The key to a good family vacation is keeping the kids happy. Every mom and dad will vouch for that. Most ski areas have nurseries and ski schools available. There is also an age limit as to when your child can take a ski lesson or snowboard lesson, and when the nursery is appropriate.
Alison Cummings at Stratton Mountain, Vt., has a good barometer to see if your child is ready for his or her first ski lesson. "Can the child actively kick a soccer ball? If they have that type of coordination, they're probably ready to ski."
Sue Way runs the new Treehouse Kids' Adventure Center in Snowmass, Colo. She says physical strength and coordination are important. "Are they strong enough to walk around in the boots and skis on dry land without assistance?" She also asks if, emotionally, it's something they really want to try.
You always can enroll your child in a private lesson. Shelly Schaffer directs the Treasures Child Care Center at Smugglers' Notch, Vt. They get kids going on the snow, to get familiar with it, as young as age two. A Magic Carpet right outside the door is helpful.
"We try to provide a true introduction to snow and ski sports." Schaffer says. "We let them play with the equipment and get familiar with the skis and boots and walk around inside before we go outside. We then let them play in the snow and on the Magic Carpet and explore what it is like to be cold and wet."
Schaffer says the best way parents can help with the ski school experience is to familiarize their kids with snow and skiing before they get to the resort. "Allow kids to feel what it is like when their fingers get cold because some have never been in the snow."
Have your kids wear their ski clothing and gloves at home before your ski trip, especially if they have never worn them before. Check out some snow and winter sports books at the library to read together.
Schaffer adds that the whole experience can be abstract to a two-year-old. "When kids are going on vacation, they're staying in a new place, driving a long distance, sleeping in a new condo or hotel room. Nothing is familiar. Then they're dropped off and told to put big boots on their feet."
Make children's ski school reservations in advance so you can get some of the paperwork out of the way. Put sunscreen on the kids before they get there. Have your child dressed and ready to go when you drop them off for the day.
They'll need their own special bag with their name on everything at ski school. Be sure they have snow boots, indoor shoes, waterproof ski pants, coat and/or snowsuit, long underwear or warm underclothing, a sweater, turtleneck, warm (not bulky) socks with a couple of backup pair, goggles, helmet, neck gator or ski mask, warm gloves or mittens, sunscreen, spare undies, "blankie" or teddy and maybe even a picture of mom and dad. Make sure all clothing is waterproof.
Schaffer asks parents to avoid any expectations. "You could have a really eager kid and then they go out and all they want to do is go inside and play with dress-up toys. Another child who showed no interest might be learning how to turn after five days. Be patient with the learning process, as it is different for each child."
Let your three-to-four-year-old bring "blankie," or "binky" or whatever they call it. If it relaxes them, then they are happy, which means you are happy. My daughter used to put her "blankie" in the sleeve of her ski suit when she was three. It made her happy and she had fun. That's what I wanted, too.