The Heli-Ski Blog

How to teach your kids to ski powder

Posted by Topher Donahue on May 30, 2013 7:22:00 AM
When I realized I was going to be a father, one of the first things I dreamed about was skiing with my kid. When I realized I was going to have twins, the idea of going skiing with them became daunting, and thrilling, indeed.

kids powder skiing techniqueJust getting out the door with all the gear almost gave me a brain freeze, but in five seasons of skiing with my kids, the only thing I’ve ever forgotten was the my own gloves - albeit on multiple occasions. Luckily, I leave a pair of gloves in the car for mid-winter flat tires and such.

Then I realized I couldn’t carry three pairs of skis, and hold the hands of two little kids staggering along in ski boots, for even the 50 metres from the parking lot to the bunny hill. A backpack designed for backcountry snowboarding with a large strap system that would accommodate a snowboard, or in my case three pairs of skis, was the solution.

Next was the dilemma of what approach to take to teaching them to ski. First, inadvertently, I took them cross-country skiing, or what they called “ski hiking”. This turned out to be their first breakthrough, and gave them a huge advantage. Without rigid downhill boots, they learned to stand up in the middle of the skis rather than leaning on their boots. Also, when we locked them into downhill gear, they already knew how to maneuver around without crossing their tips, how to side step, etc.

But then it was time to hit the slopes.

Lessons? Good option, but we ski several days a week and I wanted to ski with my kids more than I wanted them to spend the day with an instructor. Selfish, I know, but such is parenting (and powder skiing). This year, they did spend a couple of days with and instructor during a school ski trip, and it did give them a boost.

Edgy-wedgy? The little rubber strap used to keep them from crossing or spilling their tips? Might avoid some painful wipeouts, but would also encourage reliance on the snowplow rather than parallel skiing.

Handles on their backs? I’d seen parents with chest harnesses and handles on their kids for skiing, and even ski suits with handles built in, but I was reluctant to give my kids the idea that somebody would hold them up while they skied – besides, I wanted to ski instead of sliding along hunched over while holding my kid upright.

We tried a few things. Holding a ski pole so the kid could hold onto the handle end. We saw other parents using a hula-hoop the same way. But to me it always seemed best to me to just stay on the super low-angle terrain and let them ski along slowly unassisted.

The next downhill breakthrough came in the form of a trick that Bruce Howatt, the heli-ski guru and manager of CMH Bobbie Burns, used to teach his son to ski. He put a short cord around each of the kid’s boots, and then when it was time to go downhill, he clipped a leash to the cord. This allows the parent to control the kid’s speed, without giving them any assistance in staying upright – so when the terrain steepens the kid naturally leans forward (into a perfect stance) rather than bing pulled backwards (into the dreaded backseat).

Within days of using Bruce’s trick, they were making cute little parallel turns, and in many ways, the rest is history.

But my next concern was how to teach them to ski powder. I needn’t have worried. When fresh snow was found along the edges of the groomer tracks on the bunny hill, they sought it out as naturally as a dog chasing squirrels. “Papa, I’m getting powder turns!” my daughter yelled excitedly the first day she really felt the powder and the turn at the same time.  

Like so many things in parenting - and skiing - it was time to stop trying to control everything and just let it rip. This season, after they got out of their morning kindergarten class, they were leading me on legitimate seek-and-destroy powder missions all over the mountain, preferring complicated tight tree runs to the more open, faster runs. Maybe I’m the one who needs the ski lesson in order to keep up with my kids…

In the end, I realized that maybe it doesn’t matter what method you use to teach your kids to ski powder, as long as you strictly follow one essential rule: keep it fun!

Photo of the author’s 6-year-old daughter ripping her first backcountry powder turns after the ski area closed in the spring.

Topics: Deep Pow, Tricks of the Trade, families, powder skiing