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First tracks, do's and don'ts

Making their first tracks - some do's and don'ts

What's the best way to help your children take their first tentative steps on skis? You're taking the children to the ski slopes for the first time and you want them to enjoy it as much as you do... but you're a little worried. How can you help them get the most out of the experience? In fact, it's pretty easy in the ski resorts, where children are made to feel more than welcome. Read on:
Before leaving:
Check out the local library, the internet or your favourite bookshop. You'll find loads of ideas to plunge you into the enchanting world of snow and skiing, with bedtime stories about skiing elephants, turkeys and hedgehogs, or children enjoying their first experience in the snowy mountains. They'll give your little learners some of the vocabulary they'll need when they get to the mountains, and will help boost their confidence, so don't stint on the stories! Do a little surfing on the web too, and check out your favourite resorts. Ask them to send you some glossy brochures and leaflets, show them to the children and talk about the pictures and scenery. Soon, you'll all be wishing you were there already!
Getting your little skier kitted out: what you need to know!
Helmet and goggles, the two essentials!
Skiing helmeted is an absolute must! Our children only have one head and it's already hard enough to get the rules of grammar to sink in, so make sure it's well-protected! And what about you, the parents? Yes, you, because they're not going to swallow a “do what I say, not what I do” scenario. Skiing helmeted applies whatever the age. Today's hi-tech materials have made helmets light and comfortable, and the 'electric lightbulb' days are, happily, well and truly over. Tough, light, and with impact-absorbing hypoallergic foam liner, they're easy to wear in snow, wind and even sunshine. To encourage our budding skiers to don their helmets, some designers sell them with packs of manga-like stickers so your little beginners can decorate their them to their own taste.
It's essential that the helmet fits snugly. Whatever you do, don't put a balaclava underneath to make it fit better… unless you want to find your mini skier sweating like a sumo wrestler! Goggles are the helmet's other half: never one without the other. Here again, they're much more comfortable thanks to today's technology: air circulation in the goggles helps prevent sweat condensation and fogging, they're anti-scratch and provide excellent sun protection. Don't forget that children's eyes are far more sensitive to UV rays than ours. Make sure they're well protected so the children can enjoy the full beauty of the mountains. Get category 4 for both helmet and goggles.
Dry and snug as a bug in a rug!
“It's cold and wet in the snow...!” Words from the mouths of babes have led ski equipment designers to create a whole range of items for our little skiers that cover every eventuality. The same dress code applies to both children and adults, in other words, three layers, whether its snowing, windy or sunny. The base layer should keep you warm and able to dry out fast after an exuberant snowball fight, when the cold and wet could make you miserable and spoil your day. Today's gently soft undergarments will wick, indispensable for the first time in the snow. For the second layer, throw out grandma's hand-knitted jumper and get some fleece. This will help prevent sweating and keep you warm and snug whatever the temperature. The aim of the third layer is to keep the snow out. If you're hesitating between a jacket and trousers or an all-in-one ski suit, the most practical solution for young children is a ski suit as there are no straps and just one thing to put on in the morning! For older skiers, it's a matter of taste. This season's trend is for lots of colour and hi-tech fabrics. Some are sporting a protective powder skirt to keep out those insidious snowflakes…
Socks and gloves, the final touch
Little feet so little socks? Just make sure that they're not made of wool if you want to prevent their feet not just from getting cold but, even worse, from literally feezing. Choose today's hi-tech fabrics which are much more effective at keeping out the cold and damp.
“Hey dad, how many fingers have I got?” Keeping them all warm and dry is not easy. Mittons are the best and most practical solution, as all ten fingers are covered up straightaway and the children can move them around to keep them warm. When it gets really cold, you can add some silk gloves. They're magic!

So now we've got our tiny tots kitted out. Warm, safe and dry, they'll feel happy and confident enough to enjoy the snow in all its splendour, and you can go off and ski with your mind at ease. The right equipment is quite simply less tiring and more fun!
You'll find everything you need in the ski resort sports shops. There's something for all ages and tastes so no need to worry!
Make a checklist
You're just about to leave for an exhilarating day in the snow and your hand's already on the door handle. But before you go, ask the troup five questions, and don't leave until every member of the family has anwered with a resounding “yes." One, two, three...go!
1. Gloves? OK
2. Helmet and googles? OK
3. Ski pass? OK
4. Sun cream and a little snack in your pocket? OK
5. Skis and sticks? OK (and yes, it happens!)
Safety tips:
For the face “I don't need any cream today Mum, there's no sun.” Whatever the weather, make sure your children get plenty of cream on their plump little cheeks. The cream not only protects against the sun but also against the cold that can nip the skin. Don't take half measures, go the whole hog and buy the highest protection you can get, and keep plastering it on all day long.
For hunger pangs Ski suits have lots of pockets, so put a little snack in one of them for the mid-morning/afternoon break. Whether they're taking lessons or out on the slopes with you, your children will need some fast energy to replenish them after skiing like mad, tumbling over, picking themselves up and playing. They need even more calories in the snow and cold so begin the day with a good English-type breakfast, and slip a cereal bar in their pocket. Avoid biscuits that break easily, chocolate that can melt or cakes or fruit that'll get squashed… Add a little bottle of water (it's as important to drink as it is to eat) and they'll be all set to go. Make sure they get lots of glucids in the form of bread, pasta and rice, as well as fruit and fresh vegetables for the essential vitamins.
Get their legs in trim The more you prepare your little mites for the rigours of the mountains, the more they'll get out of their skiing holiday. Before leaving, do some sport together, especially outdoors. Go cycling or swimming, or take long walks in the forest. The more you do, the healthier they'll be!
When's the best age to start skiing? They'll have fun in the snow at all ages!
Under 3s are going to discover the snow and the joys of sliding rather than skiing as such. However, every child is different and yours may turn out to be a ski whizz kid even at two years old. The smallest size ski shoe is 24 though, and smaller feet will have to make do with skiblades. Children will enjoy slipping and sliding, though, whether on skis, sleds or snowblades. Non-ski nurseries are available for children between 3 months and three years old. Once they get to 3, children can start learning to ski. Children's ski clubs and schools are the best way to begin. They have everything your child will need to gradually learn from playing, and they'll also be fed and watered during the day.
Should you sign them up for ski lessons or teach them yourself? It all depends on the children, but our offspring are generally more ready to listen to a ski instructor than to their parents, and they'll have more fun and learn faster with a group of friends. Give it a go. You'll be amazed at the results.
Once they've hit 5, everything starts to speed up. They have better control over their bodies and their skis. You'll see a big difference after a week in the snow. It's better to take things gradually at first though. They'll begin with the basics of how to slide, brake and turn, and once they've got the hang of that, they'll be off!
For under 5s, it's better to book two half days. Older children will be able to manage a whole day on skis, as long as they have a long enough midday break.
Things to avoid to make sure they have a great time
Don't be too demanding: your children may find the new world of the mountains and skiing very tiring. Don't skimp on the equipment. If they're too hot or too cold, they won't enjoy themselves.
Don't use skis that are too long or too old. There's been huge progress in equipment designed for children and learning to ski with today's skis is much easier. The quality of the equipment makes a big difference to children and adults alike. Make sure their shoes fit otherwise they may end up with blisters or other painful problems. And make sure they don't put their shoes on the wrong feet: don't laugh, it's more common than you'd think!
Winter-Sports invites you to have a look at our topic dedicated to ski lessons as well as the ski resort guide.
Photos: N.Cuche E. Beallet
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