Ask The Experts: Ski School For Kids

January 19, 2015 | By: Monica Christofferson

Quality instruction at an early age is the key to a lifetime of enjoyment on the slopes. New Mexico’s ski schools offer a combination of clear technical instruction, important safety lessons, and, most importantly, a lot of fun, to ensure that your child has the best experience possible.

We recently visited with three of the state’s top ski school directors — Sue Leslie (Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort), Bill Gould (Ski Santa Fe), and Robin May (Angel Fire Resort) — to get answers to some of the most common questions parents have about registering their kids for ski and snowboard lessons.

What age should my child take their first lessons?


Bill Gould (Ski Santa Fe): There isn’t one answer for every child, however children age 5-6 generally have the muscle development and body control to handle sliding down snow covered hills. At this age the children have been to preschool or kindergarten. They have experiences with other children and teachers and are better prepared to handle a day in ski school.

Sue Leslie (Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort): Kids can start learning as young as 2 or 3, but at that age it is more snow play and getting them used to sliding on the equipment. For kids younger than 4, I think it’s best for parents to just go play and be with them on the snow. They may last five minutes or 50, you just never know, but the operative word is fun. If they are not having fun, they will not want to come back.

How do I decide which program to put my child in?


Robin May (Angel Fire Resort): Children’s programs are not all the same and children learn differently based on their age and life experience. A progressive school will consider a child’s cognitive, affective, and physical development as a guideline for how to teach different ages as well as helping develop reasonable expectations for parents and teachers. For 2-3 year olds, a hybrid snowplay-childcare-private or group session is probably the best solution. Small group lessons are usually the best for children who are socially adept and attend school or organized sports or daycare.

SL: By the time a kid is 5 or 6 they are usually ready for more formal training with ski school lessons.  Though at this age it is still recommended to do private lessons or maybe a semi-private with just two or three kids. By this age they have a longer attention span and will do much better. Around age 7 kids can definitely choose what equipment they want to try and should be encouraged to try both. Group lessons for this age and older are fine.

RM: The best thing is to let the school know what experience they have had on snow and other sports. Most ski schools will have a “Helpful Hints” section on their website with insightful suggestions and policy guidelines to help assure a successful day on snow.

How many kids are usually in a group lesson?


SL: Class sizes can vary with age, but on average is about five students per instructor. Most schools try to keep the ratio to under 10 if at all possible. During busy holidays periods classes will be a little bigger than average.


What are the major differences between group and private lessons?


BG: I think children like to ski and snowboard with other kids. They learn from watching the other children. So for most kids the group lesson is the way to go.With really young children though, the one-on-one experience can be the right choice. This allows for a more hands on approach for children who aren’t able to do as much for themselves.

SL: Private lessons are always a better choice for the little guys, ages 4-6, and for anyone needing or desiring lots of individual attention no matter their age. Special needs children are always better in a private lesson.

RM: More and more, hybrid private lessons or guaranteed small groups are the norm, but they do come at a higher price. Private individual or small group lessons are a wonderful way to go if you have more specific needs, special circumstances, desire exclusivity, or the ability to choose your favorite instructor for their undivided attention.For the average person, a group lesson is a great way to go. Meeting people, developing a group dynamic, and sharing your accomplishments is fun and rewarding. With a well-qualified instructor, classes even up to eight or nine in size can be effective and a great value.

My child has been skiing before — aren’t lessons just for first-timers?


BG: Lessons are a good idea for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. The beginners need to get off to a good start and their lessons are a must. Once they are ready to leave the beginner hill though, they approach an important stage in their development. A lesson on how to handle the terrain they will encounter on the mountain is very beneficial. Often parents — with good intentions — will choose terrain that is too difficult. Their child will develop defensive habits that are hard to break. Lessons are designed to develop the variety of skills children need for continued improvement.

RM: In many cases, some schools and many parents over terrain their children. If slowly going down a steep blue/black in a Death Wedge with bracing and defensive behaviors is what you consider skiing — it isn’t. Comfortable, athletic, skidded or carved turns that flow effortlessly down the mountain with shaping and speed control is the kind of behavior you want your children to adopt, whether on a green, blue, in a wedge or open parallel stance.

What is actually taught in a children’s ski lesson?


SL: All lessons will combine the skills needed for skiing and snowboarding at the student’s level. For example, balance, edging, rotary, and pressure control to learn to turn the equipment they are on. Each skill may then be broken down into several different drills based on the student’s skill level to help them advance from, say, easy terrain to steeper terrain. Each lesson will also stress the mountain safety codes of skiing and snowboarding.

How would you describe the atmosphere in an average youth lesson?


BG: The motto for all our lessons is “Safety, Fun and Learning.” We want the atmosphere to be fun! Fun is what skiing and riding is all about. If the kids enjoy themselves, they will want to go again and again. Like so many of us have discovered, winter sports in the mountains become a life-long passion.


For pricing and reservations please visit the resort pages.

Angel Fire Resort


Red River Ski Area

Sandia Peak


Ski Apache

Ski Santa Fe



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