If you’ve been flowing my blog you know that my husband and I are avid snowboarders and make an annual trip to the Alps to ride. We’ve made the conscious decision to introduce our toddler to snow and snow sports early on, so we take her along for the ride. Last year she traveled with us to Val d’Isere and Courchevel in France, and this winter we took her for a weeklong trip to Zermatt. I will attempt to answer all questions I think one may have about take a toddler skiing. So here goes…
When (how early) Can I Take a Toddler Skiing?
Its complicated! I could write a separate blog post just answering this question to the detail it merits. But I will try to summarize here. If you (the parents) are regular skiers or boarders you can start sooner – but if you are not, I would not advise starting before the child is five or six. The reason is that before they are six children really do not have the skills / ability / focus to train in a sport or another physical skill (like dancing). Plus, it is only around six that they are old enough to know that they are excited about something (like skiing) even though their parents don’t do it. Children below that age are more likely to enjoy things their parents also do – so if you are a dancer, they may want to learn to dance; if you play soccer/tennis they may want to join you on the field/court.
Now, if you practice snow sports, you can introduce your toddler to skiing as early as they start walking – BUT – they should not be forced or rushed into it. This is a lot easier when you live around snow and can hit the mountains every weekend. But if you are like us and get to be on the mountain for a maximum of 10 days every winter, its slightly more complicated. We took my toddler with us to the French Alps when she was 15 months old – at this point we just let her watch other kids ski, and experience snow. Being a tropical baby, walking around with one additional kilogram of clothing (10% of her bodyweight) was onerous enough for her. When we took her to Zermatt she was 2years and 5 months old. At this point, she enjoyed being in and around snow. During our 6 days of skiing there she was probably on skis for a total of 30-40 minutes. But I think that was enough for her at this stage.
How do I plan and prepare?
My earlier blog post on How to Take a Tropical Baby to the Alps will help you prepare for the right clothing. So, I will pick it up from there and add more.
How to pick the right resort?
If you are skiers and want quality time on the slopes, pick resorts that have reliable day care facilities, because trust me it is nearly impossible to take them with you. I prefer day care to personal child care because the child has access to more equipment and people to entertain themselves. If your child is about 3 years old or so, I would also look for resorts that have the half day ski school and half day day-care option. My research so far shows that French resorts are best at this sort of a service (Avoriaz, Val d’Isere, Tignes, Chamonix and Courchevel, all seem to have child care services that have a half day ski option. Aside from this use the regular filters like accessibility, budget, availability, etc. Try not to pick resorts that require too much travel time or connections from the airport.
Children under 6 are free to use the lifts at most resorts and can usually use the lifts at half price until 16. Children friendly non-skiing activities (such as an indoor pool) might also be of consideration for break days (when you are not skiing).
And the right accommodation?
Depends on what kind of a traveler you are. I usually prefer apartments or Airbnbs because they give me the flexibility of cooking and eating breakfast early, and allow me to cook dinner for my daughter who usually eats dinner at 5pm when no restaurants are open. But I will warn you that this means a little extra work for everyone – cleaning up after cooking can be tiresome after a long day on the slopes. If you are not up for that go with a Bed and Breakfast, Catered Chalet, or Hotel option.
Whatever you do – just make sure the accommodation is either located conveniently close to the lifts or to a shuttle bus stop that can get you to a lift. Carrying ski equipment, and tired cranky baby at the end of the day can be very tiring, and even though a half kilometer walk doesn’t sound like a lot, it can get very tiring (especially for us tropical people who are not as well acclimatized) on a mountain terrain.
What essential equipment should I carry?
Stroller: If your baby is under 3 I highly recommend a stroller – because even if you are confident your baby can walk it with you, toddlers do nap and at often inconvenient times (for parents), and a stroller can allow you the flexibility of being able to do your thing while she naps. But make sure it is one of those study all weather strollers, because umbrella strollers cannot wade through snow on the ground.
Skis: If you have or can buy a pair of skis – carry them, otherwise you can rent skis too. My take on this is that if you know the toddler will not ski a lot then renting for a whole day or week turns out to be expensive. I bought a cheap pair of skis for now (less than $50) that we carried with us on days we took Arya skiing. It fits in our snowboard bag with the rest of the stuff. Once they are old enough to go to ski school you can rent nice equipment from the school.
Accessories: We did not buy a helmet or goggles for Arya because we knew she was hardly skiing this time, and would mostly stay on the bunnies under our watchful eyes. We did however take a nice pair of sunglasses to prevent snow blindness. Other than this, we had a small waterproof backpack for snacks, water, and tissues.
What about food?
Carry a few snacks – my daughter loves peanuts and almonds which have a great calorie to space ratio (versus rice puffs or chips). I also took some instant noodles / instant mac ‘n’ cheese for emergencies. My daughter eats dinner early (between 5-6pm) and no restaurants are typically open by then, so we would come back to the apartment to make it in time for her dinner – that’s when the instant food was handy. When you are tired from a full day of skiing, you really won’t feel like cooking an elaborate meal.
Other than this – we picked up supplies for breakfast each day and had fresh bread delivered daily. We ate lunch on the slopes, and dinner at the village on most days.
And Child Care?
Make sure you have a booking for your child at the day care. Especially in peak season, the day cares may reach their maximum capacity with hordes of families coming in. There aren’t usually many options for day care facilities – so if you are not happy with what is available, your other option is go for a child care professional (nanny) you can pay by the hour. There are websites to help you connect with experienced and certified professionals.
How to Plan Your Days Once You are At the Resort.
The ski lift hours are typically 9am to 4pm so try to get as much time on the slopes as you can during that time. It is warmest on the slopes around 12:30 or 1pm. So, if you are planning to introduce the toddler to skiing and snow this is the best time. It is also when a lot of the crowd has moved indoors to the mountain restaurants to get lunch, so the bunny slopes are relatively less crowded. So, we either do early lunch, or late breakfast and get maximum time outdoor during the warm part of the day.
Partly because of jetlag, and partly because I wanted to get out of the door on time, I woke up at 5:30am every morning to fix breakfast, clean up, shower, give Arya breakfast, dress her, and put on all the ski clothing. Even so, we just about made it out by 8am. If you are tropical like me, it takes time to put on all that clothing!
If you love the Apres Ski scene, you can either haul the baby with you in the stroller – most places allow kids until 7pm at least – or you can put the toddler to sleep and have a babysitter watch them while you enjoy the village bars and restaurants. I was wiped out by 9pm on most days so we ended up back at the apartment and asleep at decent hours on almost every day.
There are moments when it gets tough…
I won’t lie to you – there are moments when you just feel overwhelmed – especially when you are used to the ski experience without a child – when you started Apres Ski at the top of the mountain and drank your way down to the bottom, skiing to every bar along the way – you definitely cannot do that with a small child in tow. Plus all the added work – dressing them, taking them to day care and back, planning your day around them – I had moments when I questioned if I should just bring Arya when she is 6 or 7. But then you look at the excitement on her face when she sees snow, and makes snow angels, and balances herself on skis for the first time, and you know why you want to keep doing this (to yourself).