While many beginner skiers and snowboarders start in lessons, parents play a very important role in helping their children practice and progress while skiing and snowboarding.
There are numerous learn to ski and snowboard gadgets available, some of which work and some that do not.
Here are our suggestions, gleaned from personal experience and discussions with professional ski and snowboard instructors who work with children.
Tried and True Tip Connectors
If youíre only going to make one purchase, shell out for a tip connector.
A short piece of rubber tubing that attaches to each ski tip with a small clamp, a tip connector serves two purposes: it prevents the ski tips from crossing and it prevents the tips from spreading too far apart.
As Goldilocks might say if sheíd been trying on Baby Bearís skis, the tip connector keeps the skis just right, allowing a child to practice skiing in a controlled wedge.
Tip connectors, such as the Edie-Wedgie, are required equipment at many ski schools and a perennial favorite with parents.
Hula Hoops and Poles
These tools help parents tools control their childís speed and direction without sabotaging the childís balance. With either a hula hoop or pole, kids must balance on their own and support themselves.
When using a hula hoop, the parent holds the back of the hoop and the child is inside the hoop holding onto the front edge. The child is always in front and the parent is always behind.
Another option is a long bamboo pole (or a long ski pole). When using a pole, the parent skis next to the child, both gripping the pole like a bike handlebar. While a pole allows a parent to control the childís speed and turning if necessary, it is not a crutch. The child still has to balance on their own.
Good Old Fashioned Hands
Two of the best learn-to-ski tools are found at the end of your arms. But you donít want to tightly grasp your childís hand or arm. Instead, ski alongside your child and ask him or her to place a hand on top of your hand.
Hand-to-hand connection helps you sense how nervous your child might (or might not) be. You can also tell how well they are balancing on their own, which is, always the goal.
The SkiRingô is a plastic ring, shaped like a carís steering wheel, designed to keep a skierís focus downhill. Used in place of ski poles, it reinforces proper hand position and balance and lets beginners focus on turning.
Created by a professional ski instructor in the US, the SkiRingô is used by numerous ski schools in North America and as a training tool for beginner ski racers.
Everyone in our family has tried the SkiRingô. We agree that is is a nifty tool to remind any level skier to keep their shoulders and hips pointing downhill.
Think of Slope Ropes as an elongated and floppy Hula Hoop. A large circle of rope with two plastic handles, the child skis inside the circle with the rope at his or her waist. The parent skis outside the circle holding onto a handle. The parentís goal is to keep the rope slack, not taut.
The benefit of Slope Ropes is that the child must maintain a forward skiing stance or the ropes will fall. This benefit is also a drawback: if the rope falls, both the parent and child need to be careful not to get entangled.
Just For Little Snowboarders
Since not every child will start on skis, the Burton Riglet Reel is a good tool to help young snowboarders get the feeling of sliding and turning.
The Riglet Reel attaches to the tip of a childís board so you can pull your child on flat snow while they practice balancing and eventually, using their edges.
What To Avoid
In addition to the tools we like and have mentioned above, there are numerous others on the market. Some work, many do not.
Use these three tips to evaluate what might work and what wonít.
1. Will your child be in a proper, forward skiing stance when using this tool?
If not, donít buy it.
2. Will the child be balancing on his or her own, or will you be supporting the child?
If the child will be leaning on you or relying on the gadget for balance, donít buy it.
3. Is the tool expensive?
The most costly tool on our list is the Burton Riglet Reel. Itís available in North America for $30 USD. Donít spend more than that on any learn to ski gadget.
Many parents think of harnesses as speed control devices, using them as brakes if their child is going fast or is on terrain that may be too difficult.
Harnesses can work against proper skiing technique. If there is constant tension on the reins, the child is usually riding in the backseat and leaning against the back of the ski boots. Thatís not good.
If you use a harness make sure the reins are slack and that your child is holding himself or herself up without your help. The child should be turning and sliding on their own, with you behind them as a safety net.
Better yet, try a Hula Hoop or one of the other tools listed above.
Hailing from Colorado (USA) Kristen Lummis, or as she is better known, the Brave Ski Mom, is an avid skier and true family mum in every sense of the word. www.thebraveskimom.com