Taking a toddler or preschooler on a ski trip can be daunting for many traveling families. Ski trips are hard enough with older kids with the gear, logistics, and weather involved. Throw in the additional challenge of a little one, and it’s no surprise that many families decide to wait a few years.
What’s a skiing loving family like mine to do? No way were we going wait a few years! So we threw caution to the wind and took our toddlers anyway. We have skied regularly with both of our kids through the toddler and preschooler stages. The learn-to-ski ages are definitely hard at times. But I’m here to tell you – from the other side of all of that effort – that it’s worth it.
For other families considering taking on the challenge, here are our family’s very best tips for skiing with toddlers and preschoolers.
Tips and Tricks for Success Skiing with Toddlers & Preschoolers
1. Prepare Your Toddler Before Your Ski Trip
Before you head up to the mountains, do a little pre-trip prep. This is particularly important if your toddler or preschooler isn’t used to seeing snow. Watch videos of kids skiing on YouTube. Talk about snow and what you will be able to do, see, and feel on your vacation. Try on the heavy snow clothing – ski bibs, helmets, googles, and mittens – so your toddler gets used to the newness of it all. The more familiar they are with what they will experience, the more you reduce the chance for meltdowns.
2. Make Time for Snow Play
When you get to your ski resort, make time to allow your child to get acclimated to the snow and cold air. Let your toddler or preschooler have time to make snow angels and play in the stuff in their heavy ski gear. All this snow prep will make doing other things in the snow – like skiing – less unfamiliar and frightening.
3. Check Ski School Ages
Before planning a trip and committing to a particular resort, check the ages that ski resorts you are considering accept children into ski school if you’d like to consider having your toddler or preschooler learn to ski. (Note: I highly, highly recommend having someone else teach your child to ski. They will learn more quickly with a professional and you will save yourself a lot of frustration and parent grief.)
Related: Why Ski School is Worth it
Some larger resorts will accept children in ski school as young as 3 as long as they are potty-trained. Others won’t accept kids until age 4 or later. (If you are headed to the Lake Tahoe area in California and Nevada with kids, my complete guide to Tahoe resorts with kids lists the ages that each resort in Tahoe accepts children into ski school.)
If there are no ski resorts in your area that will accept younger toddlers, inquire about a short private lesson. Some ski resorts will take younger children with their parents in a private session. We first did a one hour lesson with my older child when she was just 23 months old, and she loved it!
4. Consider a Ski Resort with Childcare
In the event your toddler bails on skiing on the very first morning of your ski vacation, having a backup plan for childcare is important. A few full-service ski resorts have on-site daycares for non-skiing kids. These are lifesavers for parents who want to ski together and not spend their entire ski vacation on kid duty.
Over the years, we have had the chances to try ski resort daycare centers multiple times. Our son spent a lot of time at Minors Camp at Northstar California in Lake Tahoe when he was 3 and 4 years old (sadly, Minors Camp is now closed). He called it his “snow preschool” and always had a total blast. He also gave two thumbs up to the Heavenly Daycare Center at Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe. Heavenly offers a unique hybrid program where kids ski for a half day and then spend time in the daycare center for the other half day.
If your ski resort doesn’t have a childcare center, consider also hiring a babysitter. Many resorts or your resort hotel’s concierge will have a list of a few local agencies that other guests have used. We’ve hired babysitters from agencies on our travels many times, always with great success.
5. Ask about Parent Switch Tickets
If you think you and your spouse or other adults in your family are going to be trading off ski time with childcare duties for a non-skiing child, one great money-saving solution that some ski resorts offer is the Parent Switch ticket.
These tickets have different names at different resorts (interchangeable parent ticket, parent predicament ticket), but they work the same way. Two adults who have a young child “share” a single day lift ticket at no additional charge. The parents then pass the ticket between them as they pass off child watching duties. It’s a great money-saving alternative for parents who can’t ski together because they need to watch a little one.
These tickets have grown increasingly hard to find in recent years as many resorts have worked to push guests into season passes. But a few truly family-friendly ski resorts still offer them, especially smaller local hills that are more cost-effective for young families anyway. When you can find them, they are a serious perk!
6. Sleep Schedules Are Especially Important
Skiing and playing outside in the snow at high elevations can be exhausting for even the most in-shape adults, so prepare for the fact that the experience may exhaust your toddler or preschooler too. If your child still naps, try to make time for that some days. If you miss nap time, try to aim for an early bedtime so your child can catch up on rest. I’m usually one for being more flexible on naps and bedtimes when my family travels, but I have found I can’t do that for long on a ski vacation with young kids without paying a price.
Navigating sleep deprivation is even more of a gamble for families like mine who often are trying to squeeze in a ski trip on a busy weekend around work schedules or school for older siblings. If you have the flexibility, try to ski with younger kids not tied to a school schedule mid-week when the resort is less bustling and overwhelming. Also, consider taking a trip that’s longer than a night or two so your child has plenty of rest and down time.
7. Pick the Right Ski Lodging
Skiing with young kids can involve a lot of logistics, so make it easy on yourself by picking a convenient place to stay that minimizes those logistics. Obviously, a slopeside hotel or ski-in, ski-out condo are going to be some of the easiest options, but those are usually priced accordingly. Check resort maps closely to see what your best and closest options are at your budget.
If you can’t get slopeside, find out if your ski resort has a shuttle system you can use and find lodging on that system. Having someone else do the driving with toddlers and young kids in winter weather can minimize stress and save on parking hassles. If you can’t get a close accommodation and need to drive, consider paying extra for premium parking so you at least don’t have to walk too far to the slopes with a toddler in tow.
The bottom line? If you have some flexibility in your ski budget, the toddler and preschooler years are definitely the time to splurge for convenience.
8. Be Extra Careful with Altitude
A lot of families who live close to sea level don’t realize what a difference a little vertical ascent can make. Altitude sickness is a problem a lot of skiers and snowboarders face headed to the highest peaks. The risk is real for young kids too! And they may not be communicative enough to tell you what is happening, so this issue requires extra parental vigilance.
Make sure you work hard to keep your toddler or preschooler hydrated in the days approaching and starting a ski trip. If you are going to a ski resort at exceptionally high elevation, try to book lodging where you will sleep at lower elevation to help the adjustment process.
9. Watch out & Plan for Winter Illness
One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced when skiing with young kids is that ski trips fall right in the middle of the winter cold and flu season. If your young child is in daycare or preschool, chances are high they are going to pick up quite a few bugs during winter months. And sometimes that means that they will fall ill right before or during a ski trip.
For this reason, I highly recommend booking flexible travel plans as much as possible in case sickness forces you to cancel. And if your little one does get sick last minute, always give businesses a call to see if they can help. I’ve found most travel operators and ski resort personnel are very understanding. We have been able to get refunds (or have been allowed to rebook and not lose a deposit), even when we’ve had to cancel after cancellation deadlines for hotels or ski school.
Have you skied with a toddler or preschooler? What tips or experiences would you share?
Disclosure: This post was original published when I was a paid ambassador for Northstar California and Vail Resorts during the 2016-2017 ski season. It has been updated independent of that relationship since that time. As always, all opinions are my own.