This winter marked an exciting milestone for our family: our eldest daughter turned three in November and, with that, is generally considered old enough to start skiing. Excitedly, we invested in some teenie tiny ski boots and a pair of mini 70cm skis, and headed up to the nursery slopes at the top of the Penken.
20 minutes in, she’d had enough and so had we. Our second and third skiing sessions were unfortunately no more successful. Reluctantly, we had to admit it: getting a three-year-old enthused about skiing was obviously a skill that we didn’t possess.
As we trudged dejectedly back to the gondola, I met a friend with her three-year-old son, happily skiing along next to her. “How did you teach him?”, I asked. She just laughed, “I didn’t,” she said, “teaching a child to ski is like teaching a family member to drive. He learnt in ski school.” So that was the secret! The very next day we signed our daughter up for five days of ski school with local school Skischule Mayrhofen Total (SMT).
We arrived at the meeting point behind the Pilzbar restaurant a little before 9.30am. My daughter’s face lit up at the sight of the other children rolling in the snow, throwing snowballs and the colourful flags and balloons decorating the nursery slope. This was less skiing, and more of a children’s party on snow! Watching the first group of mini skiers getting a ride on the back of skidoo sold it to her; she was mega excited for ski school!
She was put in the beginner group for the youngest skiers. With three friendly instructors for a small group of children, I felt entirely confident leaving her in their capable hands. The instructors immediately won the children over with a fun warm-up of jumping up and down and noisy, energetic clapping and leg-slapping. Then it was on with their mini-skis and the skiing began…
Learning through play
I was told that it was best not to stay and watch the lessons as the children get distracted if their parents are nearby. This was excellent advice as I’m sure my daughter would not have stuck with it, if Mummy was waiting in the wings. Plus, it was a rare treat to have some time for myself on the mountain!
However, throughout the week, my daughter shared some of her highlights from ski school with me. These included snowball making machines, skidoo rides, gondola rides and rolling down the hill races! As well as raving about her fun instructors. Lunchtime was a highlight in itself: a programme of animation and kid-friendly food, gave the children a necessary break from the slopes and power to continue in the afternoon.
It was tempting to think there wasn’t much skiing involved, and yet when I came to collect her at the end of every day, it was clear that she was making good progress.
The Penken beginner area was reshaped and extended just a few winters ago so, even with their limited skiing ability, my daughter and her group could ski a new slope every day of the week. This kept the lessons interesting and the skidoo rides to and from the various slopes were an excellent incentive to dare to try something new.
By the end of the week, she had skied the SMT nursery slope, the nursery slopes behind the Penken, and taken the Kombibahn gondola up to the top of the mountain to ski the ‘baby tour’ Penken. Her ‘pizza’ (snow plough) technique was developing nicely so should steer and stop on command. The conveyor belt (‘magic carpet’) lifts which had been a source of anxiety when she was skiing with us, were now second nature and she could even tackle a t-bar with an adult.
But, by far her greatest achievement was participating in the Thursday race. Nervous to begin with, she made it down the course and even took second place in her group. Naturally, I was a very proud Mum, but, more importantly, she was very proud of herself. Her silver medal is now one of her most prized possessions.
A skiing convert
Since her week of ski school, our daughter’s attitude to skiing has changed completely. She is so much more confident. We whizz around the blue slopes of the Penken and Ahorn with her between our legs or holding our ski poles. And, when the slope is gentle enough, she begs to ski by herself. When we go up in the Penken, she asks hopefully if we are going to ski school today and even has ambitions to be a ski instructor herself one day! Thanks to ski school she has well and truly been bitten by the skiing bug!