Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Take your Skiing to the next Level in 5 Simple Steps

Last year I could usually keep up to my child on the ski hill. I was faster on groomed runs, and I think I still might have been the stronger skier. That has changed this year, and my 9 year old is kicking my butt!

Take your skiing to the next level this winter

Want a good butt-kicking from your own kids on the hill? Follow these steps below and you'll see progress arrive quickly. Maybe too quickly.

The tips below also apply to parents who want to get better at skiing. I've used my own progress as an example through much of this story.

Playing "follow the leader" in a game I'll never win anymore

One. Ski Lessons for the WIN

My husband doesn't like "outsourcing" any training that he can handle on his own. I still remember how opposed he was to registering our son in a beginner bike camp for example because he claimed that it was his job to teach his son to ride a bike. (fair enough.)

Fast forward several years, and my husband has come to accept that our 9 year old is quickly passing us both in abilities - and that we can't teach him everything anymore. We need to call in specialists and experts from time to time (at least for one or two coaching sessions per season.)

Skiing the glades at Nakiska
I registered my son in a private ski lesson at Nakiska Ski Area earlier in January, and he had a fabulous time with his teacher. I basically told her to take him up the highest chairlift (the one I'm too scared to ride most days,) and to take him into the glades (where I have yet to ski.) I said I wanted her to help him develop more confidence on steep terrain, in trees and powder, and to coach him a bit in the fun stuff like jumps and bumps.

The teacher was more than happy to accommodate my requests (what teacher wouldn't be happy to get a break from teaching kids how to execute pizzas and french fries on the groomed beginner runs after all?!)

Teacher and student spent two happy hours playing on advanced terrain that I just couldn't accompany my son on. I was alone on the hill that day while my husband was at work, and I realized that I'd had a total mom win that day! I'd basically hired a ski buddy for my son (a ski buddy that could teach him some new tips and tricks) - and it was glorious!

I can't wait to see where my son is skiing by the end of the season as I'm already losing him on most runs, and can't keep track of him when he keeps ducking into the trees searching for obstacles to jump off of!

It's a fun problem to have when you need to hire an instructor to take your child skiing on parts of the hill that you, the parent, just can't safely navigate. Safety wins every day in my books, and I'd rather book a session with a trained instructor any day rather than going places on the ski hill that I'm personally not comfortable with. After all, if I break my leg, I don't know who's driving us home!

This is why I can't teach him anymore! 

Two. Choose Stronger (Trusted) Skiers for Ski Buddies 

I took a long break from downhill skiing when I was pregnant and didn't start skiing again until my son was maybe 4 years old. And while I didn't quite have to start back on the bunny hill, it's still been a long climb back up to where I used to be able to ski.

I follow my ski buddy to the top of the mountain!
I've made a LOT of progress over the past year and it's mostly because I ski with stronger skiers. I follow my son and husband around the hill,  up to the top of the mountain, down black runs, and occasionally down runs that terrify me.

Skiing with stronger skiers pushes me to become a better skier myself. I can't just cruise the green runs all day or spend my days looking for the easiest blue groomer on the hill. If I want to ski with my family, I have to go outside my comfort zone.

The key though in choosing a ski buddy, is that you have to be able to trust your friend or family member. My husband knows that I am petrified of moguls and bumpy terrain, so he tries really hard to choose smooth groomers (even if they are advanced black runs.) And my son as well only leads me down runs that he thinks I'll like (and 95% of the time, he judges well.)

My ski buddy loves taking me down steep terrain - and pushes me to become a better skier

Three. Choose the Best Time to Ski 

I can't say enough about heading out to your local hill mid-week for quieter slopes. It is so much easier to learn to ski when the runs are wide open and you aren't constantly worrying about running into somebody (or having somebody run into you!)

One of my big goals this winter was to learn to ski solo with my son. I wanted to become independent on the hill so that we could head out whenever there was a day off school without having to wait for the weekend when my husband could come with us. And so far so good! (a few entertaining moments aside where we've lost one another.)

As a bonus, by heading out to our local hill to ski mid-week, we're also skiing more! And if you see number four below, skiing more quickly leads to skiing better!

Fresh grooming awaits the early bird! 

Other valuable tips here:

  • Try to avoid Saturdays if planning a ski weekend away. Sundays are much quieter because most families are heading home, and are just focusing on packing up, checking out of their hotel, and driving back to the city.  In our dream world, we'd actually take an extra day off work (and school) to ski Sunday/Monday (skipping Saturday completely.)

  • First turns are the BEST! I am not a morning person, but I will never sleep in on a ski day. We are religious about being in queue for first lifts at 9am sharp so that we can get the fresh corduroy, ideal for tackling those steep runs before they get icy and crowded. With fresh grooming, most people should be able to ski up one grade from their normal "afternoon ski grade." - So at 9am, I'm skiing groomed black runs. By noon I'm down to blue runs. By 2pm, I'm just happy to supervise my son in the terrain park.

  • Mornings are always best for learning. If you have a local hill with seasons passes, head out for 9am when lifts open, ski hard for a few hours, have lunch, and head home. You'll not only get the best snow, uncrowded first runs, and perfect grippy grooming, you'll also be safer!! The afternoon is always more dangerous on ski hills as beginners get tired, runs get crowded, and steep pitches become "skied out" and icy.

First tracks and an entire mountain to ourselves! 

Four. Practice makes Perfect! 

We've chosen the nearby Nakiska Ski Area as our "local ski hill" because we can be at the hill in less than an hour. By skiing "close," we're also skiing "more" this winter.

Ski more and you'll definitely see improvement. My skiing has seriously improved this season - purely because we're getting out more than we did last year.

Practice Makes Perfect. Ski More, Ski Better!

The other thing I recommend is frequent visits to the same hill so that you can measure your progress year to year. You'll also build confidence at that hill, which helps with working your way up to progressively challenging terrain.

Example: We've been skiing at Nakiska a lot this year so far. So much so, that I'm already comfortable with most of the intermediate blue runs on the hill (and it's still only January.) Last year by comparison, I could only ski a few of the blue runs.

Now, because I've gotten comfortable with most of the blue runs, I'm ready to start skiing some of the groomed black runs (something I never would have done last year!) - and on our last visit to Nakiska, I skied three separate black runs!! - all because I'm getting more and more comfortable with the hill, and I'm slowly working my way up to new terrain.

This year I reached the top of the mountain at Nakiska and I can ski with my family

Five. Make it FUN 

Below are some of the "tricks" I've used this season to make skiing extra "fun" for my son:

1. Cupcakes! Nakiska has amazing cupcakes and I've been "bribing" my son with a cupcake at the end of his ski days. It's been very effective.

2. We've discovered the terrain park! We got terrain park passes at a recent visit to Fernie Alpine Resort, and I was surprised to see how quickly my son picked up some of the beginner box jumps.

I love that this is something we can do at the end of the day as a reward. (Ski well and keep up a good attitude, and we'll spend a half hour in the terrain park at the end of the day, for example.)

The terrain park is also a great option when the rest of the hill starts to get icy or crowded.

Note that to use the terrain park at an RCR resort such as Nakiska or Fernie, you'll need to get a terrain park pass for the season (a free upgrade with your seasons pass.)

Discovering how fun terrain parks can be

3. Trees! Kids love skiing in the trees next to the beginner runs on most ski hills. And at some resorts, there are even special kids' tree runs that are fun to discover on the lower mountain. (We enjoyed this feature at Fernie Alpine Resort on a recent visit.)

Kids Trees at Fernie Alpine Resort

I'd love to hear your personal suggestions for how you take the kids to the next level in their skiing. And if you have advice for timid moms following little daredevils down the mountain, I'd love to hear that too! 


  1. What a fun family adventure! I haven't been skiing in years. Because of our schedules, we usually take our vacation in the summer time, which means lots of camping and beach time!

    1. We always take our vacation in the summer too when my husband takes time off work. If we go anywhere in the winter, it's usually Mexico for a week. Ski vacations unfortunately last the weekend. I wish we could go away to Fernie for a whole week. It would be so much fun!

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