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Tips for Family Ski Trips from a Former Scaredy Cat Skier

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I vowed never to ski again at age 14. So what was I doing standing atop a frosty white mountain, taking directions from a kind man named Jim, who urged me to “make a big pizza” with my skis if I wanted to stop my body from hurling downhill, face-first into a tree? (Well, Jim didn't say it quite like that.) Here's why I braved the slopes again and my tips for family ski trips.

Tips for Family Ski Trips from a Former Scaredy Cat Skier

My kids took to skiing like, well, kids take to skiing!

Why Brave the Slopes

As a young teenager I actually enjoyed much of my day on the mountain during that second-ever family ski trip – swooshing along wide snowy beginner and easier intermediate slopes. Then we neared the bottom. In order to depart the mountain, we had to ski a terrifying, steep-angled path swarmed with advanced skiers and fearless small children who zipped past me from all angles. My parents and 17-year-old brother tired of my worries and whining, and eventually abandoned me on the hill. I am not proud to say that I finally yanked off my skis and scooted down on my butt with tears clouding my vision.

As a mom, I want to expose my children to as many experiences as I can, regardless of my hang-ups. My hope was to give my kids a chance to ski at a young enough age that they, too, could someday be among those nutty little skiers zooming down the slopes sans poles or apprehension. Besides, how can I teach my children to bravely face the world if I will not face my own fears?

Making a snow angel ~ Tips for Family Ski Trips from a Former Scaredy Cat Skier

My daughter making her first-ever snow angel

Take it Easy the First Day

Traveling from lower ground (like my family's sea-level hometown of San Diego) to the soaring mountains (like those at Keystone Resort in Colorado), you might experience altitude sickness. Weeks before our departure, I prepared the kids by telling them we would need to drink lots and lots of water on the day we flew to the mountains. The first thing my kindergartner said when she burst into my room the morning of our departure was, “Let's go skiing! I need to drink some water!”

Also, don't hit the slopes right away if your altitude change is drastic. Instead, plan a mellow day of making snow angels, building snowmen, and drinking hot cocoa. Mom and dad should steer clear of alcohol the first day too, which can exaggerate the feelings of lightheadedness, headache, shortness of breath, and nausea that can accompany altitude change. I should admit, since my husband and I had guzzled plenty of water throughout the day and were feeling fine, we each had one glass of wine with dinner with no ill side effects.

Keystone Kids' Ski School ~ Tips for Family Ski Trips from a Former Scaredy Cat Skier

Kids riding up the “magic carpet” at ski school

Sign the Kids Up for Ski School

Even if you are an advanced skier, I recommend signing the kids up for ski school. Children listen ever-so-much-better to adults to whom they are not related when it comes to learning a new task! This sentiment was echoed by my ever patient ski instructor, Jim Keens, who faithfully sent his now-grown children to ski school in their formative years.

We witnessed little ones screaming like spoons in a disposal as they begrudgingly rambled along the bunny slope with their parents. Why put yourself (and them) through that when everyone could have a better time apart for just a few hours? Besides, the children's ski instructors seem to have the patience of Ghandi as they round up their toddling bundles and instruct them how to board the “magic carpet” for ascention to the top of the hill, snow plow down, and ride back up.

Don't insist on family lessons, either. Do you ever notice how your children are so much better behaved and polite at school, for the babysitter, or on a play date at the neighbor's house then they are for you? Without the distraction of mom and dad around, your kids will probably listen to directions more closely and overcome bigger inhibitions. The positive peer pressure from kids their own age works wonders too.

Our children had never seen snow before this trip. The ski instructors reported that our six-year-old daughter perfected her snow-plow stance and had no fear at all of skiing. Our three-year-old son flailed his arms a bit on the way down but then never wanted to take breaks. The next day, both kept asking when they could ski again.

Skiing Keystone Mountain Colorado ~ Tips for Family Ski Trips from a Former Scaredy Cat Skier

Ski lessons with my trusty instructor, Jim Keens, at Keystone Mountain Resort

If You Can Afford it, Opt for Private Adult Lessons

My husband, Phil, is a much better skier than I. He took lessons on the hills of his homestate, Minnesota, which is rich in snow but poor in steep mountain slopes. Still, skiing is not his forte. Since we were at vastly different skiing levels, we opted for private (instead of group) lessons.

Jim, our trusty instructor, told us again and again that the day was about what Phil and I wanted to make of it. If we needed a breather, a potty break, or something to eat, he could adjust the schedule to meet our needs. Originally we signed up for a half-day of lessons but we were having so much fun, Jim was happy to extend our lesson to a full day.

I surprised Jim and Phil, but mostly myself by how quickly I caught on and how little fear I showed in taking on bigger challenges. I was scared, believe me, but I didn't let that stop me from having a good time! Having a private instructor made me feel less intimidated that others were watching and judging my abilities. It also freed me to request what I wanted, when I wanted it. After a few runs down the learning slopes, Jim suggested we take a couple more runs before venturing to the more advanced (non-bunny-slope) runs. When I told him I felt I was ready to move on NOW, he was pleased to accommodate my wishes.

Meanwhile, Jim noticed that Phil always lifted his right foot when turning to the right but not his left when turning the opposite direction. He gave my husband a few tips on how to work through the turns to avoid needing to lift up, which Phil found quite helpful.

When I told Jim he was freaking me out by stopping in front of me to check on my skiing, he started skiing behind me instead. He offered just the right mixture of encouragement, tough love, and patience. I loved this personal attention. Beware though, private lessons, could cost twice as much as group lessons or more!

Keystone Mountain Gondola ~ Tips for Family Ski Trips from a Former Scaredy Cat Skier

Happily riding down the mountain in the gondola

Mountains Don't Care How Tired You Are

After a surprisingly delicious lunch of a turkey burger and french fries atop the mountain, Jim asked me if I wanted to ski School Marm to the bottom. I was loving this whole skiing thing. What was my problem all of those years before? Of course I wanted to ski all of the way down the mountain!

Phil, sweet husband that he is, cautiously asked if I would mind if he skied the mountain without us. He said he felt bad leaving me on the mountain alone. I wasn't alone though…I had Jim! So, off Phil went while my lesson continued.

At first I was really impressing myself – swooshing this way and that down (what I found to be) intimidating hills, paying no attention to the maniacs that whipped past me.

And then I got tired. I hadn't slept well the night before and the thin air was catching up with me. Whenever I tried to turn to my (weaker) right side, I couldn't make it all of the way and instead picked up speed and began plunging downhill. I felt totally out of control. I'd panic and therefore plop my rear onto the snow to force myself to fall. Jim asked me, “What's going on? This hill is much easier than the last one and you had no problem with that.”

I said, “I'm tired, Jim. I'm really, really tired.”

Learning to ski is not just physically draining, it's mentally exhausting too. I had all of this adrenaline amping me up and rooting me on but after awhile, it felt too intense. All I wanted to do was get off of that mountain and release my shins from the choking grip of those ski boots.

But here's the deal…you can't just quit skiing when you feel like it. That dang mountain doesn't shrink in size because you're tired. Jim told me we had a choice. We could ski some more advanced (for me) slopes to get to the lift or continue skiing all of the way on more mellow slopes. I opted for the former.

Keystone Nordic Center Scenerey ~ Tips for Family Ski Trips from a Former Scaredy Cat Skier

My daughter was smitten with the snow – here she is taking a break from tubing to enjoy the wonder of her surroundings

Take a Moment to Enjoy the Scenery

It's easy when you are engaged in a physically and intellectually intense activity to become so focused that you forget to stop and look around. But do. The tall, tall evergreens clashing with the white of snow deserve your attention. It's stunning if you take a moment to breathe it all in.

Tubing with Kids Keystone Mountain ~ Tips for Family Ski Trips from a Former Scaredy Cat Skier

Tubing with the kids at Keystone's Nordic Center

A Ski Trip Isn't Just About Skiing

There was so much more to explore at Keystone Mountain than just skiing. The next day we took the kids to the Nordic Center to go tubing. At check-in, Czech-born Nordic Center Manager Jana Hlavaty told us, “You pay for tubing for the kids, but the exercise program for the adults is free.” I looked at her quizzically but soon learned what she meant.

At the Nordic Center you go tubing the old-fashioned way. That meant we (let's face it, my husband) had to pull the kids up the hill in their tubes for each descent. I look forward to the day when our three-year-old is tall enough for us to tube the steeper slopes at Keystone's Adventure Point, which offers its own lift. Still, it sure was peaceful out on that small hill with just us and one other family – giggling on the way down and huffing and puffing on the way up.

We also made time for an unforgettable Sleigh Ride Dinner, swimming in our condo's heated pool and hot tub, playing together in the snow, and a romantic date night just for my husband and me at Keystone's Winter Culinary Festival.

Keystone River Run Hot Tub ~ Tips for Family Ski Trips from a Former Scaredy Cat Skier

View of the hot tub and pool from the patio of our two-bedroom rental condo at the Dakota Lodge in the River Run Village

Don't Overschedule

I was excited to cross snowshoeing off my bucket list during this trip. However, I would have had to rush off the mountain and take a couple of buses to the Nordic Center to make it to my showshoe lesson on time. Instead I opted to stay on the slopes skiing with my husband and Jim. Throughout my life I have often chosen the most difficult path toward any destination. I have learned in recent years that it's okay, and sometimes better, to take the easiest path. (I have faith that I will find another opportunity to try snowshoeing!)

Winter activities, while fun, can be time-consuming and tiring. Allot the appropriate time so you can enjoy each activity rather than feeling rushed and exhausted.

The Verdict

I doubt I'll ever be a true skier. But I overcame a longtime fear on Keystone Mountain and I now appreciate the lure of skiing. And I certainly hope to ski again someday.

It's been a couple of weeks since our trip to Colorado. A couple of days ago when I was driving my son to preschool he said, “I yike ice.”

“Oh,” I said, “You like ice?”

“Yeah. And skiing and snow too.”

The kids…they will be true skiers.

What tips do you have for family ski trips? Let us know in the comments!

A Note from The Travel Mama: Thank you to Keystone Resort for hosting my family for this snow-filled weekend of fun and adventure.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. I love this! I was once a skier myself, but gave it up for its expense & general unpleasantness (it’s cold & I tire easily). That said, I’ll sure as heck be getting my kids out on the slopes come next year – and myself as well.

  2. Bridget Smith says:

    Love this post Colleen. One thing that I discovered is that if you visit at an off time, you can get “private lessons” at a beginner package price. My son and I were alone three of the four days we took skiing lessons. For my kids, I had Justin do a lesson with me and the little guys took private lessons the first two days, then group lessons the next two. It was the perfect combination for our family.

  3. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Debi – I’m glad you’ll be getting your kids onto the slopes this year. My kids had even more fun than I imagined!

  4. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Bridget – Thank you for the tips on ski school. Good to know!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    What a great post, Colleen! I was a skier long ago, and I’ve considered going back out there with the kids, but getting back into it is a little intimidating for me, too. I was never great, but I was far more gutsy than I am now. This post is a good reminder not only of how it’s ok to ease into it, but also of how fun it is! I think you’ve convinced me to get back on my skis. The kids will love it, I’m sure. Now I just have to find some snow.

  6. What a great post. I could really feel how you felt on the slopes, but I was glad I didn’t have to face getting down off the mountain. Kind of like when I wake up from a dream.

  7. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Elizabeth – I feel the same way about horseback riding now. I’m not nearly as gutsy about some things now that I’m older.I used to ride competitively as a teen and now when I get on a horse I think, “Wow. This horse is BIG.”

    Ellen – I felt a great sense of accomplishment once I got off that mountain though!

    Karen – maybe I will be a true snowshoer! I hope some year we’ll make it to MN during the winter. We’ll see…!

  8. There is a beautiful park in MN that has 5-6 months of snow available for snowshoeing. They even rent the snow shoes. And the people in MN are so friendly and familiar. You would love it during a long weekend in February next year! Glad to know the kids “Yike Ice” – we have plenty for them.

  9. This is great… I was a skier a long time ago.. I stop ever since i move here at Singapore for my work… but my dad is planning to take my little brother to go on a skiing trip. My dad a ultimate fan of skiing.. He would love to see this.

  10. Hi! I am sixteen and currently on a trip to vail with my family, I am absolutely completely terrified of the mountain. I have spent the past two days convincing myself I just was not a skiing person, even though I really want to love it. This post really helped me, thank you so much!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Gaby – Thank you for your comment! It really makes my day to hear that you found this post helpful. Are you relaxing in to skiing at all? Maybe you are trying to tackle runs that are too difficult for you. Or did you try taking lessons? Skiing without any lessons at all would be super scary for me. The last time I went skiing a couple of months ago, I found a really wonderful intermediate hill and really found my skiing groove. It was hard to get me off the mountain! I hope you find a way to enjoy the mountains, even if it’s not while skiing but by snowshoeing, snow-tubing or sipping cocoa by a roaring fireplace!

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