I recently taught a Play-and-Ski lesson for two 5-year old kids. After watching them ski I asked one little girl how she learned to slow down. I got the answer I anticipated: “I just make a bigger pizza.”
From the very early stages skiers learn that a bigger wedge increases resistance to the snow. Many young kids take this knowledge and apply it to all their turns or anytime they need to slow or stop. Occasionally an inexperienced instructor or parent reinforces this big pizza idea and it firmly takes hold. The bigger wedge moves their center of mass farther back putting them farther into the back seat making all the skiing skills harder to apply.
Once your feet get outside your hips it also dramatically reduces the ability to rotate your leg in the hip socket leading to all the turning force having to come from turning the upper body instead of steering your legs. Both of these outcomes are far from ideal. This blog post came together in my mind on the Whiteface Gondola when a parent asked me how to best teach their child how to slow down. Here is the approach I always use.
Explain to your kids that you slow down by turning and then use something every child has learned and is proud of their knowledge of – their ABC’s. Turning in the shape of letters lets you control your speed just using a small pizza.
Ask them to use a small pizza/wedge to ski a “C” shaped turn with the emphasis on the end of the turn where the C goes back uphill. They’ll discover slows them down considerably. “S” shaped turns control speed without slowing way down. “J” turns are harder to be tried only after making good C and S turns. Of course “I” shapes make you go faster so they are only to be used on flat spots. Finally “ L” shaped turns are for emergency stops – think hockey stops.
Help your child pick the right letters for the trail or different sections and let them see how turn shape can control their speed without the big pizza. Make a game of it and ask them to ski different letters that you call out behind them. Then pick a trail that varies its pitch (like Boreen at Whiteface) and ask them use the letter turn that keeps their speed the same all the way down. This is one of the most important concepts that your child must master to be able to move on toward parallel turns and it’s as easy as their ABC’s.
Last winter I published two blog articles about getting your young child skiing and how to ski with your child. I encourage parents to go revisit those articles as you gear up for the ski season with your youngster. The most important thing that I want to restate here: the key to knowing if they ready for more difficult slopes is seeing how they react to the increased pitch. If they make a bigger wedge or move their center of gravity backward on steeper slopes, then you are not only creating a safety issue, you’re also impeding their growth. The goal is to move with the skis, not against them.
3 comments on “The ABC’s of Skiing With Kids”
Perfectly written. The chant “we don’t need no stinking wedge” works well too once they learn turning uphill works better and is easier on their frail pencil legs.
I wince in pain as I see caring, loving, parents skiing while kiddo is cranking down black in a breaking wedge.
Great article, Coach Z. My oldest daughter is 5 and is just in the stage where she is learning how to read while learning how to break free of the wedge. This is both timely and helpful for us.
I’m happy to hear this. It is something I think every skiing parent should learn.