Skiing is an expensive hobby. It seems only to be getting pricier. A lot of families are looking to save money on skiing wherever they can, and I don’t blame them. We try too! But there is one area where you really should not skimp on skiing: ski school for your kids. It is one expense that is very much worth the investment.
A few weeks ago, my four year old experienced his first time in ski school. My eight year daughter has been attending ski school every season since she was about the same age. We’ve tried small resorts and big resorts as well as larger group ski schools and private and semi-private lessons. I have never shared, however, why we make ski school such a priority when it comes to our kids and why we think it is very much worth it for other families with kids too.
Ski School at Northstar California Resort
Last week, we headed for the resort we ski most often, Northstar California near Lake Tahoe (check out my complete guide to skiing Northstar with kids.) Northstar graciously provided a single day of its group ski school to both our kids so I could share our family’s perspective and experiences with ski school (we have paid ourselves for Northstar’s ski school on other trips).
Like several Vail-owned ski resorts, Northstar caps the number of kids in its group ski school lessons, particularly for younger kids, so they give more of a semi-private experience (in 2023, the current offering is Max 6 for 3-6 year olds). Since Northstar groups kids by ability, sometimes these lessons mean your kids get an instructor all to themselves if no other kids are at the same level. My daughter found herself with a private lesson this trip, and has been one of just two kids in lessons many times in previous seasons.
I had the chance to talk to our kids’ instructors as well as to the director of Northstar’s program, Keith Goff, about his philosophies of teaching kids to ski. Everyone shared unique perspectives about what they hope to accomplish with kids in ski school. After those conversations as well as our family’s experiences in over 5 seasons of ski school, here are the reasons why ski school is definitely worth it for kids.
Why Ski School is Worth It for Kids
1. Kids Learn to Ski with Proper Technique
If you are a parent of young kids, chances are pretty good that the last time you took a ski lesson was some time in the early 1990s or maybe even earlier. Ski technology has evolved quite a bit since then. Methods of teaching kids have too. Even if you are an excellent skier (and I’m not), you may not be up on everything involved in teach your children the latest and greatest in ski techniques. Ski school instructors are!
Bad habits once formed are hard to break. It is much better to start kids in ski school so they learn the proper techniques in the beginning and don’t have to unlearn them as they are ready to tackle harder slopes.
2. Instructors Know the Mountain and the Conditions
A few years ago, we took our daughter on run at a ski resort we didn’t know well only to find it far beyond her abilities. She has been a bit spooked ever since. The chances of this happening in ski school are almost non-existent. Ski instructors know the mountain so much better than any parent ever could. They ski it every day and talk to grooming staff and other instructors to get real time updates of conditions as they change. They are far less likely to take your children on a run beyond their abilities. That ultimately keeps your kids safer and builds confidence.
We have found this very expertise especially valuable during trips we have taken during drought years that are very much a reality some seasons in the Sierras. When the snow is minimal or the weather is warm, my husband and I discovered that runs that we skied regularly in other good conditions season were a totally different ballgame. A few usually easy greens near the bottom of the our favorite mountain in Northstar can be quite hard to ski as the snow got slushy and heavy. Certain usually harder blues were actually easy thanks to quality grooming and lower skier traffic.
Our daughter’s ski instructor instinctively figured out what kind of conditions caused her to be nervous, and adjusted the plan for the day. The result was that they skied just the right runs with the conditions she felt confident to tackle. While my daughter didn’t ski the hardest runs she has ever skied this visit, we were very happy she skied the ones where she could work on her form without tensing up and fighting the particular conditions.
3. Kids Have Fun
Ski school programming is more than just lining up, going up the magic carpet, and skiing back down. The instructors are committed to making it a day of all-around fun.
I have peeked in on enough lessons over the years that I know the kids are having a great time. I have seen my daughter getting to peg her instructor with snow balls in an epic snowball fight. I have heard about my son who might have eaten three cookies during a single snack time. Full day ski schools offer kid-friendly lunches and even some entertainment like mascot visits, movies, and more. Ski school programming varies depending on the ages and abilities of the kids to avoid them getting too tired or frustrated.
I remember last season when my daughter was in ski school at Northstar during a freak rain storm in the early season. I kept calling the ski school certain she was miserable and would want to be picked up. Turns out she wasn’t at all. Recognizing the limits of the conditions, the ski school instructors adjusted. Extra hot cocoa and cookie breaks were added. They played games to make it fun. What was pretty much a wash of a day on the slopes for the adults was still a productive day for the kids.
4. Peer Pressure Works Wonders
While instructors can do a lot (and certainly a lot more than parents can to motivate), ski school also has the added dimension of peers in the same group. Few children want to be the one holding the entire group back. Just a little bit of peer pressure means children challenge themselves and improve their skills perhaps even a bit more in a group setting. Of course, the added dimension of having peers around makes for a fun social time too – it’s not all competition!
5. Parents Get Ski Time Together
Last but certainly not least, we have found ski school worth our time and money not only for our kids but also – a bit selfishly – for us as parents. With our busy lives and schedules, my husband and I so rarely get time alone without our kids. We enjoy skiing together as a family and hope that will be the ultimate goal in a few years when our kids are older. But for now, we also like some adult time too. Ski school for our kids makes that possible.
On our recent trip, my husband and I were able to eat lunch at a less crowded lodge only accessible on blue intermediate terrain (see my Northstar dining guide for more information about this lunch option). This dining experience would not have been an option with our kids at their current levels. We even made time to attend tōst, Northstar’s daily complimentary champagne tasting atop the East Ridge run at 2:00 pm. The little break helped us enjoy family time eating dinner out and doing the other activities at the resort the rest of the weekend that much more!
Have you enrolled your kids in ski school? What have been the advantages you have experienced?
Disclosure: Northstar California hosted my family on our recent visit, providing complimentary ski school, lodging, and some dining. I was a paid ambassador for Northstar for the 2016-2017 season. My family members have been Epic Pass holders for many other ski seasons entirely at our own expense. As always, all opinions are my own.