Saturday, December 15, 2012

Teaching Toddlers and Preschoolers to X-Country Ski

I really wanted to put my son in cross country ski lessons this winter until I did a bit of research and realized that children typically have to be four years old before anybody is willing to call them a bunny rabbit and teach them to ski.  My son will be turning four in the new year, but apparently he's still too young for lessons since he was only three at the beginning of the ski season.  I finally did discover a parented course for children ages 3+ at a local ski hill but had to wonder if they would be able to teach my child to ski in 5 short lessons.  The jury is still out on it but in the meantime, I've realized that I'm probably going to have to do this D.I.Y style.  Lessons or not, I'm going to have to be very involved in my son's early ski progress until he is old enough to join a local ski club.

We've been out a few times now this season and I'm starting to get a feel for the requirements involved in teaching a young child how to cross country ski.  What I've learned so far, I gladly pass on to you - in hopes you'll leave comments at the end of this post with tricks you've also learned.

Learning to ski at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Bring Friends

I've said this before and it will be a recurrent theme on this website; Bringing a friend is the equivalent of giving your child a super hero cape.  They will ski, hike, walk, skate... further, faster, and with more enthusiasm if you bring a friend.  We took 6 other families with us on our first trip out to the mountains this year and each family had children ranging in ages from one-three.  The children skied anywhere from 0.2 km to 12km.  (more to come on the amazing three-year old capable of skiing 12km.)  It was so much fun watching the children chase each other on skis, try to keep up to their friends, and actually put on their skis - just because all the other kids were doing it.  (Yay for positive peer pressure!)

Three year olds learning to ski
First Time on Skis

Ski With Your Child

I know this isn't always easy if you are also pulling a second younger child in a Chariot or sled, but children do best when they can see you participating in a sport with them.  If you can't pull a sled and help the new skier at the same time, make sure you recruit the help of another family member or friend.  We tried skiing for the first time this year in a local park and it was an utter and total disaster!!  Crying, complaining, and general lamentation all around!  The only reason I can come up with for the miserable experience is that we made our son ski alone while we walked beside him, coaxing him on with games and treats.  The second time out, I wised up and skied with him.  I didn't play games, I didn't bribe him to reach the next tree with treats, and I didn't watch as he did all the work.  We skied together side by side - and it was fun.  I even enjoyed the slow and relaxing pace because we were in harmony sharing my favourite winter sport together.

Skiing together on a local golf course
Father and Son on the trails together

Get in the Right Mind Set Before You Go

When we did the big group ski a couple weeks ago, our son only skied about 0.2km.  (at most!)  And we didn't push it.  We had the ski pulk with us and were on a mission to reach the bridge 6km away so that we could get photos for our Christmas cards.  A few of the other families also pushed on to reach the bridge and the kids spent most of the time in their Chariots.  Meanwhile, a couple of the families decided they were out for the kids and were only going as far as the kids could happily ski.  They skied slowly for a half hour or so, turned around, and kept it simple.  We are still happy we made it to the scenic bridge at the campground but we knew going out that this was an adult ski trip for us and that our child would be along for the ride.  On the days we want our son to ski we leave the sled at home.  Even a toboggan is too much temptation to ride as we discovered today.  Decide before you go - who's skiing today and how far are you going?  What pace will you set and are you ok if you only ski for half an hour before heading home again.

Relaxing day in the country - Toddler Pace
First Time on Skis for this Two-Year old.

Take Diversion Breaks

On our most successful outing so far this winter, we headed out on a local golf course with another family.  We told the kids we were skiing to a bridge we could clearly see down the fairway.  (yep, that's as far as we skied - the length of one hole)  When we got to the bridge, we made snowmen, had a snowball fight, and gave the kids snacks.  It was a great reward for their efforts and gave them a break before heading back to the cars.  Look for places to ski that have an objective and plan something fun to do when you get there.  Later this season we plan to stay at a wilderness hostel that will require a 500m ski to reach the cabin.  We plan to have the kids ski in rather than pulling them in sleds.  What an awesome reward it will be when they reach the cabin and know they made it there on their own!

Nothing like a good snowball fight!

Stopping to build a snowman

Be Creative

We have friends who've taken to towing their three-year old with a stretchy bungee cord while they ski.  At Three years old, their daughter is capable of skiing 12km as she does a combination of skiing on her own and gliding behind Daddy.  I can't imagine the balance and core strength required to do this at such a young age but I saw it for myself so know it's possible.  We've now bought our own stretchy rope and attached it to a handle from an exercise band.  I tried pulling my son with it today across a flat pond.  I think it's going to be a looooong time before he's ready to ski 12km and he wasn't quite able to figure out yet that he doesn't need to keep shuffling his feet when he's being towed, but he will and it's going to be fun trying this method of skiing with him.

Getting set for her big 12km ski with Dad
Teaching my son how to use a tow rope

We've tried other games too from picking up alphabet letters scattered along the trail to chasing after a football we throw across the field.  Ski Football was by far the most successful game. 

Ski Football

Next on our list is teaching our son to stand up when he's fallen down.  Please leave comments if you have great games for this one!  I've got the idea in my head that Ring around The Rosie would be fun to play around a big tree.  I'll let you know how it goes next time we're out.

Standing up is always a challenge!

I'll leave you with a few more cute photos of our son and his friends learning to ski.  I'd love any suggestions you have for teaching young tykes how to ski.  We are figuring it out one day at a time for now.

Skiing on the Cascade Fire Road
Another first day on skis

Such awesome two-year olds skiing!
My son's first time on skis last winter when he was 2.5 years old


  1. This looks amazing! We are taking Vivi up to Lake Arrowhead on Christmas day to discover the snow and I can't wait!!

  2. I love it! Have you tried soccer on ski's? It was one of my favorites when I was a kid. So fun and a great way for kiddo's to build balance, learn how to kick and glide, and chase around a ball. And because you play without poles it keeps kids (and adults) from relying too much on them.

    1. Sounds fun. We've just tried football. Bending down to pick it up is also great for building balance. Will have to try soccer next time we're out playing games on our skis.


  3. Awesome sounds like fun. We often go skiing with our kids. Jackrabbits is the way to go.
    To help your kids get up on skis -- When they fall down have them play helicopter (put both skis up in the air and pretend the are the helicopter blades) then have the skis go onto one side of their body into french fry skis (side by side), then have them go on their hands and knees and push themselves up from there.

    Happy adventuring.

    1. Thanks. Can't wait to get into jackrabbits.
      And thanks for the tip on how to stand up. Will try that next time we're out.

  4. Hi! Just wondering what kind of skis they use. Are they the ones from MEC? And they just wear their regular winter boots?

    1. We used the toddler skis from MEC that use regular boots overtop. However, that being said, they were really tiny. Only good for kids in the 2-3 year old range. I'd recommend the longer ones that MEC sells for 3-4 year old kids and then get real skis with bindings when they are 5. These are my fav. ones for strap on over boot -

  5. What did you use for that 'tow rope' in the picture? I need to get something for next weekend!

    1. We made one ourselves. My husband's steps below:
      Tow rope is pretty easy.
      6 or 7 meters of nylon rope
      3/4 to 1 inch flexible piping (PEX pipe, from rona, etc) about 1/2inch diameter
      1 bungee cord (2 hook kind, about 18inches length)
      Put PEX pipe onto nylon rope.
      Tie the rope in a big loop
      knot the rope about 1 foot in front of the PEX pipe to make a triangle (see in picture)
      Bungee goes through the other end of big loop. You can know again at this end to hold it in place
      Bungee hooks onto backpack straps when needed.

    2. Wow, thanks for the quick reply! I'm not sure I follow, though. The picture I was referring to has a bright orange rope and the caption reads 'Teaching my son how to use a tow rope'. It looks like you bought (or had on hand) an elastic tow rope for pulling something heavy. I'd love to know what brand this is if you know.

      And I'd also like to know what picture you are referring to for the setup you just described. I'm having a hard time seeing how/why only 3/4 inch of pipe is used, what the function is, and how it relates to the knot (since it would seem it could slide up and down over the length of the rope). I can picture the bungee part, though - sounds like both hooks connect to opposite sides on the backpack and the rope goes through. Even if I don't get the setup just right, I think I can rig something up. My big concern was how much elasticity should be in the tow-rope so we're not like a slinky out there! Going up to Lake Placid for the long weekend. Great blog!

    3. The orange one was an "attempt" that didn't work. The red one wasn't ours. That's friends in that photo.
      I do have photos I think of the one we use. If you want to email me: koob dot tanya at gmail dot com - I can give you a photo and try to explain better. One other thing that works well for families is just using a Chariot and the child holds on to the back of the chariot. If you're bringing one. It's a great way for teaching balance.