How to Know When Your Kid is Ready for Harder Terrain

Posted By: Jessica Averett, March 12, 2019

As a parent, I dream of the day when I can get out there and ski anywhere on the mountain with all of my kids.

The reality is that most of my days are now spent on beginner runs. But that’s okay! As a mom of 5 kids from a preteen down to a toddler, I’ve seen firsthand how putting in the time early and being patient really pays off down the road. While I’m out there making wedge turns on the Link lift with our youngest, my older kids can now go all over the place! So what exactly did it take to get there?

Lots of PATIENCE and TIME.

I know, that’s not exactly what you wanted to hear. Let me explain. Have you ever been on a steep run and seen someone who was really struggling? Sometimes, in frustration, they’ll take their skis off and walk down the hill, or maybe just slide down on their bum. It doesn’t take an expert to know that those people aren’t going to develop a lifelong love of skiing.

As a ski-loving parent, it’s pretty vital to my long-term happiness to make all of my kids fall in love with skiing, and that means that we aren’t cutting corners. So here’s my guide to knowing when your kid is ready for harder terrain, so you can set yourself up for years of ski fun as a family:

Ready to move from the beginner hill to harder greens

Before you ever leave the bunny hill, there are a couple of things that you need to be able to do: stop, turn, ride the lift, and get up when you fall. It sounds simple enough, but don’t think you can fly through this hoping that your kid will catch on quickly. Some kids will take a couple of days to master these moves (or even a whole season, like my little one), while others will have it all down in an hour. Let your kid know your expectations beforehand so they don’t feel like they’re being left out or punished by staying on the bunny hill. Everyone needs to master stop, turn, lift riding, and getting up before you move on to another lift — no exceptions!

Ready to move from greens to easy blues

Remember that all blue runs are not equal and be on the lookout for a blue with a gentle slope instead of a steep one. (If you can’t decide, ask an instructor where the easiest blue is — they are super helpful!). To ski down an easy blue run, your kid can most likely get by with still using wedge turns as long as they are very good at controlling their direction and speed and making both large and smaller, tight turns. However, one skill that your kids need to know before moving up to an easy blue is how to sideslip down the mountain if things get too steep for them or they get uncomfortable.

Sideslipping is a really easy skill to teach, and I’ll tell you how we do it with our kids:
1. Have them stand sideways on the mountain with their skis parallel to each other.
2. Have them practice keeping their knees together and moving them from side to side.
3. Try and do a few longer sections practicing these two things so they can get comfortable both sliding and stopping.

Almost instantly, they will notice that when they move their knees uphill, the edges of their skis engage and they hold still. As they move their knees downhill, their edges will release, allowing them to slide.

Aside from that, the move up to easy blue terrain is pretty much a mental thing. This is the first time that your kid will be exposed to steeper terrain, so talk to them about it before you take them up. I have one kid who jumped right into skiing blues without missing a beat, and another who has great skills but is afraid of steep slopes. Every kid will handle it differently, so always remember that you’re in it for the long haul and that the ultimate goal is to get your kids to really love skiing!

Also, at this stage in your kid’s skills, it’s great to start introducing parallel skiing (I recommend doing this on a green hill), which is the next big step they need to master in their ski progression.


Ready to move from easy blues to harder blues

The difference between an easy and a hard blue is typically how steep it is. As a parent, pay close attention to steepness when choosing what runs to take your kids on. If your kids know how to sideslip, they have a great skill to get them out of a lot of sticky situations on the mountain, but skiing a steep blue is REALLY HARD in a wedge, and stopping on steeps is nearly impossible from that position, too. To ski harder/steeper blues, your child really needs to be making parallel turns. This is a whole skill progression that is best taught on gentler slopes (aka green trails). While you don’t need to have perfect parallel form to ski a steep blue, your skis should be matching throughout most of the turn, and you absolutely must know how to hockey stop.

My absolute favorite way to get a kid really good at a hockey stop is to make a competition out of it. Draw a line on the snow and tell your kid that their goal is to stop on the line AND make the biggest spray they possibly can. As they lean into their edges more, their spray will naturally become bigger, which is exactly how they need to learn to move their skis. If you want to make it extra fun, have Dad stand on the other side of the line and see who can spray him the best with snow!


Ready to move from a blue to a black diamond

When my son skied his first black diamond, I felt such an overwhelming sense of pride! This was our major goal in teaching him how to ski, and — even though it had taken years and years — he had ARRIVED!! This was a jump for him to go from a blue to a black, especially in term of the skills that he needed to know.
Here are some things your child should be confident doing:

1. Be able to ski solid parallel turns on both gentle and steep terrain
2. Know how to correctly make pole plants on both groomed runs and on bumps
3. Confidently be able to hike uphill alone and put their own skis back on on really steep terrain (because at some point they’ll crash and gear will fly everywhere)
4. Be aware of and avoid hazards like rocks, roots, and cliffs
5. Have quick reflexes and the ability to react to ever-changing conditions and obstacles

But mostly, to be able to ski a black diamond, your child needs a lot of confidence. Taking the skills they already have and applying them to steep and challenging terrain is a huge leap mentally. Some kids will dive right in and others will take years to build up the courage. Don’t feel like you need to rush into it so you can check it off your list. Once your child is totally confident and skiing blues really well, it will naturally feel like a good fit to take them down a black. If you or your child has any hesitation, just hold off for a while. The last thing you want to do is to scare them away from skiing where the really amazing terrain is!


In the end, remember that skiing has a huge learning curve, and that, as parents teaching our kids how to ski, we’re in it for the long haul. Raising a skier takes years, but the payoff will last for decades as you soon realize that your child is your favorite new ski buddy. Make sure to keep things fun, don’t pressure them to ski terrain they’re not comfortable with, and don’t forget to enjoy the journey together.

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