It's 8 a.m. and you're freaking out because it's finally here: your kid's first day of ski school. Hordes of munchkins bundled up in puffy onesies are marching their way to the check-in desk while moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas juggle miniature skis, helmets, lunch boxes and extra layers beside them. Will they love it? Will they hate it? Will they make friends and have plenty of pee breaks? Will they be allowed to Facetime you from the gondola so you can see how much fun they're having? Will they even get to ride the gondola?
If you're reading this, perhaps you have a pretty good grasp on what ski school is all about: the kids are placed in their respective groups with one or two instructors, they learn how to ski, get a break for lunch, and will need to be picked up by the end of the day. But you may also be asking yourself a ton of questions about the specifics of it all, and I'm here to clear up some of your burning questions and concerns.
I was a ski school kid myself from age 3, and to this day I will never forget some of my ups and downs in Okemo's Ski Wee those first few years. I remember being so scared that the check-in guy would forget to place me in a group; I remember making sure that my skis were on the appropriately coloured ski rack that corresponded to level; I remember singing that Manfred Mann song – doo wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo – with my group as we cruised down the bunny slope at the end of the day. I remember the instructor who always had a stuffed alligator in her back pocket. I remember the day I found a gold star in my cubby, which my silver star instructor had stuck there, signifying that I had graduated to the highest level any 6-year-old could hope for.
Ski school is a magical place where kids meet friends, learn the best sport ever, and truly improve their on-snow skills in a fun, safe environment. Twenty years after I enrolled in Ski Wee, I landed a job as an instructor in the children's ski school at a world-class resort. And while every day was different, the general rules and procedure for how the day unfolded were the same. Here's a brief look into what to expect at a day of ski school so you can relax, prepare, and enjoy the experience as much as your kid will.
As you arrive to check in (there's usually a 15-30 minute window for this), instructors or supervisors will be there to direct you to the programme most appropriate for your child's age and/or ability level. When in doubt, always ask questions from anyone in a nametag. If they don't have the answer, they'll direct you to someone else with a nametag. You'll likely need to have equipment squared away before check-in.
When you do arrive ready to ski, you will be asked questions about your kid's skiing ability level. Be honest! One of the biggest stressors for instructors and kids alike is when they are placed in a group that is too advanced. If your kid is placed in a level that turns out to be too easy for them, the instructor will realise this and easily switch them to a higher level that same day.
There will be a warm-up run to be sure that all students are in appropriate levels and with at least one other kid around the same age. This is the point where most of the group switching happens, and it is done with great care so that children aren't upset by having to switch instructors and friends right away. If you have special requests that siblings/cousins/friends stay together, instructors will do their best to make this happen. But it's not always possible.
Lessons cater to level, but they will always include instruction on skills, drills to improve technique, and focused free skiing time to integrate new concepts. Sometimes ski schools set up special scavenger hunts or miniature terrain parks to give lower level and younger kids some excitement on the bunny hill. If your child has special interests, like racing, park and pipe, or big mountain skiing, look into specialty camps so they can explore these specifically.
After warm-up, the kids will ski! Pre-K kids spend plenty of time inside as well, drawing, reading stories, and napping. Older kids will go out and have fun on the mountain. If they need help getting on the chairlift, they'll get it from instructors or other adults. If a kid needs a bathroom break, they'll get it. There's usually one hot chocolate/warm-up break in the morning and one in the afternoon, with lunch in the middle of the day.
Sometimes kids get upset: they miss mom and dad, they got in an argument with another kid, they don't feel well, or they're just too tired to keep skiing and (obviously) start crying. Ski schools have special staff on board to take care of kids who need a break when the rest of the group doesn't, and they'll do their best to get kids out on the hill as soon as they're feeling better. In extreme cases, staff will call the parents.
Most ski schools now provide lunch included in full day lessons. There's usually something for everyone, but if your kid needs a special lunch or has severe allergies, you can certainly pack a lunch from home and it will be kept in a cubby or a refrigerator until lunch time. Make sure that you notify ski school at check-in of any allergies or medications.
Pick up times are usually in the last hour that lifts are running, but if you'd like to pick up your kid early, just let the instructor or supervisors know at check in. You'll have a chance to talk with the instructor for a few minutes about your child's day, what can be worked on outside of lessons, and if they need to move up a level for the next day. Tips are hoped for, especially if you can tell little Suzy had a great time in her lesson!
Freaking out a little less now? Good! If you're gearing up for a family ski vacation this season, just remember that putting your kids in ski school lessons can be a great way for them to make friends, have fun, and improve their skiing. Their memories will last a lifetime, and the calmer you are about the whole ordeal, the calmer they will be too. So breathe easy, stay warm, think snow, and start planning your family ski vacation now!