5 Instructor Secrets Every Parent Should Know
By Tim Dietz
Skiing and riding are objectively fun. How, then, is it possible that kids don’t always share the same joy that we all get from sliding on snow? Turns out, having the right equipment, staying warm, and taking breaks can be the difference between giggles and tears. Hydrating and eating a good breakfast are game-changers, too. But still, there are a few more tricks to keep the stoke high.
Tapping the collective experience of our world-class children’s ski and snowboard instructors, here is the secret sauce to making every day on the slopes unforgettable:
1. Rule #1 is FUN
OK, this seems pretty obvious, but it’s also easy to forget.
The most common source of stress on the slopes stems from trying to “make the most of the day.” Here’s a little instructor secret – our goal isn’t to cram as many runs as possible into a day. Our goal is to make every run unforgettable. Be patient. Take breaks, have flexible plans, and make sure everyone is comfortable. Think quality over quantity. One amazing run is worth a million hot laps.
Remember that vibes are contagious, and kids are amazingly perceptive. Keep calm and go skiing!
2. Motivation is Everything
One of the fundamental pillars of instructing is to tap into what gets kids excited. Everyone is different, but no one knows your kids better than you. A great example is how differently kids can respond to uncertainty. Is exploring new terrain a fun adventure, or an unnecessary challenge? Create an environment that fosters autonomy, sets realistic goals, and lets the little ones be a part of the decision-making process. If you have multiple kids in your crew, make sure everyone’s voice is being heard to keep things fair.
Try to focus on the right milestones. Kids, especially siblings, are inherently competitive. A race is inevitable. Remember, the “best” skier isn’t the one who made it to the bottom fastest, it’s the one who had the most fun. Look for semi-competitive alternatives – who can make the most turns, who can spray the most snow, who can follow closest to Mom’s tracks – so that everyone can be a winner.
3. Technique Over Terrain
“Technique over terrain” is the unofficial motto of children’s instructors. Kids progress a lot faster by mastering turns on familiar terrain than they do by simply surviving in challenging terrain. If your little skiers revert back to the dreaded “power wedge,” or little riders start sideslipping on their heel edge, it is a huge red flag that the terrain is too steep.
Simply put – if they’re not turning, they’re not learning!
There are essentially two ways riders progress – “New task, old terrain. Old task, new terrain.” This means that if you’re going to try to master a new technique, do so on mellow and familiar terrain. When you venture into unfamiliar terrain, fall back on the techniques you’ve already mastered. Make the mellow areas fun by trying new tricks. Progression can happen anywhere on the mountain – not just on more challenging terrain!
Don’t get too bogged down on trail ratings – they’re really not a good measure of skills. It’s good to have goals, but doing their “first blue run” isn’t the real accomplishment. The real victory is the practice and progression that got them there. Celebrate the small stuff!
Photo: Top Flight Family & Justine Jane
4. Start Small, End Small
Never end on the most challenging run of the day. End-of-day fatigue can be a big safety concern, not to mention the rapidly changing conditions as the sun gets low. That last run is going to be the one they dream about, and the one that makes them stoked for tomorrow. Dial it back and make it an unforgettable one!
If you’re skiing back to your house at the end of the day, remember that some of those cat tracks can be grueling for even the most experienced skiers and snowboarders. Allow plenty of time and make it a fun adventure.
The same goes for starting the day or after lunch – start with a little refresher on a familiar run before exploring more.
5. Don’t Forget to Reflect
If you’ve been to any après scene, you’re probably aware of the most powerful phenomenon in snowsports – skiers LOVE talking about skiing. Maybe it’s the universal joy we all get from it, but skiing stories have a magical ability to take on lives of their own. Regardless of our tendency to exaggerate a little, these tales have value.
Psychology nerds call this “reflective observation” and “abstract conceptualization.” Together, these two concepts represent half of the experiential learning cycle. The human brain, especially young ones, has a remarkable capability to reflect on previous experiences and abstract future experiences. Just as we don’t have to touch fire to know that it’s hot, we don’t have to be skiing to know that it’s fun.
Encourage those excited dinner conversations. What worked? What didn’t work? What are we going to do tomorrow? If you take pictures or videos throughout the day, point out specific successes – “look at how good that wedge looks” or “wow, watch how many turns you make in this video!” Just because the boots are off doesn’t mean the learning stops!
Skiing and snowboarding inspire us all on a lifelong journey of learning. Progression means more time on the slopes, more terrain to explore, and most importantly, more fun! Regardless of age or ability, consider booking lessons for the whole family. The kids will have a blast skiing with their peers, and adults will be amazed by how much there is to learn. With a variety of group, private, and family lessons available, Big Sky’s Mountain Sports School offers something for everyone.
Tim Dietz is an examiner on the AASI-NRM Snowboard and Children’s Education Teams, as well as a candidate for the 2020 National Demo Team. He has been a trainer and supervisor for Big Sky Mountain Sports since 2012. In the winter, you can find him instructing beginners on the magic carpets, guiding experienced skiers and riders on the peak, or leading a training session down the “Super Swifty Fun Run.” In the summer, catch him ziplining at Big Sky Resort or umpiring down at the BSCO softball fields.
Emily Stifler Wolfe is a writer and business consultant based in Bozeman, Montana, and a former ski patroller in Big Sky. Find her at emilystiflerwolfe.com.