and layers of appropriate for exercise winter cloths.
Many beginning skiers and snowboarders do not bother to get their skis glide-waxed (hot wax). This is a mistake since glide wax protects the bottoms, makes the ski/snowboard glide better, and prevents sticky snow from sticking to the bottom.
Downhill skiers and snowboarders should get their skis glide-waxed at minimum once a year. Glide wax is even more important to cross country skiers since slow skis make your outing more work and less fun.
This has been a brief summary of suggestions to speed up the learning curve of parents that are new to skiing and snowboarding.
Most skiers with families at local ski hills and trails are happy to share advice if asked.
The smaller community ski areas are really good places to meet other local families with similar interests.
Most importantly it is a long winter and getting your kids outside and active makes the winter go much faster.
Skiing and snowboarding makes a good way to get the family together on a winter activity. Skiing and snowboarding is also a good lifetime sport.