It may be hard to believe, but three-year-olds aren't always up for skiing. Catch my drift? On this particular Monday, we were SO fortunate to meet up with Snowbasin ski instructor, or child whisperer, Craig Haaser.
When we pulled up to the parking lot at Snowbasin it was 12 degrees and Huck was clingy and cranky. By 9:15 I was ready to call it a day. Do you ever have those moments as a parent? I have. Four times out of five, if I try to encourage my toddler to keep skiing when he’s grumpy, emotions quickly escalate and things gets real.
Look, I’ve made all of the “ski-parenting” mistakes with Huck at least once. It’s one of his disadvantages of being a first child. He’s our “lab rat” as we experiment on the best methods for “Growing a Skier” (and while we attempt to raise a happy and healthy human being). We’ve over-coddled Huck when he’s been tired, we’ve taken him out just before nap time, we’ve done one run too many when he’s been on the edge of a meltdown, sometimes we’ve given in too easily, and sometimes we’ve waited a little too long for our hot chocolate break.
As Huck clung to the bottoms of my legs crying “I WANT TO CARRY YOU”, Craig Haaser, our ski instructor at Snowbasin, told me he had a feeling that things were about to turn around. “Oh really?”, I thought, “Let me introduce you to my toddler.” Don’t ask me how, but Craig could tell we were right on the cusp of having a great day on the mountain.
Ladies and gentlemen, friends and comrades, and all you tired parents out there, I present to you the secret to turning that toddler frown upside down and smiling together as you both pizza and french-fry down the mountain.
Sometimes Huck doesn’t feel like skiing. Hell, sometimes I don’t even feel like skiing. On the rare days that I don’t feel like skiing, I let myself shuffle around the house for awhile before I remind myself that the cold mountain air always snaps me back into the mood. Kids don’t always get to work through their feelings on their own time. We strap them in carseats and stuff them in ski boots and tell them to “GO!”. Craig told me that when he teaches kids (or adults) that aren’t excited about skiing, he gives them time to honor their feelings. To accept that “hey, I’m not feeling it today, and that’s okay”, and then to move forward after the feeling has been validated and honored. We stepped back and let Huck take a few minutes to play on the Snowbasin moose and get his wiggles out at his own pace. After a few minutes of playing HIS way, Huck was ready to come back and engage with us on the snow.
Of course you want and expect to have a great ski day on the mountain with your family. Just remember that it might not mean that you’re skiing a dozen runs, or that everybody in the family is setting new PR’s. With Huck, I’ve learned to head up to the mountain early in the morning with the expectation that we’re going to have fun together- even if that means we’re just rolling around in the snow. Honestly, it can be hard to keep that mindset when I’m focusing on “goals” or “progress”. Be prepared to take an hour long break- some days are going to be like that, and it is OKAY. Remember that instilling a lifelong love for family time together in the mountains is THE goal. Pro tip: familiarize yourself with the "non-skiing" adventures on the mountain to explore during down time. Our family loves the Discovery Center on the lower level of Earl's Lodge.
As young children develop, the sensation of movement keeps them mentally stimulated. Sometimes even just riding the chairlift can be a major reset button. When kids start getting whiny, tired, or grumpy- get them moving. Jumping or touching their toes while they ski, slapping their knees on the chairlift, finding obstacles or trees to ski around. If your kid seems bored or uninterested, ride a new lift and explore some new terrain (within your ability level). While we were skiing, Huck kept on wanting to ride the Needles Gondola and ski down "the big mountain". While I thought it might be a stretch, Craig told Huck that if he skied 5 runs down the beginner lift, that he'd reward him with a cookie and cocoa at the Needles lodge and then skiing down the big mountain together. Having a goal to ski new terrain kept Huck excited throughout the morning. Keep that energy and interest up by MOVING.
There’s a reason Huck knows the lyrics to a few Taylor Swift songs. When it’s chore day at our house, we bump the music loud and try to make dusting the piano and picking up a thousand Hotwheel cars feel “fun”. While I watched Huck and Craig on the mountain, I noticed that Craig almost always had some version of a game that he was playing with Huck. Whether they were scoping out rollers to hit, or playing "Simon Says" while they skied, Huck didn’t notice that he was LEARNING new skills --- he just thought that they were PLAYIN games. When you keep a playful mindset, it's easier to bounce back up after taking a little tumble. Keep the mood fun and light, and remember that we all go up to the mountains to have fun.
As parents, it can be easy to see a tree and assume an accident is seconds away. Let’s be honest, we freak out easily when it comes to our kids and their safety. You know how you find your way through a forest of evergreens when you ski by yourself? Well the same principal is especially true when skiing with your kiddos. Instead of focusing on obstacles, focus on the successful path through the obstacles. The terrain based learning at Snowbasin allows beginners to explore and push their boundaries in a safe and playful way. All morning, Huck kept on gravitating to ski through the gates and hit a long line of rollers. Instead of focusing on Huck running into the gate, Craig reminded me to focus on leading Huck through the pathway between the gates. Kids ski more confidently when we lead more confidently
Kids ski more confidently when we lead more confidently.
Just like keeping a positive mindset is important, using positive language can greatly determine the outcome of your day. Instead of saying “Are you getting tired?”, say “Do you think you can do one more run?”. Or, instead of saying “Are your feet still cold?”, say “You are skiing great! Are your feet feeling any better?”
Three and a half hours after our morning meltdown, Huck and I were walking out to the car with big smiles and tired legs. Huck skied FIVE runs down the beginner lift and one run down from the top of NEEDLES GONDOLA.
At the end of the day, kids feel great about their day when we feel great about our day.
When we approach a day in the mountains with a positive, playful mindset, and honor the feelings of our children while guiding them, everybody leaves happy.