Winter Sports: When to Start and What to Expect
You’ve probably heard the old adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” right? This winter, you might as well use that philosophy as it pertains to snow. The falling white stuff is a major part of the season, so instead of griping about it, embrace it (at least occasionally). There’s a plethora of snow sport options available for kids of all ages and varying skill levels, and, let’s face it, you need to get your brood out of the house.
So get those endorphins running and bodies moving with these exciting winter sports, along with tips for how and when to introduce your child to each.
What could possibly feel more magical than gliding across an ice rink on a pair of skates during the chilliest time of year? Ice skating is a confidence-building activity that is an important skill to learn for both its balance-forming properties and social opportunities. Ice skating birthday parties and school functions are a ton of fun … if you feel comfortable on the ice.
If you’re interested in enrolling your child in group skate lessons, the earliest recommended age is 4-1/2 years old.
“We find that’s a good age that they can start,” says Rosemary Hanley Cloran, who co-founded Bay State Skating School more than 47 years ago. “Before that, very often, they’re just not really ready for 25 minutes of a group situation and paying attention, but by 4-1/2 a lot of them are.”
At Bay State Skating’s multiple Boston-area locations, Cloran says the emphasis is placed on recreation and having fun. Their aim is to instill a love of skating by teaching the basics and making kids feel comfortable while they try something new.
“When we first come on the ice with them, it doesn’t matter whether they’re 4-1/2 or 17, we teach them to learn to get up,” she explains. “We have them sit down on the ice so that if they do fall they’re not frightened, and then they learn how to get up easily. Once they get up we then start to teach them balance. The children do learn to balance and then they learn to start to skate forward by just taking little steps one at a time, balancing one foot and then the other.”
Once children are able to balance and take those first steps on the ice, Cloran and her team introduce gliding so that they can put their feet together and take a ride on their skates. Pushing to propel forward, back skating and, of course, stopping are typically the next steps during the lessons. After that balancing on one foot, crossovers and different turns are introduced, and once a kid has nailed that, the school teaches more advanced skills involved in hockey skating and figure skating.
Something important for parents to remember is that every child progresses at different speeds, so patience is key.
“It’s so individual. Some children will get on the ice and really just balance and go right ahead and learn the skills fast,” says Cloran. “Other children are more timid or scared and it takes them a little longer. Some children have better muscle skills. But the one thing is they do learn. And they keep getting better and improving and learning more skills.”
Believe it or not, kids can hit the slopes as early as 2 or 3, as long as the activities are age appropriate, according to Trisha Jacobson, director of King Pine Ski and Snowboard School in Madison, N.H.
“At King Pine Ski and Snowboard School, we offer private and group lesson products beginning at 3 years old,” she says. “Due to the physical and emotional development, time with most 3- and 4-year-olds is best getting comfortable walking around in boots and sliding around on skis on mostly flat terrain with the emphasis on fun, play and balance.”
Jacobson explains that snow time for toddlers should be limited to short intervals once a week, citing that most 3-year-olds only last about 20 minutes on the powder and often stay more attentive in private lessons. At 4 and 5, instructors start teaching fundamental skills that will provide kids with the foundation to ski safely.
Want to know when your kiddo will become the next Lindsey Vonn? Not so fast. A good instructor, like those at King Pine, will access when students should advance to the next level of lessons.
“Our instructors customize their training based on the student’s skill level, age and physical ability, among other factors,” says Jacobson. “At each level from beginner, through novice and intermediate levels and up to advanced lessons, we have specific goals we look for when advancing our students to the next level. We advance our students as they consistently demonstrate the performance of specific tasks on certain terrain, thus building a foundation of skills that support skiing and riding safely and in control, which, in turn makes the on-snow experience more fun and sets the foundation for continuous improvement and a lifelong passion for snow sports.”
As long as activities and expectations are appropriate, Jacobson says parents can get their kids sliding on the snow in an unstructured environment as early as 4 or 5 years old. At King Pine, however, their private snowboarding lessons begin at age 6, with group lessons starting at age 8.
What’s the reason for the delay? She says 8 years is the age when they’re most receptive to developing the basic skills they need to board properly and safely. Jacobson also notes that in her experience, trying to teach a group of family and friends to ride or ski can be extremely frustrating for both students and teachers.
“I think I could write a book about this! Investing in lessons is probably one of the best things a parent can do for all involved, with a few exceptions,” she says. “And once the lesson starts, parents should disappear and enjoy their free time … or find a place to observe that is not visible to their child.”
Another interesting side note for getting the most bang for your buck in terms of lessons, Jacobson says kids generally do better in the morning or midday when they are well-rested and have eaten. Something to think about as you’re scheduling your winter activities. She suggests staying informed about weather and snow conditions as they can vary and change very quickly. This is a factor that can create challenges for those new to the slopes.
Now get out there and give your family the gift of winter sports … and may you never experience cabin fever again.
Kelly Bryant is associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.