Back to (Ski) School—What to Expect in your Child’s First Lesson
By Annie Fast
I don’t know what I thought raising a little skier/snowboarder would be like, but the reality of teaching your kids in the early days is not entirely the idyllic rewarding experience I had imagined. The reality is that the pace is slow and success looks different for a youngster than it does for ourselves. A great day on the slopes isn’t measured by the amount of vertical you log in a day—it’s measured in smiles and fun. This was my biggest takeaway from our five-year old’s lesson with Big Sky Mountain Sports School and it has since changed the approach I take to snowboarding with my son.
Photo: Justin Eeles
For 4–to-6-year-olds, Big Sky offers private lessons as well as Mini Camp Group lessons as either a full or half day. Half days can start as a morning lesson or as an afternoon lesson. Our five-year-old isn’t a big morning person, so we opted for the afternoon lesson. Also, it was mid-March during Spring Break, so why not take advantage of the long sunny days?
Our lesson met at the Mountain Village base area (lessons can also start at the Madison Base area, so take note!). The children’s lesson area is a roped-off, low-angle slope with its own pair of magic carpet surface lifts. We already had all his gear including a Burton LTR board, boots, and a helmet, but if you don’t you can rent it all through Big Sky Sports Rental. The rental department is near the lesson area, but I would recommend taking advantage of rental delivery or the opportunity to pick up your rental gear the day before—between 2:00 to 5:00 pm—to make for one less thing to worry about on lesson day. Bonus, your kiddo can try on their gear and walk around in their boots to get ahead of any possible fit issues in advance (hello, inevitable weird sock bunching).
All of the kids ski and snowboard instructors are PSIA/AASI certified and many are also certified as trained Children’s Specialists. We lucked out with our instructor Tim Dietz. It turns out that not only is Tim a Level II Children’s Specialist, but he’s also responsible for leading the clinics and training to educate and certify other children’s instructors. Yes!
Photo: Justin Eeles
We met Tim at the entrance to the kid’s learning area surrounded by fun learning props and colorful dinosaurs. Every kid is fitted with a bib to identify them as a Big Sky Mountain Sports School participant. First things first, we needed to say our goodbyes so the lesson could get underway. We walked to the other side of the fence line and watched as our kiddo and Tim got acquainted. After Tim assessed his skill level, they headed up the magic carpet and proceeded to work on heelside slides down the mountain (aka the falling leaf). What this looked like was sliding toward a dinosaur with an arm extended ready to punch the blue Brontosaurus, then looking left and extending his left had to stick it to the red Stegosaurus.
Tim later explained that this drill was used to learn about weight transfer on his heel edge. In an adult lesson, the instructor might tell you the skill you’re working on and have you follow them, none of this flies in a kids lesson. Tim explains that they set up the dinos so he could reach for one and use “Super power punches,” which then initiates the weight transfer. Tim explains, “The holy grail for teaching kids is to get them to do the movement without saying what it is.”
With the lesson underway, we decided to go for some runs. We headed up Swift Current for some lower mountain laps. Each time we loaded Swift Current we were able to look over to the kids’ lesson area and see what was going on without interrupting. We saw lots of dinosaur punching, some time out of his snowboard to wrestle the dinosaurs and an oversized yellow banana. We saw him one-foot it onto the magic carpet all by himself. We also saw him stand up from sitting while fully strapped in—which is huge and was something he’d never done before.
At the end of the lesson, we found them sipping a well-earned hot chocolate from the ski school. This was the longest time our son has been in his boots on the snow, and most importantly, he was still smiling.
The next day we headed over to the Madison Base area and practiced on the magic carpet. Our kiddo was excited to show us his superhero moves “flying” from one side of the mountain to the other, he even did a few 360 flat spins on his board—a great display of edge control! He was more confident, comfortable and excited on his board. We ended the day with a chocolate chip cookie from Uncle Dan’s, remembering the motto Tim had shared with us the day before—“Start small, end small and stop while it’s still fun.”
Annie Fast is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Bend. Oregon. She was previously the editor-in-chief of Transworld Snowboarding Magazine, and she continues to write for numerous outdoor and travel magazines. Annie held a season pass at Big Sky Resort from 1995–2003, and she returns frequently to visit family and to ride the summer and winter trails.