I often find myself writing the article I was trying to find on the Internet but couldn’t. Under “skiing toddler” there was some information, but I was having a hard time nailing it down. So we got some tiny skis, dressed M in her winter finery and jumped in with both feet. And now, here’s that piece I was looking for.
M turned two in mid-November. She weighs about twenty pounds and is just over two feet tall, coming in at barely the single digits in percentile for her age. So, just like mommy, finding sports gear is a bit of a challenge. Luckily there are some people crazier than us who start kids even younger, so we were able to find some gear.
Since she started walking late (17 months), I had some doubt as to how liberally to use the word “skiing” for what we might accomplish this season, so we entered into the adventure with the attitude that we would be introducing some fun new gear and playing in the snow.
Obviously the kid needs warm clothes, and there are so many wonderful things to choose from at the Patagonia outlet that will never, ever wear out before they are outgrown. We also got lucky through www.sierratradingpost.com, Costco and REI as well as a local second hand ski store in Salt Lake called 2nd Track Sports. They have an eBay store as well. Level Nine Sports is another great option for new, but very reasonably priced baby gear.
Long underwear: Hers is probably nicer than mine. Patagonia capilene. She still fits in her 12 month sized onsie and pants. Messes just bounce off these. It’s her second pair since infanthood and they are baby-proof. REI also has some synthetic long underwear sets for kids that are really nice.
Pants: We opted for an inexpensive pair of black insulated bibs. She is not potty trained yet, so this is feasible. It would be difficult if she were potty training and perhaps we would have looked for pants. (We’re waiting until after ski season to work that in).
Jacket: Her go-to winter coat is a Patagonia Down Sweater. It isn’t super heavy and isn’t appropriate for wet conditions, but then again, taking a toddler skiing in a wet storm isn’t really appropriate (or fun) either.
Mittens: Surprisingly we found an awesome pair of Head brand mittens at Costco. They have zippers up the side and are really long. We put them on before the coat and they never come off. The side zippers are such a huge bonus for squeezing little uncooperative hands into mittens. Don’t worry about the thumbs.
Buff: I got her an adult-sized Buff. It reaches from under her chin to over her head easily and creates a nice transition from jacket to helmet.
Helmet: This was an internal debate for me. On one hand, skiing with the level of supervision I anticipated, it really didn’t seem necessary yet. On the other hand, I wanted to create the habit immediately. I ended up finding a used Giro, who start their sizes at an XS to fit the smallest kids. The idea of a used helmet was a second debate, but after inspecting it I decided that it was barely used. As she gets older I will likely only buy new ones.
Goggles: Seems silly, but honestly, it is more comfortable and she can see better. There was a tiny pair of Smith’s used next to the goggles and I got them. They have been a popular item with her.
Socks: REI has excellent ski socks for toddlers. They are thick and come in fun colors long
enough for the boots.
Poles: No way am I giving ski poles to a toddler!
Boots: Here’s where I started to have trouble finding information, so I’m giving it up here. The smallest size that seems to be available is a 15.5 mondo. That’s approximately a 15.5 cm long foot. Here’s a mondo chart with toddler shoe sizes. The boots I found were 16.5 and a bit big. What I found is, they are so stiff and proportionally tall, you can get away with them being slightly big. Also, it’s really hard to get a toddler to tell you how a boot fits. You could probably take the liner out and size them, but honestly, if a boot were to fit the kid correctly today, chances are it won’t next week. We found some at 2nd Tracks, and Level 9 had an excellent selection. Fischer and Dalbello are the two brands that seem to make lots of tiny boots.
Skis: The shortest skis on the market are 70cm. While it’s one thing to buy the boots a little big, opt for the shortest possible skis. Here’s why: The longer the ski, the more surface area on the snow, and the faster they go. It would be far better for a kid to ski a “too small” ski as they grow, than for them to be skiing giant skis at first. The bindings can even be re-drilled for a bigger boot if you want to get a little more use. We also found these at a second hand store, never used once.
Wedge-ease: Those little clips that keep the tips together and keep the skis in a wedge. There are a bunch of brands out there – I found some from Lucky Bums on Amazon that work well. An added side benefit of this product is that they keep the skis together for the inevitable, unpredictable tantrum with kicking legs that undoubtedly will happen. This is your warning. They give no additional warning. The clips also save you the trouble of going back down for the ski they kick off on the chairlift (I speak from experience).
Ski harness: Also a Lucky Bums. I didn’t think we’d use it this year, but I got it because I wanted an extra handle to use to contain her. It turns out we are using it lots, and our backs are so very thankful.
A word on rentals: There are two ways to rent skis for kids. If you live in a ski town, there are
often places that have deals where they will sell you a kid’s package of rentals, and each year they will trade them for bigger sizes. There are also deals where you buy skis and they will accept them for sale towards your next purchase. These are excellent options that we considered, and would have looked harder had we not found really good deals. We also know we’re having another kid, so we’ll hand them down.
The second way to rent is a standard rental. The shops in ski resorts do have the tiny sizes (Alta and Snowbird both have really nice stuff). However, they rent for a half-day at the least. Although I am thrilled to pieces by our current ski progress, there hasn’t been a single outing that has lasted longer than about an hour. We considered trying this to see if she was interested, but then we decided that one day of disinterest doesn’t mean anything with a toddler. If your skiing experience will be a week of vacation and that’s it, a weeklong rental might actually be a better option, because then they don’t need to be transported and they will be available for use the entire trip.
The First Day
I loaded a bag of mini marshmallows into my pocket. Why? She’s not a dog, but I thought maybe a treat could be useful. These are less messy than MnM’s (again, I speak from experience).
Remember your first day on skis? I sure do. I was twelve, it was ski club at a tiny resort in Cleveland, and I stood in line and picked up my rentals. Life was rough in the 80’s, and you had to reach down and put your bindings on. And the stuff was heavy – disproportionally so for a smaller than average kid. Now imagine your stuff weighed half of you. That’s what it’s like to be two. So when I left the house (alone, with my toddler and pregnant), I didn’t even know if we would set foot on the ski slope. It was entirely possible we wouldn’t make it out of the car.
I left her strapped in while I put on my own gear. This is the ski equivalent to “secure your own
mask before helping others”. Because that timer starts the very second the child can’t move in all that stuff, so you’d better be ready to move. Think Randy from Christmas Story. I got her pants, gloves (before jacket), jacket, buff, boots, helmet and goggles on in that order. Fast. You must work quickly. I got a great parking spot within a few feet of the top of Chickadee at Snowbird and had already trucked our skis over the snow mound. I scooped her up and went.
First of all, those boots are very awkward. Remember that first time? Now imagine having just learned to walk. She wasn’t sure what to make of the boots, the snow, the chairlift…so we played in the snow a bit until she declared loudly, “I want to ride the chairlift.” Oops. I really hadn’t counted on that. Remember, I thought we’d maybe not leave the car. I had already tried to put her skis on, but she kicked and yelled, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was THAT MOM, so I let her be. But now she insisted on riding that chair. She agreed to the skis when I told her that was the only way to the bottom.
Tip #1. There will be yelling about putting on the skis. You’re not a bad parent for putting on the skis. If the yelling stops, there you go. If not, maybe take them off and try again later.
So there we were, with M between my legs, me bending over and slowly snowplowing, while suddenly she’s yelling “whee” and “skiing”! I stopped because I thought she was upset. It turns out that stopping makes her angry, so off we went.
The whole way down the hill, which is at least three times longer than my first ski run was at twelve, I was wondering how I was going to get back up. The thought of putting this possibly kicking and screaming toddler on a real chairlift was scary. Really scary. I had strapped on the little ski harness, giving me some hope that I could do this, but I was really considering walking back up the hill.
Tip #2: Just carry them onto the chair the first time. And if you ask ahead, the nice lift attendant will probably slow the chair down for you. If you’re skiing in a designated beginner area they are used to it, and it is actually better to ask ahead than cause an unplanned stop.
I hopped on with M, skis on the seat, holding her very tightly. I brought down the safety bar
voluntarily for the first time ever so she wouldn’t push me off the lift. She loved it. In fact she asked to go “down down and ride the chairlift again”.
We took two more runs before my back was going to give out.
Tip #3: The first time, they are not skiing. You are skiing. They are dangling between your legs. Don’t forget to look up. Leave before you die or they freak out.
That was it; there were no tears and very little yelling. She got some mini-marshmallows and played in the snow some more and we left. A week later we went again, and that time she coasted for a few seconds between Daddy and me. She got some MnM’s.
Tip #4: MnM’s do melt in your mouth. If you’re two, mouth extends to “entire face”. See, those goggles were useful. Stick to neat treats.
We went a couple more times, and each time has surpassed our wildest expectations. I mean if you set the bar low, which you really should in this case, you won’t be disappointed. We were ready to leave upon arrival each time. Prepared to remove and replace skis multiple times. Prepared, even, to get that “look” from someone just like us, two years prior, who had never taken a toddler skiing. Instead we got to witness her ski an entire run standing on her skis, ride the magic carpet with assistance, and learn to sit still on the chairlift. And the season isn’t nearly over.
Tip#5: Always leave the party while it’s still fun. Obvs. In fact, we normally leave about a week between outings and believe me, she doesn’t forget anything.
All told, the toddler skiing experience has been amazing. Would she learn just as fast if we waited until she was five? Likely. Is she learning to turn and stop? Probably not this year. What she’s doing is getting familiar with the activity and the equipment and seems to be having fun. And seeing her have fun skiing is enough to make any ski mom or dad’s heart full of joy; enough that I actually gave up a bluebird powder day to ski two runs with my sweet M and I didn’t mind one bit.