If you're lucky enough to live near a ski area, kids' skiing may become a popular extracurricular for your child. Here's what to expect.
The basics: There are many different styles of skiing, but all involve using special equipment—boots, skis, and sometimes poles—to travel over snowy ground.
Age kids can start: Some kids start as early as 2 or 3 years old, with tiny skis on the bunny slopes. Most resorts and ski schools offer lessons for preschoolers (but potty-training is a prerequisite). If your child is interested in snowboarding, he can begin learning when he is about 6 or 7 years old.
Skills needed/used: Balance, coordination, strength.
Best for kids who are: Interested! They'll have to overcome the possibility of discomfort due to cold weather, and conquer any fear of heights or falling.
Season/when played: Winter; kids can also attend conditioning programs and camps in the summer.
Team or individual? Individual, although kids can race for a team just like swimmers do.
Levels: Schools and private leagues or clubs have divisions determined by age and/or ability. The most elite athletes can attend special boarding schools with ski racing programs.
College and university teams are regulated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the best skiers can compete in the Winter Olympic Games (specialties include moguls and jumping).
Appropriate for kids with special needs: Yes. The Special Olympics offers programs in alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding. Visually impaired children can ski with a sighted guide. Kids with physical disabilities can use adaptive skis.
Fitness factor: High. Staying upright and moving forward with long, cumbersome boards attached to your feet takes upper- and lower-body strength, flexibility, and balance (even when gravity is on your side).
Equipment: Your child will need skis, boots, poles (all of which can be rented at most ski slopes), a helmet, and goggles, along with warm, water-resistant clothing such as snow pants and gloves. Consider buying gently used equipment for a beginner or a young child who is growing fast. It is available at many reputable ski shops. Or, these shops may offer a lease program that allows you to return skis at the end of the season.
Costs: Supporting a young skier can be pricey; you'll need to buy or rent equipment, purchase lift tickets, and cover transportation costs—since most ski areas are, by nature, not close to residential areas. Lift tickets vary tremendously in price. The good news is that many slopes offer free lift tickets for young kids (usually 5 and under) and any child enrolled in lessons. Joining a ski club is a good way to get discounts on lift tickets and transportation. Also, find out if your state has a discount program for young residents.
Time commitment required: Since skiing does depend on wintry weather, you'll have one very busy season and then some time off.
Potential for injury: High, because of the speeds, equipment, and terrain involved. Skiers should always wear helmets and goggles to protect against injuries. Get a tip sheet on preventing snow sports injuries from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Also, be aware of cold-weather safety guidelines to reduce the risk of hypothermia and frostbite.
How to find a program, team, or venue:
- USSA Club Directory
- Midwest Ski Areas Association (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin)
- Ski Central
- Snowboard Outreach Society (programs in California, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin)
- Southeastern Ski Areas Association (West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Tennessee)
- Disabled Sports USA (for adaptive skiing programs)
- U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA; parent organization of the U.S. Ski Team and U.S. Snowboarding)
If your child likes skiing, also try: Cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, bicycling, track and field.