Skiing with Young Kids: Beginners Guide



Jun 22, 2024

Skiing with young kids can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, fostering a love for winter, mountains and snow; some of my favorite things. However, it requires planning, a lot of patience, and some safety considerations before you hit the slopes! If your child never skied or a beginner, great, I can walk you through what to know before your kids become master skiers.

two parents and two toddlers skiing
The four of us skiing

This guide was created to help other families learn from our experience of skiing with young kids. After going through the experience with my children I gathered all the practical information for you. From choosing the right gear and ski resort to tips for first timers such as choosing to teach kids to ski yourselves or through a ski school this guide will break it down for you.

Also check out 25 Great Outdoor Winter Activities for Toddlers for more fun ideas of things to do in winter with your kids. And my review of Shawnee Mountain Ski Area in the Pocono PA for first time skiiers.

What Age Can a Child Learn to Ski?

There is no age that is right to start learning, each child is different.  However, I think you might struggle with a child who hasn’t mastered walking, running and gaining some overall strength as well as the ability to listen and follow instructions.

I started my oldest son at the age of 5 and my younger son at 3 and a half.  There were pluses and minus to each age that I found rewarding.

After his first two days my 3 year old was able to ski to a successful stop and turn on the bunny hill. He mastered riding the magic carpet on his own and had a great time. My 5 year old mastered everything my 3 year old had and he was more confident than his brother.  My 5 year old was also able to ski from the top of the bunny hill to the bottom by himself. My 3 year old required guidance on the top half of the bunny hill before skiing to the bottom.

I found that 5 was a sweet age and that a 5 year old could take on a new task, learn and excel in a shorter amount of time then a younger child. Although, a 3-year-old skiing, now that is just an adorable and memorable experience!

Should you put a Young Kid in Ski School or Teach Them Yourself?

This is again a question for which there is no right answer. A couple factors might help you make a decision.   

5 and 3 year old boys learning to ski
My husband with out 5 and 3 year olds

How confident a skier are you?

This is the main question you should be asking yourself when deciding how your child is going to learn to ski. 

If you are not a confident skier yourself, you might struggle to teach a child to ski. The best way to teach a child is for the adult to ski backwards facing the child, patience and techniques known to work best with kids. 

Before you can even go on the slope it is important to teach a child how to walk in ski boots, put on their own skis and move on a flat snow covered surface. Only then you can start to hold their hands and guide them on the slope.

You explain the terms “pizza”, creating a wedge with your skis to stop and “french fries”, placing your skis parallel to each other to go fast. Patiently you take them on the bunny hill, a less steep hill, and practice and practice these techniques. 

What are your expectations?

If you yourself want some time to ski down anything other than the bunny hill you want to send your child to ski school. This will allow you time on the slopes on your ski trip. A first time skier or young child might not be ready for the larger slopes for some time, and normally not their first ski vacation. 

Does your child listen to you?

Some kids listen better to other people than their own parents. If your child goes to a school ask their teacher how well they listen and you can use that to gauge how they would do with a new person teaching them to ski. 

If a child does not yet go to any school or daycare, they might feel scared to be left in a ski school for any amount of time without you. 

Also know that ski schools have instructors that day in and day out teach kids to ski. They will have their own methods and ways to make it fun and have seen all the challenges. 

What is the budget for your ski trip?

Ski school costs money, as you might predict. The cost of a ski lift ticket and rentals can already be high, so spending hundreds of dollars more on kids ski lessons might be out of the question. 

What does the ski resort offer?

Not all ski mountains offer ski school and each ski resort has their own offering. Some mountains offer lessons starting at 3 while others only at an older age 4, 5 or even 6. 

Best to check with the ski resort you plan on going to to understand the ski school options. You might even choose another ski location based on more offerings geared towards your wishes regarding ski school and costs.

two toddlers graduating from ski school
My two after their first day in Ski School graduated the youngster program

Overall, teaching your child to ski or putting them in ski school is a personal decision that has no right or wrong answer. 

I chose to put both my boys at age 3 and 5 in ski school their first two days skiing. I felt happy about this decision. It gave me two hours each day to go off and ski all the slopes I wanted to, while my kids were learning the skiing basics on the bunny hill.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being with my kids, but those two hours free to ski were bliss. Parents all need a break at times to recharge and have some fun on their own!!

At the end of my children’s ski lesson I would pick them up and spend the rest of the day skiing with them. I reinforced what they learned in ski school and kept practicing with them. 

Should I Bring a Kids Ski Harness?

This is a personal preference. I know people that have used them and raved about it and other parents that have avoided them. To each their own! 

My opinion with my family was not to use them. A kids skiing harness gets a child on the slopes faster, however can teach a child bad habits. The weight of their body is off while in the harness and enables them not to learn all required skills before hitting the slopes on their own. 

My goal was for my kids to learn to ski to be sufficient on their own faster and that is why I don’t personally use a kids ski harness.

How to Choose the Right Ski Resort for Kids?

Each ski resort is unique, as you would expect. Some offer more or less family friendly options, such as more beginner slopes, magic carpet options, ski schools, food options, lodging and entertainment. 

three kids on magic carpet at ski resort
Magic Carpet for the Win

If you are looking to spend a couple days skiing, a resort with accommodations in part of the mountain or near-by becomes attractive. After a long day of skiing no one wants to drive a long time to find food or their bed. The more the resort has the less wasted time you have. And let me tell you, nothing wears out a kid more than a day learning to ski! 

Some ski resorts offer special packages for kids. A free kids lift ticket for every adult ticket purchased, kids under 48 inches ski free or free kids rental and or ski ticket when ski school lessons are purchased are some examples I came across. 

I personally like to see how many green slopes the mountain offers. Once my child masters the bunny slope, I want to broaden their options to ski on the larger mountain slopes.

Lastly, the cost of the mountain and hours of operations will play into your decision. Some ski slopes offer night skiing at a discount or overall have better hours to accommodate your wishes. 

For young kids learning to ski a mountain doesn’t have to be large, but it should have a decent ski school and a bunny hill for my liking!

What Should my Young Child Wear to go Skiing?

Everything depends on the weather, but a full snow outfit is normally required. Below is the key elements that will make skiing more enjoyable for a kid. 

5 year old boy skiing down a slope
Son in his waterproof gear

***Warm Base Layers: ***A child will be happiest when warm. Not only should you have waterproof outerlayer, but a good quality base layer as well. Merino wool is perfect for the job with moisture-wicking, temperature controlling and odor resistant characteristics.

Water-proof gloves: A young child is going to fall when learning to ski, no doubt about that. Water-proof gloves help a kid place their hands in the snow to stand back up again, without freezing! Cold wet hands will make for a very unhappy child.

Waterproof Ski Pants and Jacket: No kid is happy when they are wet and cold. Therefore, it is very important to put a top layer on your child that is waterproof. You do not want snow melting into them.

As a mom I prefer ski bibs or full ski suits to ski pants. The bib and snow suit will ensure snow can’t get in if your kid’s ski jacket gets pulled up on a fall. A ski suit is one garment that zippers down the front and a ski bib is an overall style pants that you put a ski jacket over. 

Ski Socks: Ski boots can be uncomfortable, and more so when you do not have a high sock protecting your skin from the boot. Also a good warm ski sock is another way to keep your kid warm when skiing.

Ski Goggles: On a cold day or a snowy day snow goggles make a huge difference. Whether for added warmth or better visibility your young child will benefit from having them.

Ski Mask: On a cold day a ski mask that can be worn under a ski helmet is heavenly. A ski mask for kids covers a child’s ears, neck and nose and mouth in extreme temperatures. A warm kid will ski longer than a cold kid.

How Can I Prepare My Kid to Ski for the First Time?

There are several things a child should learn before hitting the slopes the first time. 

  1. A child should be familiar with the concept of skiing. This is achievable by watching skiing on TV, reading books about skiing or just talking about your upcoming skiing trip.
  2. Know the basic skiing lingo: Learning how to stop and go are the two main things   a new skier spends time on. Making a “pizza wedge” to stop and “french fries” to go. Familiarize your kid with these terms and practice with your feet making the two different shapes.
  3. Setting Expectations: Trying new things is hard and takes practice. Talk with your kid realistically about their first couple days skiing. How it can be hard and you might fall a lot, but that is okay and part of the learning process.

Our favorite book to get us excited about skiing and learning the lingo is “Teach Your Giraffe to Ski”. It talks about pizza and french fries and is just a light hearted fun book about skiing.

What Should you Expect on the First Day of Skiing with Kids?

Before you can even ski there are a couple important things to master.

3 year old boy wearing snowboots
My 3 Year Old getting comfortable in snow boots

  • Putting on your snow boots: this can be challenging for adults let alone kids. Spend some time showing them how to tighten and loosen their boots. Make sure their boot is fitted properly and not hurting them.
  • Walking in snow boots: before putting on your skis make sure your child can walk in snow boots. If they fall on the slopes and their skis come undone it is important to be able to walk back to your skis.
  • Clipping into your skis: Toe first then click the heels down. This will be a new concept for your kid and like the above two things it is worth taking time to feel comfortable before skiing. 

Once your child mastered the above they can learn to ski. This includes:

  • Learning the pizza wedge: Otherwise learning how to stop or go slow
  • Learning french fries: Placing your skis parallel to go down the mountain
  • Gliding in the snow: Before going down a hill practicing gliding on flat terrain.
  • How to get back up when you fall: Your child will fall and teaching them how to get back up while on skis is harder than you think.
  • Learning the magic carpet: If your bunny hill has a magic carpet, this is simpler to learn than the ski lift. Stand on the magic carpet with or without skis and it will take you up the hill.
  • How to turn: Early on it is important to figure out how to pick up one ski and turn it to change directions, especially when you start going down the hills.

That is a lot for a kid's first day skiing. It might take two or three days or a week just to feel comfortable skiing by themselves down the bunny hill to a complete stop. I wouldn’t take my child on the green slopes until the bunny hill is mastered.

Should I Buy or Rent my Kids Ski Gear?

Kids grow like weeds. Their foot size is changing every season and height is different every year. If you only plan on skiing a couple times a year renting will be the most cost effective way. Also, you wouldn’t want to invest in ski gear unless you knew your child was going to take to the sport.

However, if you know your child already loves to ski and you are planning on skiing many times in one ski season buying can be a wise decision. There are USED options you can look into to help cut down the costs and sometimes save money vs renting a whole season. Hopefully after your child outgrows it you can resell or reuse it with a younger child.

How Long Can a Young Kid Ski For?

Setting expectations for yourself is key to making a successful day out skiing with young kids. Each child’s attention span is different and it can be hard to judge how long each child will be happy on the slopes before wanting a break. 

3 year old falling in the snow
Good sign when your child is smiling when they fall

The older the child the longer he or she will go before disengaging with skiing and looking for a break. It also depends if your young child is with older siblings. Often the sibling effect means the younger siblings will want to stay skiing longer to be like their big brother or sister.

A good rule of thumb for young kids, 5 and younger, is after 1.5 hours of skiing a break is needed. Now if your child is having a great time then no need to break. But keep a close eye on your child and look for signs of exhaustion or frustration growing. If you see signs, call for a break before your little one hits the wall. 

A cookie and some hot chocolate can fix all moods!

How Many Days in a Row Will a Kid Ski?

All depends on the child and if they are enjoying themselves. The best way to ski multiple days in a row is to make sure they are having fun. If your child is tired, have a long break, if they are cold, warm up by the fire in the lodge. 

5 year old kid at top of ski hill
My 5 Year Old ready to take on the bunny hill

My kids have skied for two days in a row and are always looking to go back or when the next trip is.

My Top Tips for Skiing with Young Kids

  1. Make it fun: Always the first priority when adventuring with a kid. No kid is going to want to learn to ski if they feel pressured or forced. A day out on the slopes in the snow should be a magical day and it is up to you to make sure it is enjoyable. Keep positive and remember it is okay to break often and go slow. 
  2. Celebrate all their achievements: Learning something new can be scary and hard. But, it doesn’t have to be. Make sure to congratulate your child each small step of the way. Once he/she masters putting on their skis or figuring out how to stop in pizza, make a big deal. Your child will beam with pride!
  3. Encourage independence: Having a parent’s encouragement can make a world of difference. Let them know you think they can do it, even if they are scared. Tell them that being brave is doing something that scares you and ask if they can be brave.
  4. Start small. Don't try to go too far or too fast. A small, gentle slope is a great place to start. Don’t assume on the first couple days your child will advance past the bunny hill.
  5. Be patient. It takes time for kids to learn how to ski. Don't get frustrated if they don't pick it up right away. If you feel frustrated, take a break, sign your kid up for ski school or switch out with another parent giving yourself a break or a chance to ski the big slopes for some time.
  6. Wear sunscreen. On a sunny day the sun can reflect off the snow and can burn your child.
  7. Take lots of snacks and food breaks: Children love snack time. Make sure to incorporate lots into the day to fuel your child for a day of skiing.
  8. Talk about their success after you ski. Remind them of how awesome it was to go skiing with them and how much fun you all had. Show them a picture or video you took of them skiing. This helps build excitement for skiing and desire to go back again!

It was magical watching my boys learn to ski at a young age. I felt such pride as they learned to turn and stop on the slopes or whizz right past me. Whether you enroll your child in ski school or teach them yourself you will not regret taking your kid skiing this winter.