During the winter months, my family is regularly on the ski slopes. Although I may pretend to know what I’m doing skiing with kids, the reality is that my husband and I make mistakes on family ski trips a lot. Skiing is a logistically challenging hobby, even for adults. Doing it with kids can be quite hard at times. There are weather challenges, the all-too-real threat of winter illnesses, and the simple fact that kids often can’t really manage their own clothing and gear at young ages.
But skiing with kids is also very much worth it! We’ve made so many fun travel memories on our many ski trips together. In order to help other families make those kind of memories, I thought I’d share some common mistakes I see families making (as well as quite a few mistakes we’ve made ourselves). Hopefully you can dodge these mistakes before you even start and be well on your way to raising little skiers of your own too.
Mistakes Not to Make Skiing with Kids
1. Starting Your Kids Too Early
You’ve probable seen it on a friend’s Facebook feed – their toddler powering down the slopes before the child can even talk. My fierce and independent daughter got up on skis the first time when she was a mere 23 months old. As first time parents, we naturally thought we were brilliant. We patted ourselves on the back for starting our child at such a young age. (Related: Tips for Skiing with Toddlers and Preschoolers)
But then child #2 came along. He was much more mellow and reserved. It was almost immediately clear to me that the same timeline was not going to be right for him. We put skis on him for a hot minute when he was 2.5, but we got a lot of tears and resistance. We decided to pull back.
For the following season when he was 3, we put him in childcare instead of ski school (find out which Tahoe resorts have childcare in my Tahoe ski resort comparison guide). He got plenty of snow play time and grew more comfortable with the cold and separation from mom and dad. By last season, he was ready for his first time in ski school at 4 years old.
The bottom line is not every child is ready to ski at the same time. You really need to think about your child’s personality when you decide when to start skiing. Although it’s always good to challenge your kids a bit, pushing too much can really backfire. If you would like for your kids to be lifelong skiers, tread carefully.
2. Picking the Wrong Ski Resort
All ski resorts are not created equal when it comes to skiing with kids. Do your research before your trip to find one that has the features you need.
Sometimes large ski resorts can be ideal (especially when you are paying to stay in their full-service slopeside accommodations) because they have a ton of family-friendly amenities – amazing ski schools, on-site childcare, and lots of dining and activities off the slopes. But we’ve also found that large resorts can sometimes have logistics that are overwhelming for families with young kids – distant parking lots, huge villages to navigate while carrying ski gear, and long lift lines.
Consider a smaller locals hill if you have younger kids just learning to ski or can’t afford the more convenient lodging at a bigger resort. My family, for example, alternates most of our ski trips in Lake Tahoe between the large mega-resort of Northstar California and the more medium-sized Diamond Peak depending on the particular objectives we are trying to achieve each trip.
3. Skipping Ski School
Putting your kids in ski school is undoubtedly the most expensive part of skiing with kids. I get it. My family has spent thousands of dollars helping our kids learn to ski at this point. I’m truly counting down the days and the dollars until the kids are good enough to join us on the slopes every day.
But ski school is a very necessary expense (learn why we think ski school is worth it). Unless you are parent who is a truly expert skier, chances are pretty good you aren’t good enough to teach your own kids proper technique. Even if you are an expert skier, you might not know the mountain or the conditions on a given day to choose the right runs on which to teach your child. And then of course there is the simple fact that your kids will behave better and learn more from a stranger than they will from you.
4. Not Booking in Advance
Like Disney vacations, ski vacations definitely are better when you do a little (or a lot) of planning in advance. For example, lift tickets are pricier when you book them at the ticket booth the same day of your trip. The same often goes for ski school – walk-ups pay a premium.
But the real reason to book in advance is not just to save money – it’s availability! Many resorts simply don’t have enough instructors on staff to meet the demands of a busy weekend or holiday period. Ski school can book up days or even weeks in advance of these peak times. I learned this lesson the hard way this year when I tried to book during Presidents Day week a mere week in advance. Ski schools at the two closest resorts to the vacation rental we had reserved were booked solid. While I was able to cobble something together with lot of persistent calling and sheer force of will, it was stress I didn’t need that stretched out over several days.
Most ski schools actually have a pretty generous cancellation policy. Many that I’ve seen allow you to cancel for no fee or a small fee like $25 up to 24 hours in advance. Read the fine print carefully, but definitely take the plunge and pre-book if the risks are low. It’s worth a $25 loss for the peace of mind of having your kids in a full day lesson.
5. Skimping on Your Kids Gear
Ski clothing and gear can be incredibly expensive. And kids outgrow it so fast. It’s definitely a mistake, however, to skimp on this part of skiing when it comes to your kids. If they don’t have the right gear, they can get uncomfortable in the cold and wet quickly. Worse yet, the wrong gear can even interfere with their safety.
So how do you get the right clothing and gear without busting your budget? We try to buy gender neutral ski clothing so siblings can pass it down. We also often buy at the end of a ski season during store sales with the next season in mind. Consider also borrowing from friends or checking out local swaps. You can also sometimes rent ski equipment like skis, boots, and helmets at an off-mountain location cheaper than you can get at the resort. Check out my 10 money-saving tips for skiing with kids for lots of ideas on how to score quality gear but at a lower cost.
6. Buying Your Kids a Season Pass
If you are going to be a family that skis often, doesn’t it make sense to buy your child a season pass to save money? Not necessarily! This year, my husband and I purchased Epic Passes for ourselves, but we didn’t purchase one for our 9 year old daughter or 5 year old son. Why? Because the math doesn’t really make sense for our current skiing habits.
If you plan to put your child in ski school most of the time like we do, many ski resorts include a lift ticket (and also ski rentals) bundled into the cost of the ski school. You simply don’t need the pass. I’ve found a few resorts that will deduct a small amount (like $20-30 per day) for kids who have their own lift tickets already, but it takes a long time for those savings to add up to the cost of a season pass.
In addition, you might find that when your kids are younger, you will choose to ski at some resorts where your kids ski free or at a substantially reduced cost. Not locking yourself into the cost of a season pass at a single resort or set of resorts gives you the flexibility to try more places where your costs might be lower overall.
7. Skiing During the Busiest Times
Skiing can be made much more logistically stressful when you go during the busiest of times. Prices are highest, ski schools are the most full, and the slopes are the most crowded. Trying to start your kids skiing on Christmas or Presidents Day week when the resorts are at maximum capacity is a recipe for expense and frustration. Why put yourself in the middle of this if you don’t have to?
If you have young kids who are not yet of school age, take advantage of their flexible schedule. Go skiing on a weekday. And even if your kids are in school, missing a day or two once a year probably won’t do any permanent damage (see my guide to taking kids out of school for travel).
What mistakes have you made skiing with your kids? Share your successes and lessons learned!