Which snowsports area should we visit? Not surprisingly, time and expense are important considerations in deciding where to go. Whether you live close to a snowsports area or far from anything that remotely resembles winter, you'll need to factor in travel time as well as the time you'll actually spend at the destination. Schedule activities so you won't feel rushed.

To help you get a handle on costs, either call various areas directly or go online to compare prices and services - most have websites that provide information on rates, lodging, activities, and special deals. Word of mouth is a good source of information, too; so ask your friends where they like to visit and how their family enjoyed the lessons. This is a family vacation, so make sure to pick a location that is family-friendly and offers activities for everyone.

When should we go? Holidays and weekends tend to be the busiest times, so be sure to plan accordingly. You might even want to consider scheduling your visit during the week or on a non-holiday weekend, if possible. On the other hand, what better way to spend a winter holiday than with your family on the slopes?

Can I purchase lift tickets in advance? Most areas sell lift tickets in advance and may sell multiple-day tickets. Many areas also sell lift tickets through local retail shops and grocery stores. When purchasing a lesson for a child, be aware that the lift ticket might be included in the price. Verify this so you won't end up buying more tickets than you need. If you aren't certain that your child will like the sport after the first day or will be able to participate multiple days, buy daily tickets!

What are other things we can do? There are a lot of other activities you can do during your visit. Cross country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, building a snowman, and sledding are other fun family activities that are often available at winter sports areas. These activities are great fitness fun and can help you and your family enjoy the great outdoors during the winter. Play games, sit in front of the fire and build a puzzle, drink hot chocolate, and enjoy your family time together. Go sightseeing in town, see a movie, and check out the chamber of commerce and the local library.

How can I prepare my child for the trip? If you know far enough ahead of time, you can make sure your child has had enough exercise and is physically ready to be out sliding for a whole day. Some children may still be taking naps; you can prepare younger children by making sure they are well rested. Reading a book together about the sport is also a good thing to do to get ready for the trip.

Kids should know their whole name, birth date, parent's full names, phone number, address at home, and whether or not they have any allergies. You can review these questions and answers with your children to help them mentally prepare.

For young children, if you can rent the gear before your day on the hill, try and walk around in the boots and even play in the skis or snowboard on a non-slippery surface to help build confidence and familiarity with their gear.

What kind of clothing is needed for a safe and successful day on the slopes? A day at the mountains is not quite as easy as a day at the beach. First and foremost is the proper clothing. It is best to layer clothing to help with moisture control and warmth. If it gets hot, a layer can be taken off. The base layer should be a synthetic or wool piece that wicks moisture away from the body to help with temperature control, a turtleneck, and then a fleece or other warm outer layer. It's best to stay away from cotton clothing; it doesn't really keep you warm, especially when it gets wet. Outer layers should be insulated and water resistant. Mittens are usually warmer than gloves but sometimes more cumbersome, but either choice needs to be water-resistant and insulated. Grandma's homemade mittens that she knitted for Christmas are great to wear when walking to the car, but they tend to collect snow and get really cold when used in snowsports lessons! Here's a list of suggested gear:

  • Waterproof/windproof jacket and pants
  • Goggles
  • Neck gaiter for sun and harsh weather protection
  • Sunscreen to be applied on the face, whole neck, the backs of the hands and wrists, and any other exposed skin.

Does my child need to wear a helmet? Helmets have become very popular over the years, not only with children, but with adults as well. Wearing a helmet is a very personal decision. Some areas highly recommend the use of helmets and some even make them mandatory during lessons. One thing to consider is that your child is out on the hill with many people who are not only going faster but are also much bigger than your child. A helmet not only offers protection, when worn during snowsports but can function as an instant storage cubby for goggles, gloves, and neck gaiters when your child is indoors.

Ski and snowboard helmets are specifically designed for protecting the head when participating in snowsports and should not be substituted with a bike helmet. If you do not want to purchase a helmet, renting one is an option. Whether renting or buying a helmet, it should be properly fitted. A helmet that is too big (one your child will grow into) is not safe.

Should we rent or buy equipment? If you and your family plan on skiing/riding quite often over the winter, purchasing or using a seasonal rental program could be a good option for you. If you plan on only skiing/riding for a week or a shorter period of time, renting equipment at the mountain may be a better idea. Some seasonal rental programs will allow you to trade equipment in if your child outgrows the equipment before the season ends.

When getting equipment, whether renting or purchasing, it is best to go to a reputable ski and snowboard shop with knowledgeable staff. Most areas have their own rental shops and some with their own children's ski and snowboard schools have separate rental shops just for the children.

Skis and snowboards should be sized according to abilities. Poles are usually limited to older children (ages 6 or 7 and up) or more experienced skiers, but each ski school may have their own policies.

If you do choose to buy only one piece of equipment, buy boots. Boots are a very personal item and are fitted to the individual. Your child will hate the sport if the boots are uncomfortable. They help determine the amount of progress your child makes. Boots should be comfortably snug and worn with only one pair of socks. Don't be afraid to speak up if your child is in pain and says the boot is not fitting correctly.

How will my child's instructor know whose equipment belongs to whom? Label all pieces, other than base layers, with your child's clothing/equipment with your child's name. Ski and snowboard equipment often looks alike and your child may mix his up with his friend's gear that is two sizes too small. Mark all your personal gear, including jackets, hats, gloves, goggles, skis, poles, and helmets.

How should I store equipment? Return your rental equipment if you will not be going out on snow again. If you are skiing/riding again, some locations offer an overnight storage. Check with the hotel as they often have a locker room in a communal place or individual places to keep your equipment in your room. Be sure that your child's boots are dry for the next day of skiing/riding.

Some rental shops or overnight storage businesses offer boot-drying service.

Make a point to dry out your child's clothing after you get back to your room. Hang it up or throw it in a dryer if there is one. (Be careful not to hang it too close to an open flame or wood stove.) You will be glad you did this instead of dealing with damp clothing before the next day or when you get back home.

If you own your equipment, have it checked out by a professional periodically to be sure the bindings are functioning correctly and the bases are well tuned for a nice glide.

What sports can help to prepare my child for skiing and snowboarding? Skiing and snowboarding can be for anyone! It can be a pleasant surprise for your computer game, channel surfing, Disney Channel kids. Daily exercise such as running around outside, bike riding, walking, running, swimming, scootering (on a non-motorized scooter), or any sort of activity that involves movement, and especially those that hone balancing skills, help your child be a better snowsports participant. Other great crossover activities are soccer, gymnastics, bicycling, hiking, hockey, the game of tag and other playground play.

Ice-skating and in-line skating are especially good crossover activities for skiing. The movement patterns are very similar and they also help with balance and stance. Skateboarding has an obvious parallel with snowboarding.

How do I deal with my child's medications/allergies? Be sure to bring your child's medicines with you on your trip. Inform the instructor about any medications, medical conditions, or allergies. Over-educate the people who take care of your children, but realize that you will have to be available to administer any medications. Most sports schools are not licensed to do this and will not take on this responsibility.

Do you have any recommendations for traveling with children? Here are some travel tips:

  • Keep your children well hydrated and well fed - snacks and drinks will be necessary.
  • Some children have a favorite blanket, pillow, or animal that help them sleep better in the car, train, or at the hotel. Bring paper, pens, crayons, markers, books, car games, music, and CDs/DVDs.
  • Play car/plane games with each other to keep the kids entertained.
  • Take a lot of breaks if you can and enjoy the sights and sounds as you go. Stretch, walk around, and let the kids run around to expend some of that pent-up energy.

© American Snowsports Education Association Education Foundation