Thank you to our guest author: Jennifer Parkes from Backyard Travel Family
Taking toddlers and preschoolers to the local ski field can definitely be daunting, but it can also be so much fun! You just have to be prepared and have realistic expectations.
You know those idyllic dreams you have about taking the kids to the beach and how much fun it will be. Then you realise when you get there, that sand gets into every crack, they spend the whole time complaining their hands are dirty and their food is now gritty. But they also have a lot of fun jumping over waves and building sandcastles. Well the snow is exactly the same.
We reveal our top tips on taking your kids to the snow for the first time, including what to pack and what to expect when you get there.
What to pack
The most important thing is to keep the kids warm and dry. Once they are cold, it’s pretty hard to keep them in good spirits. I know how I am with cold fingers and toes.
- Waterproof Jackets: Get a jacket with the highest waterproof rating you can. Therm Jackets have a 9200mm rating which means they would survive the pouring rain and you would still be dry.
- Waterproof pants or overalls: For young kids, I highly recommend overalls as they will stay up and there is no risk of snow ever entering the back of their pants, however many times they roll down the hill. Therm overalls are great as the overalls can be detached, giving you the best of both worlds.
- Waterproof Mittens: You cannot skip putting this item in your bag. As soon as their little hands get wet and cold, they sting and it will be game over. With tiny hands, choose a glove that opens up on the back, such as a XTM tiny mittens from Rockies, Queenstown. It’s easy to wrap their hands in and they fall off far less than traditional mittens. If you have more than one pair, bring them.
- Goggles or Sunglasses: It can be extremely bright, even for babies, so make sure they have some protection. Even my two year old didn’t mind wearing goggles for a day with a helmet (just like her big brothers), so give it a go!
- Lots of layers: Make sure you bring lots of layers and spare clothes. Inevitably, clothes will get wet. Cotton is the worst fabric you can wear as it doesn’t dry quickly and will keep the kids clammy and cold. Try merino layers or polypropylene thermals for the best warmth, sweat wicking and quick drying abilities. We often wear a singlet, merino long sleeve, an extra layer or fleece here if it's very cold (although they often take this off) and then a ski jacket.
- Change of socks: Always take extra socks, or even double layers to help them fit into gumboots or snowboots
- Waterproof footwear: You don’t need to have real snow boots to have a good time and a first snow play experience. They will keep the wee ones dryer and warmer, but gumboots are a good alternative (albeit not the warmest). You definitely don’t need to shell out if it's going to be an infrequent trip to the snow. Make sure you have extra socks, that their pants go over their boots, and you can even do a plastic bag liner between two pairs of socks to help keep their feet dry. You can also borrow them from friends or find cheap boots at places like the Warehouse or on Trademe.
- Hats: Don’t forget a hat to keep them warm, and a spare, if like me, you always misplace little items of clothing.
- Sunscreen: The white snow is very reflective and you can actually get sunburnt very quickly. Reapply and don’t forget a sunscreen/lip balm with SPF for their lips.
What else to pack (optional extras)
- A baby carrier: If you have a baby, or toddler, take a baby carrier/hiking backpack with you. It's a great way to keep them dry if you have other kids to tend to. They also love being up high. It is also a good option if your kids will need a nap while on the mountain.
- A stroller: This may seem silly at first, but if you have an under 2 that needs a nap, then you can easily drag an offroad stroller onto the snow if you are supervising beginners. Just make sure you cover them so they don’t get sunburnt. I’ve also seen infants watching their older siblings, just sitting all chilled in the strollers. So this could work if you needed one (hard to push in the snow obviously, but usually you don’t need to lift them far)
- A sled/toboggan: If you have your own, not only are sleds lots of fun, they can also be a great way to cart the kids to and from the skifield. Kids walk very slowly in snow boots and it can be exhausting for little skiers, before they've even reached the skifield. Pull them along in the sled to give them a rest. It's also a nice dry place to sit, without choosing the cold snow. (You can hire these from most skifield onsite, but you can also buy them for a similar price to 2-3 hires)
- A picnic mat: These have a waterproof bottom and can be great for giving little ones a dry and warmer place to sit.
- A bucket and spade: If your kids love sand, they will love building snow castles too. These are awesome to keep the little ones busy while older kids are learning to ski or snowboard
- Plenty of food: Like any activities where they are busy, they will get super hungry! Skifield cafes are notoriously expensive, so I like to bring food from home, with maybe a treat while we are up there. You will find seasoned skiing families bringing thermoses, and even little gas cookers for a hot lunch.
- A dry set of clothes and food for the drive home (or to the restaurant, because who wants to cook after a busy day?)
- Packing cubes: We love to use packing cubes to organise our gear. Just like we use for international travel, these cubes help to keep all the gloves and little things organised, so you can always find them when you need them.
- Nappies and wipes if required
What to Expect and Top Tips
It takes a long time from arrival to getting onto the mountain
- Usually you wait in line to get lift passes, and pay for your rentals. Some skifields you can do this online to fasten up the process
- Make sure you are in your overalls before you pick up your boots as once they are on, leave them on. This means go to the toilet, change that nappy and have all your layers on.
- If you are hiring skis, even without a line, it will take some time to get boots and skis fitted, along with helmets and goggles. (You also have the option to hire your ski and snowboard gear offsite. It is often cheaper and you can pick it up the day before so you are totally prepared on ski day)
- Get rid of your own shoes and anything you don’t need into the car now. You may like to take a small stash of muesli bars with you in your pockets just in case.
- Waddle in those incredibly uncomfortable ski boots over to the slopes (you will be surprised how long this takes)
Going to the toilet will also take a while
- Make sure the kids go before they get all suited up
- Often the disability toilets will have a change table, and they always have more room if you need to help the preschoolers and toddlers get out of all that gear
- Don’t let them give up an opportunity to go. It’s often a long slow walk in the snow back to the toilet block.
Don’t underestimate their abilities
Kids can learn to ski from the age of two. They don’t need poles, their centre of gravity is very low to the ground and they can have surprising balance. My two year old consistently rode the beginner slopes in the softer afternoon snow and absolutely loved it. “More, more” she shouted, as she rode up the magic carpet on her own. She just needed a little help getting on it. (I highly recommend being in snow boots or gumboots yourself to run around after them at this stage)
If you are looking for some tips on teaching under 5s to ski, and getting them started without lessons, check out this beginners guide to skiing.
Their attention spans are limited
Kids will certainly get tired on the mountain so don’t expect too much of them. For younger kids, and even early primary school years, allow 60-90 minutes before they need to take a break. A break could be a snack break, or a change of activity. We switch between skiing, snacks, tobogganing and free snow play.
How long to plan for?
Plan for a whole day in case they love it. But if everyone is tired and over it, then be prepared to go home early. Many friends say their kids can only last a couple of hours, but we can easily do 5-6 hours on the mountain, including breaks for food etc. (We have a 2,5 and 6 year old) But you know your kids. Keep expectations low and at the end of the day, as long as everyone is happy (the majority of the time), you’ve done a great job!
Take some extra adults, or go with another family
If you have a grandparent or family member who doesn’t mind joining you on your ski trip, extra hands are always welcome. Whether it is to look after the baby while they sleep in the stroller, giving the toddler some inside rest time (or even have some iPad time when they’re exhausted) or just to take one to the toilet, you won’t regret an extra set of hands.
Or team up with another family. Take it in shifts to look after the little ones, while the other has an adult only ski, or joins some of the better skiers or snowboarders in the family. That way you all get to stretch your ski legs, and as they say, safety in numbers.
Research your skifield
Do your research on the ski field you are visiting. Check out their website, or ask on Facebook groups for any field specific advice. Some skifields you can book online, saving plenty of time at the sales counter. Others you can book in childcare/preschool, so they are well cared for, while you have fun as well.
A lot of skifields will let kids under 5 ski for free, and some offer free ski passes up until 10 years old. So it is worth checking and comparing locations. Other skifields have certain conditions and systems for parking, shuttles etc, so get to know the details to avoid disappointment.
Some ski fields also offer tubing, but do your research on this beforehand too as they may need to be over 2 to ride.
So now that you are all prepared, go out and have some fun! And as a parent, don’t forget to get on that sled too and throw a snowball. It’s totally worth it!
This article was written by Jennifer Parkes from Backyard Travel Family. If you are interested in more family adventures with kids, go check out her website https://backyardtravelfamily.com