How do I teach my kids to ski/snowboard when I'm no good at it?
February 23, 2016 2:16 PM   Subscribe

I'd love to take my two sons skiing or snowboarding but worry I'll never be good enough / infect them with my terror of losing control / won't be able to protect them. Advice?

I am a 40 yr old inept skier, having gone a few times in my youth and a few times more recently. I'm good at doing the snow plow and can parallel ski to some degree, but I can't hockey stop or parallel slide. When I'm on the slope, I'm normally gripped by a feeling of terror and just white knuckle my way down. My biggest fear is losing control and hurting myself, which I did on a trip to Vermont for a friend's 40th bday weekend. My second run down, I went the wrong way, lost control, felt something pop in my knee and ski patrol shuttled me down the mountain on my back.

Last winter, I went to the local slope and took a group lesson (just me and another person) and then spent the day on the bunny hill. The instructor told me I was raising my back leg (bad) and tried to teach me how to press down into the skis to turn, and to hockey stop. I accomplished neither by the end of the hour. At the end of the day, I said eff it and went down the green, and while I didn't fall, I was filled with panic and an almost irresistible urge to get the hell out of there. (This slope is at West Point military academy and is more of an icy blue, if you ask me).

That said, I would love to be confident enough to do blue and greens, and to be able to share that with my sons (now four and two). They would take classes, of course, but then we could spend the rest of the day together. In this vision I'm comfortable enough to watch out for them and we are all having a great time.

1. Is this possible? Or should I admit defeat, that it isn't for me (just like it isn't for my wife, who has no interest), and hang out in the lodge while my kids enjoy themselves? I've always felt one of the best parts about being an adult is being able to decide when to quit, but worry that, this time, it is the coward's way out and I would be missing out on something special wth my sons.

2. If yes, should I switch to snowboarding, and have my kids learn that as well? I suggest this because I heard, after three days of falling on your ass, it is safer and easier. No more worrying about knee twists. Maybe it is better for me to start from zero, rather than unlearn my bad skiing habits. Also, maybe the boys will want to snowboard because it is cooler.

3. Or should I push on with skiing? Because I understand the gear, and I just need more 1:1 instruction and the fear will pass with time and experience. If so, how much time do you think that would take?

4. Last question: even if I get reasonably ok and past my own fear, will that just be replaced with a fear for my kids, as I watch them hurtle downhill? Ala, should I stay the hell away and let them enjoy it on their own.

Apologies for the long question + thanks for your advice-
posted by cgs to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total)
My parents are excellent drivers, and my dad was a professional racer for most of his young adult life. No matter what they did, however, neither could get over their profound anxiety about me learning to drive (even though they really needed me to learn), so they were horrible teachers who made the learning process impossible for me, their perfectionist anxiety prone daughter. I finally learned to drive at age 24, after my dad relented and let me take lessons with a local instructor. This guy was relaxed, jovial, and utterly convinced I would be a great driver who'd always do the safe thing. He was right, and I got my license on the first try.

You wondering about your kids learning to ski and snowboard is the same kind of situation. If you relinquish control and let an expert teach them instead, you can watch admiringly from afar as their skills grow and grow, or even join them and get some new training yourself. It is okay and often advisable to allow our children to learn from somebody other than us, even if we could do an admirable job if we could only let go of our desire to protect them. Sign your kids up for some lessons, join your wife in the chalet, and live happily, friend!
posted by Hermione Granger at 2:30 PM on February 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

1) Yes, it's definitely possible to get better. One hour of a lesson is not enough to get you to learn any skill. Getting rid of the terror is something a good instructor should be able to help you with, and it's also something that will go away with increased time and practice.

2) Snowboarding is easier than skiing. The old line is that snowboarding is hard to learn but easy to master and that skiing is easy to learn but hard to master. What's meant by that is that the first few days of snowboarding involving a lot of falling on your knees and but, but you can be reasonably good within a few weeks. Skiing is easy to just get down the hill the first day, but it takes months and months to get reasonably good.

3) Depends on the person. My mom had many days of instruction and many years of ski trips but never got over the fear. She's never been an athletic person, so eventually she gave up. My wife improved and got over her fear in a matter of a few skiing days.

4) Can't answer that specifically, but I see most kids out there being pretty safe, slow, and in control.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 2:31 PM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you should try four non consecutive days of snowboarding lessons.

Your kids should get lessons separately from you, with the littlest one probably skiing and the older kid making a decision between skiing and snowboarding.

If you decide to quit, keep the kids going for their young years so they gain the muscle memory and familiarity and lack of fear. Then once they are in middle to high school, pack em off on the after school bus to the local hill for evening skiing, put 'em on the class weekend trips to Vermont and only go with them if you continue to enjoy it.

It's an expensive sport to engage in if you don't love it, but you should give your kids the opportunity to love it.
posted by slateyness at 2:35 PM on February 23, 2016

It...does not sound like you really like skiing. I mean, if you want to learn to get better and enjoy it, or if you want to give snowboarding a shot, go for it! But there is no reason why you HAVE to ski in order to, like, have a happy life. I was never taken skiing/snowboarding as a kid, I have never learned to do it, and I have a perfectly full and enjoyable life full of lots of good things. :) I do not harbor any sort of resentment toward my parents for not taking me skiing. :)

If neither you or your wife likes this sport...maybe just take different vacations instead? Your kids could always learn when they are older if they express an interest, but who knows -- maybe they will happen to prefer basketball or running or dancing or yoga or going on hikes or WHO KNOWS WHAT ELSE. They are tiny kids, they are not going to lose out on some major life experience if they don't go skiing at age 2. I am confident you can find other physical activities to do your with your children that do not make you miserable...
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:54 PM on February 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

At this age, their lessons are separate from yours, and they will learn & love it. The question is more about what you want to do so you are ok. I learned to ski at an advanced age, when my kiddo was 4. He is closer to the ground, and just plain has better coordination. He loves it still as an adult.

I love sailing and want to be good at it. So naturally, I signed my kiddo up for a week of sailing day camp. He loves it & has great skills, I'm still finding my way, but it works out!

Call in the pros, kid lessons are inexpensive to encourage the sport, drop them off, pick them up at the end of the lesson (do not visit during, it confuses them) and keep going.

And for the record, I'm a bunny slope skier. More inclined to snow tube.
posted by childofTethys at 2:58 PM on February 23, 2016

I wouldn't switch to snowboarding just because you're scared about skiing, or having difficulty skiing.

Unless you're a surfer or a skateboarder, snowboarding can potentially be more difficult to pick up initially. I used to ski, I've been surfing all my life, and it took a couple lessons after falling down the mountain for two days to get right.

In difference to thewumpusisdead, I'm considering that you have a fear of going downhill not in control to start with. Snowboarding on your heel side might come a little quicker, but it's the switch to toe-side and that turn where everyone finds they make or break it. Snowboarding can feel much less in control than skiing, at least for me. But, then, everyone is different, right?

In either case - if you stay with skiing or go snowboarding route, I would suggest finding a good mountain for beginners first. An icy New Jersey hill isn't the place to learn at this point for you. You should take the advice of lessons, lessons, lessons until you don't feel like you're being a hero going up to the mid-mountain lift.

You can get a family private lesson. It may be slightly more money, but as slateyness also said, it's an expensive sport to start with, so you want the best experience possible first. Go for the weekend and just stay with you boys and the instructor on the bunny hill for 2 days. Then go another weekend for 2 days. Or better yet, take a few days off during the week and go since it won't be crowded.

Blue Mountain has a good beginner's hill and program. Jiminy Peak does, as well. JP's lower hill (after you upgrade from the bunny hill) is a little steep for newbies, though, in my opinion. But great resort, plus night skiing!

Camelback is also a good local choice. I haven't been to Hunter, and Windham I was more active at the top of the mountain, so can't comment on the lower half. But they're good in-between choices. Where Poconos are 2 hours from NJ/NY metro, they're 3 to 3 1/2.

A little bit further - and you start hitting Stratton (which has some really great beginner stuff) and the further you're willing to travel, you get to Sugarbush, which I think is fantastic.

Smuggler's Notch is supposed to be super for families and learning, though I haven't been.

Some other notes:
- you don't HAVE to hockey stop. Ski the way you're comfortable with. My eldest son takes long, leisurely swooping turns down the entire face of the mountain, and no one is going to hurry him up. But he's having fun and quite happy. My youngest son goes straight down in a tuck with no poles. Go figure.

- why are you focusing on blues? Focus on the bunny hill and feeling comfortable there. Blue, green, black - it's all subjective. I was down blacks on Stratton that should have been greens and down greens elsewhere that should have been blacks (usually because they were smaller mountains, narrow runs and icy - no fun, anyway).

- I highly recommend private lessons. And if you want it a family experience, that's the way to go. Group lessons, they're going to divide up everyone based on progress. Of course, that is for the first few times.. if the kids are outpacing you after a few times, totally let them go and keep taking lessons on your own, if you find it starting to work.

Fear is weird... it depends on where it is coming from. Stop thinking about expectations and focus on first steps. When you've conquered the first step, then go on. Don't go rushing off to see if you can 'handle it.' You'll just undo all the work you put in. It's supposed to be fun.
posted by rich at 3:05 PM on February 23, 2016

All of you should take lessons. Kid lessons for the kids and adult lessons for you. It'll make you far more confident and you'll avoid the pitfalls of trying to teach your kids yourself. I started skiing as a kid and by the time snowboarding came along, I was already a good skier and preferred to ski instead of spending an entire ski vacation starting from scratch with boarding lessons. But, if you're all starting with lessons again anyway, you could try it!
posted by quince at 3:10 PM on February 23, 2016

Snowboarding is easier once you can do it, but getting to that point involves a LOT of crashing, and there is no snowplowing, so when you point that board down the hill you are GOING down that hill. The things you find hard about learning skiing will be harder on a board. Snowboards are much harder to babysit from, and they are MUCH harder for little kids to pick up; a lot of schools won't take kids for snowboard lessons until they are 8 or 9 and even then some of them are still too young.

Skiing on the other hand: The reason you're not very good isn't your natural lack of aptitude, it's just that you've barely started learning! If I had you for a few more hours of lessons, I could get you to a point where you could comfortably get down that green run and understand how to control your speed and how to stop safely and consistently (not necessarily a hockey stop, that can come later).

If you WANT to learn to ski, and you can afford it, stay in lessons, and at the end of each lesson, make sure you remember the runs you used during that lesson and then stay on those runs the rest of the time. TELL the instructor that you need to learn how to stop consistently. Also ask the ski school about the qualifications of the teachers. Qualifications differ, and if you're there in school hols there will be a lot of miscellaneous extra folks teaching who don't do a lot of it and aren't necessarily as well qualified or experienced as the folks who teach all year.

If your kids are four and two they will not want to ski the whole day anyway. The two year old will spend the whole time falling on his butt and they will both be tired and quite happy to spend the afternoon watching DVDs and drinking cocoa. Maybe pop out for some sledging later or something. If you do go out with them while they are still beginners, just don't wear skis! Wear winter boots and bimble around the nursery slope with them.

Unlike a poster above I don't recommend a family lesson. If that's what works logistically then that's what works, but teaching a mixed ability lesson with little kids AND adults means nobody gets a really good lesson out of it, because everybody's needs are so different. And it's much harder for the instructor to deal with the kids when the parents are right there. Kid lessons are VERY different from adult lessons, and for good reasons.
posted by emilyw at 3:13 PM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing the get your kids lessons. You don't have to ski/snowboard with them.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:15 PM on February 23, 2016

Response by poster: Just to clarify: I'm not suggesting I teach them. They will definitely get their own lessons

As to why I want to do this: there have been a few occasions where I've felt enough in control that I could enjoy it, and then it was really great. Also, we live in the Hudson Valley (NY) and I want to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. Hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, etc. I'm not a masochist :-)

I also want to be able to beat my fear, honestly. As I get older, I feel it encroaching on activities that normally didn't scare me (like swimming in big surf).
posted by cgs at 3:24 PM on February 23, 2016

You don't know how lucky you are! You're in the perfect position to really enjoy skiing with your kids as they learn. It's very boring spending several years skiing the beginner greens with a little kid when you already know how to ski well. I avoided the boredom by learning to telemark when my kids were starting out on skis. It was great. My daughter (on downhill skis) and I were at pretty much the exact same level, so I was completely happy skiing the same runs she skied. And I'm a slow learner with physical stuff, so I was still happy skiing those runs a couple of years later when my son was a brand-new beginner (even happier, because I was finally getting the hang of it.)

If you already know how to ski a little by the time your kids are ready to start, you'll be fine skiing whatever they can ski. They're not going to learn so quickly that they'll pull way ahead of you and want to do runs you can't handle. And - lucky kids! - you're not going to push them to do runs they can't handle, the way you might if you were a better skier. You can all happily spend the day on whatever easy green run you're all comfortable with and take your time working up to the blues.

You can absolutely learn to ski perfectly well, even if you're scared of it now. You're assuming your kids will be able to go from knowing nothing to being good skiers. Why don't you have the same confidence that you can do it? I'm sure you're at least as physically adept as a 5 or 6 year old, and better able to understand and listen to verbal directions.

As far as how long it will take you to get over your fear, I'm guessing just a few lessons would get you to the point where you were no longer afraid of skiing an easy green. Why not commit to taking, say, four lessons and then see how you feel about skiing at that point? If you're still not having fun at all and don't feel like you've made much progress, maybe then it would make sense to give up on it. But you've had so little experience and instruction so far that it's no wonder it feels hard and scary. I suspect just a little more practice could change your feelings about it a lot.
posted by Redstart at 3:24 PM on February 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think you can well end up having your kids being good at skiing or snowboarding and without your anxieties. I used to teach whitewater kayaking, and it was often a lot harder when the parents were around (as you correctly intuited). The kids would do great, be fine, and often learn faster and better.

Kids can pick things up pretty quickly. I think if you do a good job mostly not making a big deal about your anxieties or being bad at skiing, they won't think about it too much either.

Now, if your kids aren't into it, this won't work at all. But if they are, great!

As for whether or not you'll be terrified watching them ski: who can say? I do know that I am completely terrified of sharks when I'm near an ocean, but it never ever occurs to me my kids will get eaten by a shark when they are in the ocean. This is my own weird fear, not my fear for them.

Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 3:57 PM on February 23, 2016

Don't give up! I think you should keep at it and just try not to push and get ahead of yourself. Skiing is so much fun. If you're willing to put a little work into it, you WILL get to the point where you feel comfortable cruising down a green or an easy blue with your kids, and I really do think you'll enjoy it.

I don't think you will like snowboarding, although I enjoy it myself and I picked it up as an adult rather than as a child. As mentioned above, there is no snowplow in snowboarding. You can slide sideways down the hill without making any turns, but ultimately you have to have the confidence to turn straight down the hill and just go - and if you try to go too slow and lose your momentum, you will either fall over or you will get stuck somewhere that's not enough of a slope, and trying to move yourself forward or take one foot out to walk or whatever is really annoying. You can also do this thing which I call 'catching an edge' (don't know what it's actually called), basically if you accidentally lean wrong and catch your downhill edge of the snowboard on the snow, it will fling you on your face in the downhill direction. I suspect these things would be scary for you.

I believe that you will be able to enjoy watching your sons ski, though. At their ages, they don't have far to fall and they can't gain as much momentum. Tiny kids like that can just bomb straight down the hill without turning at all, and they can plop down a million times without getting much hurt.

Side note 1: if anxiety is infringing on your ability to enjoy normal things you used to enjoy, consider seeking treatment for anxiety, rather than just letting it dictate what you do.
Side note 2: I disagree with anyone who says that kids can just learn to ski later and don't bother teaching little kids to ski. It's much, much harder to learn to ski later in life, even if they're just older kids. Don't wait for them to express interest in this case, proceed with plan to teach them early.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:01 PM on February 23, 2016

One other recommendation you could take or leave depending on frugality - the skiing out west is SO much better than most days in the northeast. There's a lot of other fun things to see and do out there too if you don't want to just ski. If you have the means and the time, consider going to a place like Colorado or Utah. There is nothing like skiing on some fresh powder in the sunshine to really make you enjoy the sport more.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:04 PM on February 23, 2016

I was never able to enjoy skiing downhill for some reason. But what I did learn to enjoy was cross country skiing. My kids snowboard. They learned without me. I do surf so can both relate to what they are doing and saying as well as give them some advice about weight shift, etc. When we go to the mountain as a family or for a family weekend, I dropped the kids at the mountain with their boards and I went to the cross country trails. I would meet them for lunch and then at the end of the day. At 4 and 2 I think your kids will want to spend the day with you, but in a few years, they will actually demand to be left alone. I also am a good skater. I play hockey. Their are adult beginner hockey leagues and adult lessons. Certainly, the family can learn to skate together and have a great time on a pond or rink.

Let your kids take lessons on their own and you and your wife enjoy either cross country skiing or the fire or skating or some other winter outdoor activity.
posted by AugustWest at 6:23 PM on February 23, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I'm going to keep at it :-)
posted by cgs at 6:25 PM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I ski about 80+ days a season and have taught two of my kids how to ski. I ski and snowboard. Our family skis every weekend until the snow melts. Here's my advice.

Pro skier Glenn Plake likes to say "Skiing isn't a sport it's a past time." By that he means that skiing can be enjoyed by just about everyone at all kinds of different levels at all stages of life. I've skied with 1 year olds and I recently skied with a now 98 year old. (Here's a video I made with him if you're looking for inspiration.) So, even if you aren't a very good skier, if you are having fun then you're winning. And you can always get better. The more you do it the more confident you'll be.

Get yourself and your kids in lessons. Even with kids and adults who are scared, a good instructor can help them forget about that and focus on the fun. Fun is the antidote to fear. When my kids were little I always quit as soon as they quit having fun.

Let your kids decide whether they want to ski or snowboard. If you want to try snowboarding, go for it. If you just want to stick with skiing then do that.

If you have a ski resort near you, buy a season pass. Then just make it something you're going to do as much as possible next winter. The good thing about having a pass is that you can just go up and take a few runs. It doesn't have to be an all day thing. When you buy a day pass you feel like you have to ski all day even if one of the kids is cold or tired. When you have a pass that pressure to get the most out of your day ticket is relieved.

Honestly there are moments when I've been scared for my kids when I see them barrel down a slope and I've yelled at them to slow down, but, what's life without some risk and adventure? They could get hurt skiing, you could get in a car accident on the way to the mountain. That doesn't mean you don't go. If it's really bothering you, don't watch.

Have fun. Skiing is a great family activity.
posted by trbrts at 10:24 AM on February 24, 2016

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