If you love to ski, chances are you're keen to get your kids on the slopes too. Here's our expert guide on deciding when your little ones are ready to ski.

When to start

It’s the number-one question parents ask if they’re thinking of taking their first trip to the mountains: at what age can my child learn to ski or snowboard?

Answers can be confusing and contradictory, and introduce bewildering factors such as the child’s cognitive ability. But it can be more straightforward. Ideally, everyone would start skiing at age three or four. At that age, children are fearless. They are small and close to the ground, which gives a low centre of gravity. This, combined with adaptability and lack of self-judgement, makes the sport much easier for kids to learn than adults.

It’s a wonderful bonus for skiers to be able to look back and not remember learning to ski, any more than they can remember learning to walk or talk. Progress on the slopes will for evermore be smooth, natural and intuitive. But we’re talking ideals. Of course, there is no upper age when learning to ski is not an achievable experience. So while it’s great to get them started early, there’s no guarantee kids will take to skiing at such a young age. Many will love it, but some might hate it. If this is the case, don’t panic – and don’t give up the whole idea as a lost cause. There's always next year and a lot changes in a year for someone that young.

Key skills

Most ski schools in Europe and North America stipulate a child must be three and properly pottytrained to be in a group lesson. 

Jordan Smith is an instructor at Whistler-Blackcomb, a Canadian west coast resort, where there is crèche facilities for younger children, but they start skiing lessons for children aged three.  Here's Jordan's top tips:

  • The key is making sure they have fun and a smile on their face. The instructors in kids’ ski schools aren’t necessarily picked because they’re ace skiers. They have the skills to teach well, of course, but can relate to children and deal sensitively with the specifics this age group requires.
  • At three, many children love the experience of being on snow and progress very well. But it's not for every three-year-old. Make sure the ski school you visit has lots of ways to make sure everyone has fun and enjoys it, no matter how they get on skiing. For example, dress in animal costumes, wear the flag of the country we come from, have balloons flying from our helmets – anything to look colourful and be entertaining and show the kids that skiing is fun and not really school at all.
  • At this age, it’s not about giving them complex instructions. It’s about familiarising them with strange equipment and the sensation of sliding. Once they get used to that, they can advance to being taken first on the magic carpet lift, then on the chairlift. And if any of them are feeling hungry or too cold, we’ll quickly take them inside where they can have hot chocolate and a snack.

Olympic advice

Olympic and World Cup downhill racing legend Franz Klammer, could ski before he could walk properly. Here's his top tips:

  • Three to four is a great age. You don’t have to tell them anything technical, but make sure you help them learn by watching you, as then it comes more naturally.
  • Some won’t like it at first. Don’t worry. Just wait another year, or even two, and it can all be different – you might not be able to keep them off the slopes.

Konrad Bartelski, who was Britain’s most successful downhill racer, hated skiing at first. Konrad's top tips:

  • I would recommend that four is perhaps the better age to think about starting. At that age, children are  slightly better placed to deal with the social aspect of learning to ski.
  • Take children straight to ski school, rather than trying to teach them yourself. They’ll learn so much more surrounded by kids their own age.
  • Make sure the teacher speaks good English. I still see groups on the slopes where instructors can’t communicate properly with the youngsters.

Snowboarding?

While many children take to skiing like ducks to water at an early age, the same can’t be said for snowboarding. They can find the mechanics of standing sideways on a board quite alien, at least before the age of five.

Received wisdom used to be that eight was the optimum age to start boarding (reasons cited were a lack of leg strength and balance), but heavy investment in technology to make boards more child-friendly has brought that down. Manufacturer Burton has led the way, with short, stable boards, soft boots with Velcro straps, parent-friendly one-strap bindings and Riglet Reels that attach to the board, so parents can tow children along.

Most experts still advise a later start for the little boarders – but we could soon see toddler boarders and skiers hitting the slopes at about the same time.

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