What Kids' Ski School Is *Really* Like (Hint: Less Champagne, More Pizza)

We all have visions of ripping perfect turns down a ski hill with our private ski instructor, Franz, before enjoying an on-mountain schnapps in our matching Dale of Norway sweaters. But the real peak experience, where ski instructors are concerned, is in the kids' ski school. There, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds quickly learn to make better turns than many adults, the aprés ski includes hot chocolate, and the ski instructors are gods. Teaching a kid or toddler to ski is easy-peasy when you've got an amazing teacher, and custom-built terrain.

Although I used to work as a ski instructor, and started taking my kids skiing when they hit 20 months of age, you can bet your bowl of green chili I'll be putting them in classes as soon as they are old enough. Not only are my teaching skills a bit rusty, but children learn faster and have more of a blast alongside other bobble-headed kids in a class setting. Plus, things have changed since you were a grommet — gone are the hand-shredding rope tows, and in their place are covered magic carpets that shelter kids' precious faces from the elements on the ride up the hill.

To make the most of your ski vacation, Romper spoke with Noah Sheedy, director of Telluride Ski School, about what goes on behind the scenes in ski school, and how to prep for the greatest holiday of your family's life.

Truth: Little Kids Make The Best Students

On a ski trip to Colorado recently, Rebel Wilson made headlines for getting a toboggan down the hill from ski patrol after she had had enough. No offense to Rebel, but that never would have happened if she learned to ski as a tot — kids pick up the sport without getting in their head about it.

"There isn't this engrained fear," explains Sheedy. "It's what they do day-in day-out. They're constantly learning new things."

Kids are low to the ground, and learn through games and play without having to be told how to activate their core or angle their tibias.

A textbook pizza. Shutterstock.

Tip: Start Getting Excited Before You Hit The Slopes

I got season rentals for both my kids so that they could wear their ski boots and skis around our apartment ahead of our trips to the snow (sorry, downstairs neighbors). This is a great tip for parents planning on a skiing getaway.

"Trying to minimize what's new is really helpful," says Sheedy. "I try to coach folks on, if they get their kids into ski equipment in their house, that takes away one of the hurdles when they get to ski school."

That way, when your kids arrive at the mountain, they already know how to make a pizza, and what it feels like to click into those skis.

This is an especially good tip if you're from a warmer climate.

The author's son familiarizing himself with the equipment.

Truth: Your Tot Will Have More Fun After You Leave

Sorry, dad! Dragging out the goodbye isn't necessary — as soon as you hop the chairlift, little Atticus will forget all about you as he gets drawn into games of make-believe and zooming down the candy-cane race course.

"Much like dropping your kids off at daycare, once the parents kind of leave, the kids recognize that and start engaging with their new environment, and with the instructors," says Sheedy.

And at the end of the day or week, you're a tight crew! I posed for photo after photo with the kids I taught to ski, many of whom would remember me the next year.

Tip: The "Bunny Hill" Has Gotten A Major Makeover

A lot of practiced skiers like to "skip" the bunny hill and go straight to the top, but for beginner skiers and boarders, there are some very good reasons to avail yourself of the beginner areas.

"Telluride has three different magic carpets of different lengths, and one of the magic carpets is covered," explains Sheedy, which means less time to cool off and more time enjoying the downhill. But that's not all.

"One of the things that's becoming pretty standard in the industry is purpose-built snow features to support the learning process."

Known as "terrain-based learning," Sheedy explains that snow features (like mini halfpipes and banked turns) scaled down for little skiers and boarders can help them make their first turns in a perfect rounded shape, without even thinking about it.

Truth: Snowboarding Equipment Has Improved For Littles

While Sheedy estimates that 95 percent of kids aged 3 to 6 are on skis, those that choose to snowboard now have an easier time of it. "Burton has come out with what they call a riglet board, [which] makes it even easier to introduce kids of 3 and 4 to snowboarding."

The board has no metal edges, and has a tow line for instructors to help kids enjoy their first sliding experiences.

"Burton also designed smaller boards to fit those smaller kids," Sheedy says.

Tip: Little Kids Don't Need To Be Out On The Snow All Day

Raising kids to love skiing and boarding for life is about creating good experiences, not necessarily having them out from first chair until sweep. I have had my toddlers out on the snow for 20-minute bursts — the idea is to keep it enjoyable, and to never go longer than a half hour without a snack myself (why else do I ski?).

The Telluride Ski School tailors programs for younger kids to their comfort level. "If we're talking about 3- and 4-year-olds, those younger kids thrive on structure," says Sheedy, so instructors base the day's activities out of the children's center, helping kids get their cubby set up and spending time helping them get to know their ski equipment, as well as playing games, eating lunch, and yes, skiing.

That isn't a bad tip for parents either — the Telluride Distilling Company's tasting room opens at 11 a.m., proving that even the most hardcore skiers sometimes need some R&R before noon.

Your instructor was born for this. Photo courtesy of Telluride Ski School.

Truth: Your Ski Instructor Has Serious Skills

While popular myth holds that your average ski instructor spends their down-time spraying Veuve Clicquot (read with a grain of salt!) and bubbling away in Jacuzzis, ski instructors in fact go through vigorous training programs to become accredited with the Professional Ski Instructors of America. They attend literal on-mountain exams on their days off, watched over by a man with a clipboard.

At Telluride, many of the alpine ski instructors are also accredited for Nordic instruction, which you can also do at a pretty 11,000 feet. All instructors are accredited for FUN.

Tip: It's Not Just Ski School!

If your kids need a day off, there are many other activities in mountain towns for them to enjoy, like snowmobiling and ice skating.

Telluride Adventure Center also offers eco kids' camps for parents interested in an environmental, outdoors program. "Those guys will go snowshoeing or build snowmen or learn about tracking animals' footprints in the snow," says Sheedy of the program, which runs summer and winter and is rapidly growing in popularity.

There is also the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program, which offers ski, snowboard, snowshoe, and Nordic programs with dedicated instructors and trained volunteers.


My 3-year-old skis in a tutu for now (who, here, has not worn a tutu while skiing?), which is fine, because I want her to love skiing as much as I do, and I'm happy any time I can get my kids outdoors.

I can't wait for her first official ski lesson not between my legs. Until then, we'll be standing on our skis here in the living room, dreaming of an endless winter.