The Best Downhill Racer In US Team History On Teaching Kids To Ski
If you’re a skier, you want to raise skiers for one simple reason: it ensures way better winter vacations for the next 18 years of your life. Kids can get used to the feeling of sliding on snow once their legs are strong enough to stand for more than a few minutes at a time, and the sooner you get them out there, the sooner they’ll stop thinking “Holy crap it’s cold” and start thinking “Holy crap this is fun.” We spoke with US Ski Team legend Daron Rahlves, 9-time World Cup downhill winner and father of 7-year-old twins, for some tips on raising future chairlift companions.
Age 1 – 2
• They Have To Walk Before They Can Ski: When Rahlves’ kids were just 15 months old, he put them on the living room carpet in their boots so they got used to walking in them. Then he clicked them into little skis so they got used to shuffling around in them. “They would fall over, stand up, start walking – after 2 months they were cruising around the house. Ok, now we’ll try snow.”
• Make Sure Their First Day Is A Warm One: “You don’t want to be dealing with tons of clothes, blowing wind or other elements on that first day.”
• Don’t Buy A Ticket The First Few Times: Pull or carry them a few hundred feet up the gentlest slope you can find – often just in front of the lodge at a ski resort works fine – and send them downhill from there. Wear good waterproof boots, so you can run alongside them and offer encouragement.
Sorel’s wool Caribous are a classic that have never been outdone for warmth, waterproofing or comfort in real winter conditions. They’re soft enough to run around in and grippy enough that you won’t wind up on your ass next to your kid.
Ages 2 – 3
• Not All Bunny Hills Are Created Equal: If you have different resorts to choose from, look for bunny hills that have magic carpets instead of chairlifts, t-bars or pomas. At Rahlves’ home hill, Sugar Bowl near Lake Tahoe, the beginner run is groomed so there are gentle banks on either side of the trail, which helps kids learn to ski back and forth across the fall line.
• Employ Bribery: Rahlves further encouraged turning with a pocket full of gummy bears that he’d use to coax them to the left and then back to the right. “It was like teaching a dog with treats,” he admits. “I was baiting them.”
• Don’t Use A Harness: “They can sit back on it and then you’re holding them up. Instead, I ski next to them with a pole. They can hold on to it, but they have to stand up on their own and I can still help bring them around through turns.”
Ages 3 – 4
• Move On From The Bunny Hill Only After They Master Speed Control: “Once they showed me they could ski in a wedge and then stop, we went up to do mellow long runs. But you have to be on it – they’ll get into these flying wedges and start going because they see the older kids going fast, but they don’t have the leg strength to stop. It’s about going slow, then making turns and not the other way around.”
• Don’t Skimp On The Experience: “Go on little adventures – pick a spot with a nice view on a sunny day and take a pack with snacks, have something to eat and drink and then go skiing. My parents did that, took moments to enjoy the outdoors, and it really stuck with me.”
• Avoid Weekends If You Can: “They’re in their own world, just darting around. On the weekends, you have to look up hill the whole time and always be yelling at them because people are bombing by you. Midweek is much less stressful.”
Playing “follow the leader” when your kid has a POV camera on their helmet is fun on the hill, and then fun all over again when you watch the footage together. It creates a feedback loop of stoke that keeps them excited about getting back out there. The base model GoPro is as rugged as the more expensive versions, without bells and whistles that drive up the price.
Ages 4 – 5
• Employ Peer Pressure: Rahlves put his kids on a ski team when they were 4. “It’s the best thing I ever did because they man up when they have a little rat pack to ski with. With mom and dad around, they pull that card left and right, ‘I’m tired, I want to lay down.’ When their friends are around, they don’t want to be wussies. With the team, they really stepped up a bit more.”
• Encourage Pride Of Ownership: By this age Rahlves’ kids had full kits, and they were expected to carry their own gear from the truck to the lifts. “Carrying all that stuff is a pain, but they can do it and they have to learn: This is your gear, you have to take care of it and get it to the ski hill.”
• Ignore That First Bit About Warm Days: “I have a buddy whose kids are on the team and, if it’s crappy, he’ll pull his kids out. If it’s raining, snowing, we’re still doing it. We take more breaks, but they’re tougher than the kid who’s always pulled out. My parents did that, took moments to enjoy the outdoors, and it really stuck with me.”
• Always Shut Them Down Early: “Pull them off the hill when they still have another run in them. Go get hot chocolate. That way, they’re fired up for the next day.”
A Note About Snowboarding
Your shred-inclined friends will cry bias, but Rahlves is a big believer in teaching kids to ski before they try snowboarding. “It’s just a lot easier to get them around the mountain,” he explains, since you don’t have to free their back leg or pull them to get across flats. “Once they figure out edge control, they can pick up snowboarding quick.” Rahlves is no hater – he likes snowboarders so much he married one, and says that his son still does both but will probably ditch the sticks.
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