For the past two seasons, I’ve been taking my four-year-old up to Bridger for laps on the Snowflake chair. I’m sure there are plenty of other Bozemanites out there who, like me, are making the sometimes-painful transition from tearing it up solo to toting the tots. I’ve learned some hard lessons about finding gear, schlepping it and the fam up to the hill, getting on and off, navigating the lifts, and just finding ways to make skiing a fun part of family life. Here are some tips to ensure that you still enjoy yourself on the hill, and that when your kids enter ski school they’ll be pumped and ready to rip it up.
Buy Used and Buy Calmly
You can buy all brand new gear if you’re able, but why? The kid’s gonna grow out of it all by next season. Buy used. You’ll spend far less, and you won’t worry about scratching the boards, decaling the helmet, or spilling soda all over the parka. The local ski swap is a dreamy idea, but the reality can be a nightmare—take a kid to the swap to try on boots, and one elbow to the head will make her suspicious of both skiing and crowds for a long time. Try second-hand shops, where the atmosphere is calmer and you can spread out and take your time. Use Craigslist and limit searches to local ads with pics. Check out the gear swap on outsidebozeman.com. Send an e-mail around the office to see what kinds of gear you can find in your coworkers’ garages. There’s a lot out there. You may just have to get creative to find it, and try to keep the kids out of the stress of doing so.
Keep Your Own Stuff to a Minimum and Pack the Night Before
Seriously. This is where we parents screw up the most. The key is keeping it mellow. Kids can sense our anxiety, and we don’t want them thinking that skiing is stressful. Keep it fun by including the tikes in the planning and packing process. Give the little guy some plastic tools and tell him to tune his skis while you snap a few pictures to show your buddies. Then run around trying to find everything else. Load gear into as few bags as possible, and if you’re cheap like me, plan for lots of snacking.
Keep It Close
Once you hit the resort, unload as much gear as possible as close to the lifts as you can: skis, poles, cooler, anything else that you don’t need to hike from your car back to your cache. If there are two adults, you can tag-team this and feel better having your gear guarded. I feel something special about that walk, in ski boots, from the car to the lift. We’re together and we’re about to have fun. That’s the only reason we’re there. And that feeling is achieved more easily if you’re not trying to carry three pairs of skis, boots, and poles, along with your snack bag, cooler, and both kids.
Avoid the Lifts as Long as Possible
The best thing to do is get the kids comfortable with the whole ski-area scene before you even think about gearing them up. And once you do, there’s a lot to learn before you head to the chair or the magic carpet. The first few times my wife and I took the kiddos to Bridger, we counted it a raging success if we shoved the ski boots on and waddled them out onto snow. We all put our skis on and galumphed around. We found little hills to side step up and glide down. We all crashed and laughed. Falling down is, after all, how we improve.
Eventually though, all parties tire of the flats. Bridger’s Snowflake is as easy as they come: the chairs move slowly, hang low, and don’t go very far. Even so, there’s no room for machismo when helping a toddler on and off the lift. Ask the lifty for help on, and signal the guy in the shack at the top to slow ‘er down for you and your prodigy. If you keep it cool, lift rides can become the wonderful, forced one-on-one time all parents crave.
Avoid Sick Powder
If you go with the kids, go for the kids. Don’t take the family on a powder day. You’ll be so distracted by feeling sorry for yourself that you may not notice minor details like the unloading zone.
Start the family out when it’s warm and you can focus. Keep everybody toasty and your expectations low. Don’t expect to make too many turns yourself. Plan on frequent and extended snack breaks. Spring for hot chocolate. Pay attention to what the kids want to do, and do it. Take lots of deep breaths. If you can pull it off, you’ll have kids who love skiing as much as you do, and you’ll have bought with your patience a passion you can share for a lifetime.