NEW YORK — One of the worst things a parent can see on the ski slopes — short of an injury — is the swelling of a tear underneath the layers of facemask, goggles and helmet. The problem isn't only that the little drop of water could freeze: It could be the moment your child is turned off from skiing or snowboarding.
That wasn't going to work for me. Some of my best childhood memories happened on my little red-and-white Hart Gremlin skis and I had decided probably before my kids could walk that it would be that way for them, too — whether they liked it or not.
At first it seemed a definite "not." They whined. They cried. There was a flat-out refusal to put on snowpants.
Meanwhile, I'm carrying extra cumbersome equipment, including kids wearing dead-weight ski boots who were still rigid from crying, and I was paying a fortune in the process. By 10 a.m., we'd all be exhausted. I would say to myself that we wouldn't torture ourselves the next day, yet, sure enough, we'd be slopeside again in less than 24 hours.
Eventually, with the right pink helmets (I have two girls), foot-warmers and what seems like an endless supply of granola bars — and M&Ms — I have two devoted, dedicated skiers who now voluntarily give up birthday parties and sleeping in to spend time with Mom and Dad on the slopes. That has made what really were just a couple of frustrating days so worth it.
Stephanie Unter, a New York-based fashion stylist and blogger, has heard the complaints, too: Her kids had stomach aches, or they couldn't buckle their boots. But, she says, she'd bite her tongue, help them out, have bowls of oatmeal prepped each morning and ply them with hot chocolate throughout the day. "I had a gung-ho attitude and I decided to just keep it going, keep the momentum, and I didn't let them stop."
Do they share her passion for it? Not yet, she says, but they are getting closer. The key is never making it feel like a stressful experience, according to Unter, even if it means relaxing some of her own rules.
Kevin Hicks, of Valparaiso, Ind., hasn't gotten his pint-size skiers out this season, but that's not because they don't want to. The weather isn't cooperating with a lack of snow whether he looks west, east or north. His 12-, 10- and 6-year-olds, however, are ready, willing and eager to go, he says.
It only took his older ones only a day or two to get with the programs, Hicks says, and he thinks that is because he insisted on a very slow start.
"Most kids are fearless and want to shoot straight down. That isn't skiing," he says. Instead, Hicks focused on teaching almost 180-degree turns and teaching control. He'll scream from behind "pizza," reminding the kids to go into a slow, triangular snowplow when they're struggling, and encourage the more advanced, parallel-ski "french fry" when they are cruising.
"Once they're able to go all the way down the hill without falling and making every turn while slowing down, I let them go without me telling them what to do. If they can do that, I let them go down on their own with me at the bottom," he says.
It turned out Unter's older daughter was frustrated that she didn't think she was improving. "She didn't feel like she was good at it," Unter says, "so I took a video of it one day, and she saw she wasn't that bad. I've built her trust, and I won't take her down something she can't do."
It's important for children to be in lessons at the appropriate level, says David Iverson, snow sports manager at Burke Mountain in Vermont. Otherwise, you have the nervous parents who want to keep their children on the magic carpets far too long, and you'll have the over-achiever parents who want their kids on black diamonds before they're ready.
He adds: "A lot of times it's really better if mom and dad don't stop by the lesson."
Also, don't wait until the last minute to ask questions that can be handled over the phone while you're still at home, including what time lessons start and if there are vacancies in ski school.
But kids don't have to be in lessons every moment of every day, says Dan Sherman, Ski.com's marketing director. If you're on a family ski trip, leave time to ski together.
Other tips from pros and passionate skiers:
—Many problems are rooted in not-right clothing, especially too-bulky socks and knit gloves that get wet, says Iverson. If you are making the investment for lift tickets and lessons, make the investment in the right gear, he says. Two pairs of socks is a big no-no; you want thin wicking socks that won't bunch up inside the boot.
Amanda Schuon let her daughters pick their own ski outfits. As long as they are weather appropriate, who cares what color they are or if they are mismatched? One of her girls has worn the same helmet for four years because she can't peel the stickers off and transfer them to a new one.
(I'll admit to allowing dresses under the snowpants. That's how we moved past that flat-out refusal.)
—Fill jacket pockets with snacks. "You need to eat or aren't going to survive a day on the hill," says Iverson. "You need calories."
—Plan evening meals and activities that give way to peaceful bedtimes and a decent night's sleep. "Bring to the mountain a well-rested child. That makes everything a little better," Iverson said.
—Hand out trail maps the night before so kids can start planning their favorite routes before they have their boots on, says Kara Woods Seeley, spokeswoman for Woods Valley in Westernville, N.Y. Between her own two sons and her nieces and nephews, she regularly skies with 11 children, ranging from ages 5 to 16.
"The excitement for skiing-snowboarding and being together with their cousins is what propels all these kids out the door. ...Skiing and riding with family and friends is what it's all about. The more the merrier," she says.
—Schuon and her family ski mostly half days not full ones on their annual trip to Aspen, Colo. Once they do get out there for the day, though, Schuon never wonders if the trek from sunny Los Angeles is worth it. "It's an important t tradition for us. It's a great time to spend together."
They visit the same place each year and she'll request the same teachers for the whole week.
—If you are booking a hotel or condo rental, ask how far it is located from the ski school and if there is a shuttle, suggests Sherman. And how are getting there: Is there a direct flight? A doable Friday night car ride? Can you ski in and ski out?
"Minimize schlepping," he says.
—Woods Seeley recommends a locker at the mountain for that very reason. It's a bit of an indulgence that "is a major convenience for parents."
The one thing parents MUST pack is patience, says Burke's Iverson. "Actually, bring double. A lot is out of your control. You can't come with an agenda."