Winter offers many opportunities for families to participate in outdoor recreation. Alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing and snowshoeing are all sports that families can enjoy together and pursue as lifelong hobbies. If your children are young, how do you know if they are ready to begin a snow sport? To help parents make that decision, the following tips were collected from snow sports program managers at Smugglers' Notch Resort, whose family programs have received a #1 ranking for 15 years from SKI Magazine readers.
Alpine skiing Harley Johnson is the director of Smugglers' Snow Sport University, which provides skiing and snowboarding instruction at the Resort. She comments, “Ability depends on the child, so gauge your child's athleticism, balance, and interest in new things. One way to do that is to go a ski shop and find boots that fit, and then allow your child to clomp around a bit. Are they happy and interested, or cranky and complaining?" If your child already has equipment, wearing the equipment at home in a familiar setting can help children overcome the foreign feeling of this new equipment before they get on the slopes.
Johnson feels that easing young children into the skiing experience is very important. "Take it slowly and read your child and how they are doing. There are lots of instructional options. For instance, rather than trying all-day camp, perhaps a shorter amount of time in a private lesson would be better. Another option would be a nurturing program like Smugglers' Little Rascals on Snow, designed especially for 2 1/2 - 3 year olds to introduce them to skiing in short segments interspersed with play and relaxation time." She also recommends chatting with the instructor at the day's end to solicit their feedback on where the child is at after time on the slopes and what the recommended next step should be.
Comfort is important to a child's happiness on the slopes. The child's equipment should be carefully fitted by a trained technician; equipment rental shops usually carry a good selection of ski gear sized for children. Apparel should be layered so that it can easily adjusted to temperature changes. Johnson notes that "careful planning will allow you to introduce skiing in a safe, fun and relaxed way."
Snowboarding As far as trying snowboarding, Johnson observes that "a good signal is that your child tells you they want to try it, or at least they are open to the suggestion of trying it." With snowboarding, muscle development and balance are important. Can your child do hopscotch jumps or balance on one leg? One other thing to keep in mind is the importance of finding functional, well fitting boots and bindings for young children. Smugglers' beginning snowboarding programs offer equipment from Vermont's Burton Snowboards, which developed Learn To Ride (LTR) gear with features designed to ease the learning process for beginners, including the little riders who enter Smugglers' Discovery Dynamos snowboarding instruction program for ages 3 and 4.
Johnson suggests that parents be prepared to manage their child’s expectations. "Many kids look at Olympians doing snowboard tricks in the terrain park and immediately think they'll be doing that as soon as they start their lesson. Build in the reality that, as with any sport, coaching with a trained instructor and practice on your own is key to progression."
Cross-country skiing Unlike alpine skiing, where gravity does much of the work, in cross-country skiing the child has to be able to supply the power to move along on level terrain or up a hill. For this reason, Smugglers' Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Adventure Center director Zeke Zucker recommends that parents not have children younger than seven or eight try cross-country skiing because they may get frustrated with the challenge. "If the child has expressed interest in the sport and is athletically inclined, I would suggest a 'mom/dad and me' lesson, where the parent and an instructor work together in a short, positive learning situation with the child," says Zucker. "The good news is, if the child really takes to cross-country skiing, it is a sport that can be enjoyed in snowy fields or woods near home with skis, boots and poles that are relatively inexpensive."
Snowshoeing Zucker has no qualms about introducing young children to snowshoeing. He says, "If the child can walk, they can snowshoe, which makes this a terrific family activity. The odds are that the child will enjoy snowshoeing, because they can do it immediately. There’s no sliding and traction is great going up and down hills." Snowshoes are available in models appropriate for young children and some are designed to leave interesting and fun tracks in the snow as the child walks along.
Zucker recommends that young children not use poles because "they do a lot of pointing with them, and not much else." Parents may want to reinforce the child’s enthusiasm by getting back out on snowshoes as soon as possible. Zucker adds, "Snowshoeing requires even less of a snow base than skiing and can be done anywhere there’s at least a few inches of snow. Many snowshoeing centers have special programs for kids, such as nature treks that offer fun outdoor learning opportunities."
Parents can also use an early winter sports learning experience to alert the child to best practices when enjoying winter sports. With alpine skiing and snowboarding, Snow Sport University director Johnson says, "Explain to them that helmets, snowboard wrist guards, and other protection gear are important. With proper precautions, kids will be able to try new things more confidently and get better at the sport."
Getting out there to try things with your children is very valuable, Johnson advises, "If the kids know that you are interested in what they are doing, they’ll more likely be proud of their accomplishments and want to continue. Be supportive and encouraging. The more family members that can participate and enjoy winter snowsports, the better!"
About Smugglers' Notch Resort, Vermont Smugglers' is widely renowned for its quality family programming and beautiful setting in Vermont's northern Green Mountains. The popular Club Smugglers' winter packages offer great value with ski-and-stay, children's instruction and family instruction options and include mountainside lodging, daily alpine lift tickets, cross-country and snowshoe trail passes, and numerous activities and entertainment for families and adults. For more information on Smugglers' vacations please call 1-800-451-8752 and visit Smugglers' website at www.smuggs.com .
Contact Karen Boushie, Public Relations E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org PR office phone: 802-644-8572 4323 Vermont Route 108 South Smugglers' Notch, VT 05464-9537 U.S. & Canada 0800-169-8219 U.K. Fax: 802-644-2713
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