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Some handy tips for getting your child started on the slopes

By: Jeffrey Weidel, Special to The Press Tribune
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The enormous wave of storms that blanketed the Sierra range last week means plenty of snow for some major ski holidays looming in February. With a three-day family weekend planned at a ski resort, many parents might be contemplating putting their children on skis or a snowboard for the first time. If that is the case, there are many factors to consider before making the ultimate decision. The first question that comes to mind is age. When exactly is the right time to get kids started? Be careful, because the answer can vary. Some children are ready at age three, while a particular six-year-old might not be mentally prepared and could quickly feel overwhelmed. Always consider these important questions before proceeding: Is the child physically ready? Are they strong enough to support themselves on skis or a board while sliding down a hill? Are they cognitively ready? Children don’t want to fail, so you’re job as a parent is make sure that doesn’t happen. A miserable first experience might spoil any possible future enjoyment. For children, there are two crucial issues to address: make sure they are having fun and keep them warm. The best way to insure both is pick a sunny day, not one where it is stormy and cold. It’s a terrific idea to get young children started early on the slopes. But regardless of the age, if they have never been exposed to the snow prior to visiting a ski resort, a snow play day at one of the region’s many snowparks is an appropriate precursor. Most experts advise against teaching your own child how to ski or snowboard. The best learning environment is placing them in a group lesson with their peers. Most children will flourish quicker in that environment than being taught by a parent. At a young age there is no element of competition and other kids tend to be encouraging. In a lesson setting they notice the progress of each other. Just watching other kids can help motivate a child and they will improve much faster in that climate than under the guidance of an impatient parent who is looking for immediate results. Considering the cost, cutting corners by eliminating lessons becomes quite tempting. Most parents will agree attempting to teach their teenager how to drive can be a maddening experience. It’s the same thing with skiing or snowboarding. So forget about the potential savings and pay for a couple of lessons; it will be money well spent. For the best chance at rapid progress, have the child ski or ride consecutive days or more if possible. That works for beginners of any age. Familiarity typically breeds confidence. However, resist the urge to push them along. Although it might seem minimal, kids are making progress and developing skills, even though they might be clinging to the popular wedge style a bit too long. The bottom line is making the child feel comfortable in the snow and enjoying the experience. If that happens, consider the experience a success, no matter how much progress was made. Skiing is a great way for a family to spend time together, just not right away. So make the initial investment with lessons and most likely the dividends will arrive in the not-too distant future. Jeffrey Weidel can be reached at skiweidel@yahoo.com. Visit his winter Web site at www.examiner.com/x-26607-SF-Skiing-Examiner?showbio.