Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tips and Tricks for Downhill Skiing with Kids

Every time we hit the ski hill as a family we learn something new or pick up a trick that would have made the day so much more easier, more enjoyable, and more fun. Each time we go skiing I feel a little more successful and I've decided that I'd like "More GOOD ski days" rather than just "more ski days."

We can all use a new tip or trick for family downhill ski days

I've collaborated with other outdoor families to compile the tips and tricks for this story.  There are also several links to other useful stories spread throughout that you can check out for even more ski wisdom. Happy skiing and I hope you will find at least one new idea or suggestion in this story that you can take with you to the ski hill next time you head out as a family.

Tips for a Stress Free Morning 

For me, this is one of the hardest parts about downhill skiing! I hate having to get up so freakin' early to be at the hill by 9am ready to ski. I'm also the antithesis of a "morning person" and don't move very quickly before I've had at least one cup of coffee. This makes packing the car and getting out of the house very hard for me.

Given that nobody really wants to wake up at 6am to load the car with skis and haul sleepy kids off to the ski hill, here are my best tips for making ski mornings as "stress free" as possible:

Stay where you want to ski and this will be your home for the weekend (Featured: Kimberley Alpine Resort)

1. Stay where you want to ski

Stay on hill at a ski in/out resort and you'll be able to wake up, make a nice breakfast if you've booked a condo with kitchen, and still make it to the front of the lift line for first runs. Last year in Kimberley we were first in line and actually had to wait for the lifts to open because we were there waiting to go before 9! How often does that happen??

Stay at a Ski in/Out Resort and be first in line for the lifts

2. Ski close to home and arrive early

Save the long drives for the overnight trips. In Calgary we like to ski at either Winsport's Canada Olympic Park (a 5 minute drive from my house) or at Nakiska Ski Area (roughly an hour door to door from the west end of the city.)

If the drive is more than an hour, I find it hard to justify driving out to ski for a few short hours (and with young kids you are not going to be at the hill for a full day.) We always aim to be at Nakiska by 9am ready to ski so that we get the best snow, the best conditions, we can find good parking, and we can enjoy crowd-free runs. By noon the ski hill is getting busy and we are ready to go home having already completed at least 6 runs.

To read more on why we love skiing at Nakiska, check out my previous story: 5 Reasons to Make Nakiska Your Local Ski Hill This Winter.

The photo below illustrates why we like to be on the hill first thing in the morning after a short drive. Count the number of people on the perfectly groomed run!

What you can expect if you get to the hill early

3. Be organized with your morning routine

Check out the wise words from Calgary ski mom, Romy below:

"What we find really helps and has become our tradition is that one person packs the car while the other gets the kids ready.  All we do is dress the kids in base layers and then we get breakfast at Tim Horton's on the way. I find it SO much faster and less frustrating because there's no time for the kids to start making messes or to take forever to eat etc."

Another ski mom, Sarah, says "I try to have everything packed so that all I have to do is put on whatever everyone is wearing in the car, grab the food bag from the fridge and leave. We lay out what we're wearing in piles. Depending on temps, we may store boots and helmets inside so they're not freezing when we arrive."

And Annika echos Sarah's words with:  "Stress free morning = prep food the night before and if possible pack up the car as much as possible. We now can wake up and get out the door after being up for only 30 minutes if we want with our two girls."

Our morning routine is always easy when we stay overnight on the ski hill

4. Try to get direct-to-lift passes for all family members

Getting a seasons pass with direct-to-lift access will always save time in the morning. If you have to buy lift tickets when you arrive you'll want to arrive extra-early to avoid long lift lines.

Calgary ski mom, Coleen, recommends getting a direct to lift Tiger Pass for kids 5 and under at RCR Resorts. The pass is $20 and allows you to skip the ticket booth each time you visit the ski hill. Otherwise, you'll have to stand in a long line to get the free kids pass.

Save time with direct-to-lift passes for the little ones (Photo: Emily Mcknight)

5. Be organized about how you handle the ski drop off process

My family's drop off system looks like this: My husband pulls into the 10 minute loading area and we take all gear, boots, helmets, and clothing out of the car.

Hauling Gear into the Lodge (photo: Jennifer Walker)
We carry the skis and poles over to the nearest ski rack, put helmets on our heads, stuff everything else into a big duffel bag (including lunch,) and then I slowly start making my way over to the day lodge with our gear while my husband goes off to find parking. He meets us in the day lodge where we are getting dressed and starting to put on our boots.

Usually my husband carries his own ski boots back with him and brings his own helmet. When he arrives at the day lodge he moves our skis and poles closer to the hill before coming inside to meet us.

A lot of families will also tell you about how important it is to bring a sled if you have young children. You can pile gear and kids into the sled as you transport everything to the day lodge. While I've never chosen this method myself, I see a lot of families doing it at ski hills and it definitely makes things easier if you have a lot of gear to bring in from the vehicle.

Eventually you get on the hill and it's all worth it!

 6. Book ski lessons for the start of the day

My most relaxed ski days have always started with lessons. When my son was just learning to ski, we would arrive at the hill by 8:30am, focus on getting him to his class with his boots and skis on, and then take care of our own gear/skis. My husband would usually still try to get out the door in his own skis as soon as my son's class would start but I'd go grab a coffee, spend half an hour relaxing, and then slowly make my way out the door to get a couple runs in before the lessons ended.

Starting the day off with ski school at Nakiska Ski Area


Organization is key if you're going to be a ski family and I love Emily's advice below.

"We keep all the extra clothes (snow pants, extra socks, hats, gloves, hot packs, etc in a roller bag we can bring into the lodge with us so once we have that in the car we are ready to go and we don't need to pack winter clothes for everyone. Also we keep a sled in our vehicle that we use for transporting skis  to lodge."

A photo of Lindy's gear room (photo: Lindy Bowler)
Like Emily, I also try to store as much gear as possible in my car, in the rafters of the garage, on storage shelves in the garage, or beside the garage door so that it's easy to leave the house quickly. Usually we can have the car packed and the family ready to go somewhere within half an hour if we're well organized. I also store all of our mittens, hats, buffs, and outdoor accessories in a large bag that sits beside the door. When we are going somewhere I just grab the bag and I know that everything is there ready for our outing.

Other parents echo the same advice on organization. Michael says he keeps all of his family's ski gear in Rubbermaid bins all in one place. He also keeps extra gloves and socks in there.

Lindy says she has a "gear room" in her basement with a bookshelf for ski boots, hooks for helmets, and a rod where they hang snow pants and jackets. "We put goggles, gloves, neck warmers in each helmet and hang up passes on a hook too."

Organization eventually gets you here - On the hill skiing!

Tips for Skiing with Kids of Different Ages

I've always had it easy because I only have one child so we just ski at his pace/ability and sometimes take turns doing family runs Vs. solo runs. And these days it's usually me doing the solo runs because I can't keep up anymore to my husband and son when they want to take off into the glades.

For those of you skiing with more than one child though, below are some tips that could be useful when dealing with different ages and abilities:

  • Plan a ski day or ski vacation with friends and extended family. The bigger the village or tribe, the more adults to divide up and ski with kids of different abilities.

  • Plan a ski weekend and stay at a ski in/out resort on hill. This way, when the younger child/children tire, a parent can take them back to the room (or to the hotel pool) while a second adult skis with older child/children. It even works well if you only have one child. I'll often stop skiing earlier in the afternoon with my son while my husband goes back out for a few more runs.

  •  Look for resorts that offer more than skiing. We love Nakiska Ski Area in Kananaskis because of its proximity to the Village down below. On one trip this winter I was injured and couldn't ski so I dropped my boys off at the hill, and then retreated to the fireplace and coffee shop at the Delta Lodge in the village. Families with younger children or babies can also escape to the village when done skiing (and it's easy to make a trip back to the hill to pick anybody up who decided to stay longer.) Also at the village, you'll find a skating pond and sledding hill for children who finish skiing earlier than other family members. You can read more about Kananaskis Village here: Ten Reasons to Spend Time at Kananaskis Village this Winter.

  • Bring toys and books. Bring a small bag of toys or some books in your ski bag for kids who finish skiing early. 

Stay on the ski hill and this is how you can end your day (Featured: Fernie Alpine Resort)

Ski mom, Lindy, recommends putting one child in a lesson while you ski with the other child. The same could be done with daycare on the hill. She also suggests dividing up so that one parent takes the older child up the chair lift while the other parent stays on the beginner hill with the younger child.

And I love Jenn's advice: "We have two little girls ages 3 and 4 and then we also have a baby.  We take the baby in the sled and take him up and down the magic carpet, pulling him around while we help the other two ski. It's lots of fun!"

Jenn with her ski girls (photo: Jenn Robinson)

Handling the Crowded Day Lodge

This is one of the biggest reasons that I love ski vacations where we stay on the hill. When we get hungry for lunch or need a break mid-day, we retreat to our cozy condo, enjoy some crowd-free down time and then return to the hill for a few more afternoon runs (or head straight to the swimming pool and hot tub instead.)

When your own private condo isn't an option for lunch, try these tips instead:

Cirque Restaurant and Bar,  Lizard Creek Lodge, Fernie
One. Stagger your lunch so that you eat at 11:00am and then return to the hill at noon (when everybody else is coming in to eat.)

Two. Arrive early when the ski hill opens, spend the morning skiing hard with few breaks, fill your pockets with snacks, and then eat lunch in the vehicle on your drive home. This is a favourite technique for us because we can easily get 6 to 7 runs completed in the morning and be off the hill by 1pm. We snack on granola bars while skiing and then eat after we leave the hill. (We bring lunch from home and just leave it in the vehicle.)

Three. Splurge and find a restaurant on the hill for lunch. An actual "sit down" restaurant (not the cafeteria in the day lodge) will always be quieter and less busy. In Fernie we like heading over to the Cirque Restaurant and Bar in the Lizard Creek Lodge where we can have lunch (or even just coffee and snacks) in front of the beautiful fireplace.

Four. Carry a backpack with you (with your packed lunch in it) and eat a mid-mountain lodge (usually less crowded.)

Five.  Eat outside if it's sunny and warm out. 

And finally, if at all possible, plan trips to the ski hill mid-week when the day lodge (and entire hill) will be deserted. Skip the crowded weekends and find a local hill that you can visit when the kids get off school at noon or have a PD day.

Enjoying lunch outside on a sunny day at the hill

Keeping Track of People on the Ski Hill

Many parents recommend carrying walkie talkies on the hill if you have kids old enough to use them. Even with younger kids, I've found myself separated from my husband and son on the hill and could have used an easy way to find them again.

Ski mom, Melinda, recommends bright clothes or safety vests to keep track of family members. (and I have to agree, there's nothing worse than trying to find somebody on the hill when they are dressed all in black or in other dark colours.)

Melinda also has some other wise advice for us below:
"Make sure the kids understand the rule (reinforce at every lift if necessary) that at every intersection they must wait for you and that you will decide together which way to go (or whatever rule you have to keep everyone together if splitting up.) Keep a whistle in your child's pocket in case they get lost in the woods and need help. Point out ski patrol people, the first aid place, and the area for lost children (or a muster point) in case you lose each other. Make sure school aged kids know how to ask for help and that they know your phone number. Finally, don't let your phone freeze by taking pictures!  Keep it for emergencies."
All good suggestions above! Communication is key so whatever you choose to do on the hill, make sure everybody in the family is on board and understands your personal system so that you stay together.

Communication is key with older kids to ensure nobody gets lost on the ski hill (photo: Karen Phillips)

Ski mom, Yvonne, also recommends labeling all equipment and writing phone numbers on ski poles (not necessarily for lost poles but for lost children.)

For more advice, check out this great story from our friends at the Kid Project Blog:

Stay Safe on the Slopes - Safety Tips for Families

Nobody's losing us with the bright red jacket and helmet


Downhill Skiing - as "Affordable" as Possible

We all know that downhill skiing will never be a "cheap" sport and if you're looking for something that won't break the bank, there are much better options. That being said, there are ways to make it "more" affordable and to save a few dollars here and there.

  • Bring you own lunch, drinks and snacks. Most day lodges have microwaves and hot water taps for instant noodles. You can also bring your own cups and hot chocolate or coffee mix to save money on buying drinks at the hill. Many families pack a thermos with their favourite hot beverage to the hill as well and I recommend bringing your own water bottles rather than paying for water at the resort.  Finally, if you are staying in a hotel and can't make a lunch, make a quick trip to a grocery store or a Subway to pick up some sandwiches.

  • Rent skis off the ski hill. You'll save up to $15 per person if you rent a ski package in Calgary before hitting the slopes. You'll also save time when you reach the hill because you won't have to wait in the long rental line. Most rental companies in Calgary also offer discounts for multi-day rentals and many places will allow you to pick up your skis the night before at no extra cost (Sports Rent for example does this and is located on 16th Ave for easy drop off on your way home from the mountains.)

  • Look for discounted lift tickets. The cheapest option is to buy a seasons pass (when they go on sale in the fall) or a discount ski card (usually on sale before Christmas) for your local hill. If you didn't buy any passes or cards though, you'll want to find discounted lift tickets for the few times you head out to a ski hill.

    • Costco sells lift ticket bundles for most of the major resorts in the Canadian Rockies.

    • The ADmazing Savings Coupon book has coupons for 2 for 1 lift tickets for some resorts along with 50% off savings at other resorts.

    • AMA has discounted ski lift tickets along with discounts on rentals and lessons for some hills.

    • Many vacation rentals with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies include lift tickets. Several hotels in Banff also offer lift tickets included with your hotel room. Follow this link to see current vacation packages for RCR ski resorts.

    • Purchase lift tickets 7 days in advance off the RCR website and you'll save up to 20% at Nakiska, Fernie, Kimberley, or Kicking Horse Resorts.

    • Half day tickets are available at many ski resorts if you want to ski for an afternoon. Half day pricing begins at 12:30pm at Nakiska Ski Area.

    • Most mountain resorts offer free foot passes for parents just helping kids in the beginner areas serviced by magic carpets. Note at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park in Calgary you'll have to pay for a foot pass but it's valid for the entire season and is pretty affordable.

      At Nakiska Ski Area and at Kimberley Alpine Resort, adults can ski with their children for free in the beginner area as long as you get a special pass from the ticket office.

      At Fernie Alpine Resort, adults can ski on the beginner platter lift, the Mighty Moose, for $18.95 + GST. Kids 17 and under are free. This lift is an excellent progression from the magic carpet and most beginners would do well spending their day learning to ski here before heading up the chair lift.

      And remember, kids 5 and under are free at most hills if accompanied by a paying adult on the hill.

Never "cheap" but always rewarding!

Budget-friendly Ski Vacations

I love going away for a weekend and staying right on the ski hill at Fernie or Kimberley Alpine Resort. I find it to be much more relaxing when I can pretty much ski out the door of my condo in the morning and I enjoy having a place to retreat to mid-day to avoid the crowded day lodges.

You can read about our ski vacations to these resorts here:

Family Guide to Fernie Alpine Resort

Family Guide to Kimberley Alpine Resort 

While a ski vacation is never "cheap," you can make it more affordable with these following tips:

  • Consider hostelling if planning a ski weekend at Nakiska Ski Area. The HI Kananaskis Hostel is located just a few minutes away from the ski hill and has private rooms for families. Read more here at Affordable Family Ski Vacations in the Canadian Rockies. There are several other hostels located near ski hills in Banff as well.

  • Rent a two or three bedroom condo or house on a ski hill and share with friends. The Fernie Lodging Company  or the Kimberley Lodging Company websites are good guides if searching for a larger property to share.

  • Look for vacation specials at RCR resorts which usually include lift tickets along with your condo or hotel room.

  • Book hotel rooms with Air Miles, look for Groupon deals (or similar deals from other websites,) or find discounted lodging from the school coupon book you probably have at least one of.

Slope Side Swimming Pool at Kimberley Alpine Resort

Special Tips for keeping the kids Happy

Consider this the "random list of everything else I wanted to add to this story. And thanks to all the Calgary ski moms who helped contribute to this section.

  • Frequent Snacks!!!! (I learned this the hard way when my son came down with a serious case of the "hangries" a week ago on the ski hill.) Stuff your pockets with granola bars, nuts, or other snacks.

  • Candy! Stuff your pockets with candy for those "difficult moments" or as rewards after a good run.

  • Frequent Bathroom Breaks! (another one I've learned the hard way. And don't trust kids to tell you that they have to go. Just make an executive decision after a few runs that you're all going inside to use the bathroom.)

  • Load everything you need in your pockets for random stops. (this saves you from constant trips into the day lodge)

  • Ski with friends. It's always more fun.

  • Good Clothing! And special items I recommend: One-piece snow suits to keep snow away from the skin when kids fall down, gloves that fit over the ski jacket (again to keep snow away from skin,) and buffs under helmets that come up to cover the child's chin, mouth, and nose if necessary

Having fun in the junior half pipe at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park

  • Go early, leave early. (always my motto!) You'll get the best snow, the shortest lift lines, the best runs with the fewest number of people, and have the most success

  • Pack entertainment items for the car ride home (books, a tablet with games on it, small toys...)

  • Plan something to do to unwind after skiing before heading home. (If skiing at Nakiska, we like to go to the Village after for coffee at the Delta Lodge. It's a nice reward for us adults and there's plenty of room for kids to run around.)

  • End the day on a high note rather than pushing for that one final run (that will always end in disaster.) Plan for short days with young kids and ski close to home so that you can leave if things just aren't going well.

  • Start young kids in strap on skis that go over regular boots on the bunny hill. At this point they are just working on balance and getting a feel for the whole "ski thing."

Learning to ski with strap on skis over normal winter boots (photo: Robin Zielke)

  • Get a whole box of hand and toe warmers from Costco - Melinda

  • Pack extra gloves, hats, and even jackets - Yvonne

  • Bring a change of clothes and extra socks for the end of the day - Melinda

  • Make your ski day super special with dinner out after. Lindy says they like to go to the Banff Hot Springs after skiing in Banff and then they stop in Canmore for dinner after.

  • Look for resorts that offer special "fun" features for kids, My son loves the junior half pipe at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park and LOVES the kids tree runs at Fernie and Kimberley.

  • And final wisdom from Natalie: "We ski at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park and love having our local resort 15 min. from home! It's so nice to have seasons passes and to be able to go for 2-4 hrs. depending on the day. It's also great for teaching a 2 year old because if they just aren't having it, then we go another day and try again! Some days they love it and others not so much because, well, they are toddlers!"

Kids Tree runs at Fernie and Kimberley are always a highlight of our ski vacations

For more inspiration check out these great stories:

Keep Family Skiing Fun - Brave Ski Mom

Starting young! (Photo: Emily Mcknight)

Four Things Not to Do when Skiing with Kids - Liftopia

Ski School - Our Number One Way to Teach Toddlers to Ski - Bring the Kids

Skiing with Infants and Toddlers in Tow - Bring the Kids

Five Tips for Beginner Skiers and Snowboarders
- Brave Ski Mom

Ski Schooling - Teaching a Kid to Turn - Kid Project

Five Positions for Teaching Your Young Kids to Ski
- Kid Project

Teaching a Toddler to Snowboard - Born to be Adventurous

Teach your Kids to Ski - Brave Ski Mom

100 Tips for Teaching Kids to Ski - Mountain Mom and Tots

Teaching the kids to ski at Fernie (photo: Candace Truman)


Keep up a Good Attitude

I'll end this story with a couple good quotes and two more stories to check out.

"To all the skiers out there raising little kids on the hill, this is a huge sacrifice to one day, be able to have them out-ski you. There will be days when you don't set foot on a chair lift or even a green run, but I know this will pay off in the long run." - Yvonne

"Don't beat yourself up if you drove all the way out and you go skiing once and the rest of the day the kids just wanna play in the snow. It's about being outside and enjoying yourself, not to prepare for a race." - Melinda

It's all worth it! (photo: Andrea Binder-Lechi)

Recommended Reading:

The Tears on the Bunny Hill are an Investment in Our Future - Rain or Shine Mama

In Praise of Family Skiing - Brave Ski Mom

Parting shot below of my own little ski buddy. This was one of his first ski days at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, still skiing on the magic carpet runs and definitely not able to ride up the chair lift. He now skis runs I'm too scared to follow him down and follows his dad through the glades off the Gold Chair at Nakiska. Meanwhile, I stick to the groomers down below, content with the fact that my kid definitely out-skis me.

Start young and they'll grow up to be mighty skiers

Disclaimer: This story was not sponsored by any ski resorts and I wasn't paid to write it. I have chosen to partner with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies this winter though and have received free skiing at their resorts. As always, all opinions are my own (or belong to the ski moms quoted in this story.)

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