The Best Gift. Ever!
The Timeless Benefits of Alpine & Nordic Ski Programs
As parents, we all aspire to create marquis experiences for our kids. The kind of activities that create great memories, lifelong friendships, and physical confidence and capability. Hours spent enjoying challenging, cheerful, and exhausting activity. The kind of activities that our kids thank us for every time they see us throughout their lives.
A major problem today is that there are too many quasi-mandatory options that can consume virtually every minute of non-school time. “Am I a bad parent if I don’t sign up my kid for soccer, dance, gymnastics, football, and martial arts this fall? Their friends are all doing all this stuff.”
It’s a different world today, and parents are bombarded with endless opportunities to have their children participate in activities promoted as vehicles to build self-esteem, experience skill development, improve strength, balance, flexibility, reduce stress and anxiety, avoid depression and more. How can you say no?
The solution to this dilemma is this: declare the weekends family time this winter. Give your kids the best gift. Ever.
Sign up your kids for one program, and plan to have them there every weekend and both vacation weeks if possible. These well-organized programs will exceed your hopes and dreams. Your kids will be excited on Friday as the weekend is coming—and they’ll be happy and exhausted each Sunday after another fantastic weekend.
Involve your children in a seasonal ski or snowboard program at your ski mountain of choice. You may feel somewhat daunted trying to determine which program is right for your child, so here are some tips to narrow the options:
- Ski or snowboard? This step is easy.
- Mountain program or race team. This is a bit less obvious, so a bit of background information should be helpful.
With mountain programs and race team programs, there is significant overlap with what occurs each day. The coaches and instructors are sneaky in a good way; often the kids quickly develop upper-level skills—almost without knowing they are learning. The “follow me” model has kids chasing the coach/instructor as they ski trails with turn shape and terrain tactics that they might never figure out on their own. All the activity keeps them on offense, instead of defensively sideslipping down challenging trail sections (or clicking out and walking, or butt-sliding down). They quickly adopt, as their own, a confident knowledge of how to handle the trails they are skiing or snowboarding.
The seasonal on-hill programs have a development plan, and parents can drop their kids off knowing that good things will happen. The terrain selection and the fun tasks that they learn—all of these ratchet kids up the skill ladder in a way that creates real confidence and capability. These children become great skiers and snowboarders, and they make great friends. In what seems like no time at all, they become capable and confident on expert terrain and in difficult snow conditions.
What is often not clear to the winter sports public is that good and great ski and snowboard racers share a common attribute. They first, need to become good, and then hopefully great skiers and snowboarders. Great skills on the hill translate to great performance in competition. Skill development is skill development, and all the seasonal on-hill programs develop upper-level skills. So how do you choose which program?
These programs involve and revolve around competition, and are a more significant commitment. The coaching days follow a skill development regimen that prepares the kids for the races they will compete in during the winter. For the U8s and U10s (6-7 year olds; 8-9 year olds), most of the coaching days are playful and developmental. There are a few fun races that they participate in, but these years are setting them up for the U12 and beyond years, where they compete in numerous races in the region for an opportunity to quality to compete in March at the state championships, and more.
The equipment needs are greater in terms of both what equipment is involved, and how it is maintained.
For the young kids, one pair of high-end combi-event skis is fine, and they need to be both sharp and waxed all the time. Ideally, they should also have a pair of (choose your term here): junkers, crappers, rock-skis. These are skis that they can play on after the program or on days where they’ll be skiing in the woods. Once the kids hit U12, they need race skis and gear for both slalom racing and giant slalom racing, and again, this equipment must be maintained properly. The final equipment comment: properly fit high-end youth ski boots are the most critical piece of the equipment puzzle. Your coaches can steer you to the right shop if you don’t have a personal favorite.
It is very important that parents recognize that there is a clear development plan delivered by the coaching staff, and typically what they work on each weekend builds on the focus from the previous weekend. While the program is designed and delivered in a “fun wrapper,” the plan is designed to give the kids the opportunity to be as competitive as possible.
Please note that while this all sounds very business-like, it is super-fun and the kids love it. The focus is on continuous improvement, and ultimately the results take care of themselves. The coaches keep it fun, and always hope the parents do the same.
The ingredients are very similar, but the element of competition is removed from the equation. When you remove scheduled races, the time commitment and the equipment demands are less.
Equipment needs: one pair of well-maintained skis is appropriate (plus the junker pair, which still needs occasional wax and edge sharpening).
Time commitment: while the kids miss out on development whenever they miss a day of program, because they are not competing, it doesn’t have quite as much impact on skills development. That said, the development plan is always building on what went on the previous weekend, so it’s best not to miss a day if you can help it. Honestly, the kids typically have so much fun, they don’t want to miss the ski days with their group. These connections often lead to lifelong friendships.
How can Parents Contribute
It is only fair to close this article with the most important ingredient: how a parent can contribute beyond signing up the kids. Here are a few tips for ski parents that will pay huge dividends in terms of kid-happiness and positive growth.
#1 – The best activities challenge kids in positive ways, and allow them to discover and develop their own path to skillfulness. Sometimes this involves frustration and disappointment—let the teachable moments work themselves out without too much input. Let your children figure it out, and let them own their successes. As parents, we sometimes want to solve our kids problems; fight the urge.
#2 – Rested and properly dressed, with a full belly and a good lunch in the backpack. This is how kids should show up for their program. Cold, hungry kids are not typically at their best.
#3 – Always recognize that your kids’ path to their own success is uniquely theirs. Some kids become highly proficient quickly, and then plateau. Some kids are slow to figure things out, but stick with it and become exceptional. Some kids just become extraordinarily great skiers and make great friends and have a ball. Resist the urge to define what success is—let them find it for themselves.
#4 – When program is done each day, don’t rush the kids off the hill. Encourage them to go ski with their friends. Leave time in the schedule for them to go enjoy skiing on their own.
In the end, there is no bad decision when it comes to seasonal ski and snowboard programs. The kids experience true accomplishment, and make great friendships that develop through shared activities and challenge. Some of the seasonal program kids from the 80s now make a living on skis. Some are just excellent skiers with great friends.
The best part? They’re still skiing, and they always smile when they talk about their program days.
Maybe this year you can give your kids a timeless gift. The best gift. Ever.