It is no secret that my family loves taking ski vacations. Our now 8 year old daughter has been on the slopes since she was 23 months old. This year is all about teaching my 4 year old son to ski. While he briefly skied as a toddler, he had not yet celebrated a major ski milestone: his first time in ski school!
A few ski resorts in Lake Tahoe offer ski school for three year olds, but it was clear my son just was not ready last season. He is much more cautious and attached to mom than my daughter was at the same age. We decided not to push it. Most ski resorts start full day ski school offerings at age four so it seemed safer to start this winter.
Our destination for this brave new adventure was Diamond Peak Ski Resort in Incline Village, Nevada near Lake Tahoe. (See my full feature on skiing Diamond Peak with kids.) Diamond Peak graciously hosted us on this visit, but we also chose it for his first ski school experience for quite a few reasons. Its smaller size, easier logistics, and commitment to teaching young kids to ski were definitely a draw.
How We Prepared for Our Preschooler’s First Time in Ski School
Since my son doesn’t quite have the adventurous spirit of big sister, we knew that preparation for this first ski school experience was essential. Here is what we tried (and what ultimately worked) to get him ready:
Talk About It: About 10 days before our big trip, I began talking to my son about ski school and what to expect. We talked about how he would be dropped off and have a cool teacher who loved teaching kids to ski. We also knew that the idea of a big mountain and speed might be intimidating (my son does not enjoy roller coasters), so we explained that he would only be on the little hill where he would not go too fast.
Watch Lots of Videos: Having visuals to show your child in addition to talking about ski school can alleviate a lot of fears. We luckily found a video on Diamond Peak’s website showing its Child Ski Center that was perfect for the job (see it below!). We watched that a number of times in the week leading up to our trip. He saw the indoor and outdoor areas he would be visiting, the magic carpet he would ride, and the non-ski offerings like hot cocoa breaks and movie time.
Try Out the Gear: If you don’t hail from a cold weather destination, all the puffy ski clothing may be overwhelming to a preschooler not used to wearing it. We tried on my son’s ski clothing in the days leading up to the trip so he felt comfortable in it. We encouraged him to help us pack the gear. We even practiced zipping in and out of his ski bib so we could test out if he could go to the bathroom on his own.
Don’t Be Above Bribery: Last but certainly not least, we resorted to a little old fashioned bribery. Knowing that hot cocoa is a big part of breaks at Diamond Peak’s ski school, we told my son that hot cocoa was only available for kids who skied first. Judge us if you will. That message resonated. He repeated it all week leading up to our trip, almost as if to psych himself up.
How Our Preschooler’s First Time in Ski School Went
When our ski school day finally came, we were as ready as we were going to be! We drove to Diamond Peak, where we made a good call out of the gate – choosing to pay for preferred parking. For just $20, we parked a lot that could not have been more than 100 feet from the lifts and ski school drop off building. No long walks or shuttles to take lugging gear and getting tired and hot before ski school even began.
Trips With Tykes Tip: Look for ways to make logistics easier, including paying for special parking or other privileges. You want the first time to be as easy as possible!
Ski School Drop Off
We headed straight for Diamond Peak’s Child Ski Center. Luckily lines were very short since we arrived early (holiday weekends can have a wait so be prepared). We checked in and asked all our questions, including what would happen if our son had trouble getting out of his ski clothing for bathroom breaks. The agent assured me that same-gender instructors help the little ones in the bathroom with undressing if they need it. It put my mind at ease knowing that accidents would be unlikely.
We showed our son the door that he would go through. Parents are not allowed beyond that point, so we made a big deal about how cool that was. My 8 year old daughter joined in the pep talk too. By the time it was time to say goodbye, my son was grinning ear to ear wearing a brand new penguin ski vest and high-fiving big sister.
At Diamond Peak, the instructors fit young children with skis and boots after you drop them off. This made our exit clean and saved us time. Ski lessons don’t actually start until 10:00 am even though dropoff starts as early as 8:00am for the 4-6 year olds, so the kids hang out and watch movies and have fun.
After dropping off my son, we took big sister over to rent ski gear and get ready for her own big kid ski school lesson with the Sierra Scouts. We took one run with her, dropped her off, and then my husband and I were free to ski together!
Checking In (From Afar)
After a few runs, my curiosity got the better of me and I headed back to the Child Ski Center to see how my son was doing. I was amazed to find him already lining up with ease for his turn on the magic carpet and skiing down the bunny slope. The ski instructors were patient and kind while running a tight ship with all the young children. My son was having trouble getting his skis into a wedge, so they used a little clip called the Edgie Wedgie to join the tips of the skis together to help make it easier.
Trips With Tykes Tip: If you are going to check in on your child during ski school, don’t let him or her see you or they may want to leave! I stayed out of sight behind a banner and pulled kept on my helmet and ski googles down so my son could not recognize me.
Since we opted for a full day, my son headed in for a lunch break around noon. On the menu was pizza, which is always a hit. The kids watch a movie during and after lunch so they can rest and relax before heading out on the slopes for another round of ski instruction.
The End of the Day
The afternoon ski session started at 2, so I popped in around 2:30 to spy yet again. At this point, my son was clearly tired. He doesn’t nap anymore at home but regularly takes an early afternoon rest, so I knew that he might run out of steam. I watched him hit a wall, start crying and ask for mom.
The ski school promptly called me on my cell phone to check in on him. I was able to go in and give him a pep talk. With the help of the very kind staff member behind the desk, we convinced him to go out for a few more runs to show me how good he was. He did two more runs and then called it a day. Throughout the process, I was so impressed by the staff and how they knew when to push and when to pull back.
Apparently, it’s not all that uncommon for the 4 year olds not to make it a full day, but definitely don’t consider that a failure. We didn’t! Since full day ski school (which includes lunch) is often not much more money than half day, I think it is well worth the risk to enroll your child in all day ski school and be okay calling it quits a bit early if the mid-afternoon slump hits. They get more instruction time, an included meal, and parents get more time on the slopes together.
The ski school day in action, including video of our son riding the magic carpet and skiing down the slopes:
In short, I’d call our first ski school experience with our 4 year old a success. My son was happy as a lark after a snack break in the lodge after we picked him up. He proceeded to talk all about how awesome of a skier he was that afternoon and evening. He left with a desire to try skiing again and improved skills. You cannot ask for much more than that.
Tips & Lessons Learned from First Time in Ski School
Preparing for your preschooler or young child’s first time in ski school? Here are our best tips and lessons learned from this experience with our second child:
- Pick the right ski resort: Find a resort that focuses on instruction for kids and has a fun overall program day. Consider resorts where the logistics of getting your family to the slopes are minimal.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare!: Watch videos, try on gear, and talk about what to expect so there are no surprises when your child arrives at ski school.
- Know your child’s personality: Just because ski school is offered at age 3 many places doesn’t mean your child is necessarily ready. Waiting the extra year for our son was vital.
- Consider all-day: If you think your child might be ready for all day over half day, I’d recommend taking the leap of faith. It is a much better per hour value at most ski resorts, even if your child calls it quits early.
- If you check in to watch, don’t let your child see you: Out of sight, out of mind is a good lesson to internalize!
Need more tips for skiing and planning a snow vacation with kids? Check out these related articles:
- Related: 7 Tips for Skiing with Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Related: 10 Secrets to Saving Money on a Ski Vacation
- Related: Skiing Tahoe with Kids: Comparing the Costs & Kid-Friendly Amenities of Every Tahoe Ski Resort
- Related: Skiing at Diamond Peak for Families
- Related: Best Kid’s Snow Boots
Disclosure: Diamond Peak hosted my family for purposes of providing editorial coverage, providing us with complimentary lift tickets and ski school for both of my children. As always, all opinions are my own.