4 Tips to Make Skiing with Young Kids Fun for the Whole Family

Today is the first official day of winter, but there’s been no shortage of wintry weather already here in northern Michigan. When the flakes and freezing temps arrive, there are only two ways to deal: either hunker down inside or gear up and head out. With three young kids in our family, there’s no way we’re going to be trapped inside all winter, so as often as possible we pull on our snow pants and coats and get outside for some winter fun.

This past Friday, we decided to head down to Crystal Mountain for the opening day of the 2016 ski season. With not-too-cold temperatures, little wind and fresh powder, it was a perfect day to ski. So we all took a family “personal therapy” day from work and school and drove south with a car full of skis, boots and suitcases because we booked a room at Crystal Mountain for the night.

When we arrived at Crystal Mountain at about 1 p.m., the kids were ready and raring to go. However, once we got into the lodge, things got off to a bit of a slow start. It took about 45 minutes to get snow pants, mittens, hats and ski boots strapped on everyone. By the time we were all ready, Heather and I were sweating from the exertion and ready to get out into the cold air.

We headed, first, to Totem Park, which is Crystal Mountain’s “bunny” hill for the kids. The 50 yard trek from the lodge to the hill was more bear than bunny as one of the twins stopped halfway and said “Can we be done?” We made it through this road bump and reached the “Magic Carpet” – essentially a conveyor belt that transports you up the hill – at which point we were informed by the same daughter that “I have to go potty.” No one said this was going to be easy.

After a few warm-up runs, we skied over to the chair lift. Heather and I are outnumbered by the kids, so getting everyone in line and up to the chair lift is a challenge. We split up to make it work. Heather goes up with our six year old and I take the twins. It’s a bit of a tricky maneuver, but I carry the twins under my arms and we climb on the chair as it swoops by to pick us up, and then I carry them off like sacks of potatoes once we reach the top. Fortunately, this season our oldest is self-sufficient both getting on and off the lift.

We kept at it for about four hours, with one break for the kids’ favorite ski lodge snack of hot chocolate and Doritos. The kids did great. By the end of the day, even the twins were, more or less, skiing down green hills with limited assistance. As I said, kids pick this stuff up quickly. We wrapped up the night with a nice dinner and movie in our room.

We woke up the next morning to more fresh powder and a bright sky. Despite the perfect conditions, we decided to quit while we were ahead, so instead of skiing we headed to the indoor pool and hot tub for some fun in the water. Our short trip was over. Bags packed and limbs intact, we headed back to Traverse City content that we had put in a good day’s work on the slopes. Short as it was, it served as a great diversion to the craziness and bustle of the holiday season.

A pre-Christmas ski trip will definitely become a new holiday season tradition for our family in the years to come.


A Few Tips on Teaching Young Kids to Ski

Skiing was one of my favorite activities as a kid. I grew up in metro Detroit, so there was not easy access to ski hills. I cherished the few times every winter that I had the chance to get Up North to hit the slopes, primarily at Nub’s Nob in Harbor Springs.

When we decided to move to Traverse City, lots of people asked how we planned to deal with all the snow and cold. My response: the opportunity to be outside and active during the winter is one of the things I most looked forward to about moving north. No longer would a ski trip require a 4.5 hour drive up I-75. Now we could be at Crystal Mountain in under 45 minutes. And that’s not to mention that Hickory Hills in Traverse City is less than 10 minutes from our house.

Despite skiing relatively little as an adult, I’ve always thought that it was the perfect winter family activity. Heather didn’t grow up skiing, but has learned to enjoy it over the last few years.

And so we’ve both been committed to getting the kids on the slopes as soon as possible so that it can become a lifelong activity they love.

But it’s not easy. It requires a lot of patience and preparation, and no matter how patient or prepared you are, things will not always go smoothly. Some kids take right to it. Others need to be coddled and cajoled. Here are a few things – some obvious in retrospect – that we’ve learned along the way.

1. The Right Gear is Everything

If your kids aren’t physically comfortable, get ready for a disaster of a day. That means, first and foremost, making sure they’re warm. Heavy coats, warm base layers, fleece and wool socks are key for cold days. The single most important component is a pair of good mittens – that both are warm and stay on their hands. For the twins we have mittens that have a long elastic sleeves that stretch up to their elbows. We pull the mittens on first, then put coats on so that the coat sleeves help keep the mittens in place. Keep in mind that you’ll be working much harder out there than your young kids will. You’ll likely be hot from pushing, pulling, carrying and dragging them around the slopes, but they may be cold because they’re not exerting themselves nearly as much.

It’s also important to have good equipment. That doesn’t mean it needs to be expensive – kids outgrow equipment every season, after all. But it needs to fit well and be properly tuned. It’s hard enough for kids to learn how to ski. It’s best not to compound things by having equipment that is uncomfortable and works against them.

2. Make it Fun

Young kids just want to have fun outside. They’re not worried about form or technique. Their only measure of success is whether they have a good time. So if they’re not having fun skiing, they’ll ask to go sledding instead. And as an adult, wouldn’t you rather ride up a chairlift than pull a sled up a steep, icy sledding hill?

Try to make every aspect of the day – from the drive, to getting geared up, to riding the lifts, to skiing down the hill – an enjoyable game. That’s what will keep them wanting to come back to it.

3. Be Patient

Head out there with low expectations. There will likely be lots of falling, crying and frequent breaks the first few times out with small kids. You may spend more time in the lodge sipping hot chocolate than you do on the slopes. The key is not to worry about progress, but rather to build positive association with the activity.

4. Find Some Time For Yourself 

Skiing is a blast. Skiing with young kids, however, can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Therefore, find some time for you and your spouse or significant other to ski without the kids. Put them in a lesson. Get a babysitter. At some point, as they get older and better, your kids will start blowing by you down the hill and skiing will become an enjoyable, relaxing family activity. But you need to put the work in while they’re young to make the investment pay off. Until then, it’s important to take some time for yourself so that you can nurture your own love of skiing.

See You Out There! 

We’re really excited about getting a ton of skiing in this winter and checking out as many of the hills and resorts across northern Michigan as possible. The twins don’t have school tomorrow, and Heather has some last-minute work and holiday stuff to wrap-up, so I’m thinking about taking the twins down to Crystal Mountain by myself for some skiing. That should make for an interesting story.

Thanks again for a great 2016! We can’t express enough how grateful we are for the positive feedback we’ve received about Life and Whim, and the opportunities to meet and collaborate with so many great people, during our first year.  As we mentioned in our previous post, we’ll be taking a two-week hiatus from posting to enjoy the holidays and work on the new business we’ll be launching next year. Happy holidays – we’ll see you in 2017!


FamilyJay Harrington