By Dan England
Some of my favorite times with my three kids are in the winter, and they haven’t asked me if I wanted to build a snowman in years.
Four years ago, Jayden, who is now 15, got a free ski season pass from Colorado Ski Country USA. He was a fifth grader, and all fifth graders get what’s called a passport. That gives you a free lesson, free rental and several free lift tickets.
I love the outdoors, so naturally, I love skiing, even with all the inconveniences and the money it costs, and I wanted my kids to try it out. I didn’t get the chance to ski until I was in college because I grew up in Kansas. This may surprise you, but there isn’t much skiing in Kansas. The fact that Jayden got to try it, for free, and then my twin girls got the same deal a year later, made it irresistible.
Yes, my teenagers love a day inside with their brain stem hooked up to their phones and game consoles, but they’re also pretty hardy and enjoy the outdoors in all its forms. So, you can guess what happened: They loved skiing. Colorado Ski Country USA are marketing geniuses. Last year, I got passes for all the kids, just for Winter Park, for what I thought was a reasonable price. We went a half-dozen times and had a ball together, even with the pandemic cutting things short.
There’s a certain amount of bonding that occurs with people when you do something outside together, especially if you have to suffer a bit to do the activity, or you’re risking your neck to do it. Some of my best friends are my running friends, and I’m convinced my dog loves me more than my girlfriend (now fiancé) because we run together five days a week.
This translates to your kids as well. You will love each other if you get out in the winter together. You’re cold together, in the snow together, griping about the traffic together, trying to walk like robots in the ski boots together and eating grumpy lunches together because you’re unwilling to spend $100 on lunch at the ski resort, meaning you’re choking down a granola bar while people around you are eating hot, yummy chicken tenders.
If you’re worried about your kids whining the entire time and hating it, then I have some tips for you to prevent that. Well, I can prevent the hate. Your kids probably will whine. And that brings me to my first point.
Have patience. Nothing makes an activity more fun than your patience. You’ll have to have patience when you wake your kids up before dawn and they don’t want to get out of bed, and when they want McDonald’s for breakfast, and when they whine about the cold and the clothes. It will take far too long to get dressed and get on the lift.
They will take wrong turns and get scared to get off the lift and won’t stay in the lift line. They will want to stop every half-hour. They will need to go to the bathroom. Doesn’t this sound fun? Look, I know as a parent that you’ve already got a deep reservoir of patience, but a day skiing will drain it. Don’t sweat the small stuff, or anything, really, unless your toddler goes down a black by mistake, and even then, those little squirts are indestructible on skis. They’ll be fine.
It’s not about you. Yay, another time as a parent to sacrifice your own wants and needs for your child. Remember those days when you were first in line at the lift, skied all day on a Snickers and stopped when they kicked you off? Those days are over. You may not get many runs in, and you won’t be able to go as fast as you want, and yeah, those blacks are out. Eventually, your kids will get better, and when they do, you’ll be able to actually ski again. Until then, DON’T push your kids to go down hills they don’t want to go down, or to go faster, or to keep going when they’re clearly cold. That’s a terrific way for them to hate skiing and write about you in a memoir. I enjoyed my time with them far more than I thought I would. I know there will be a day when they are better than me, not just as good, and leaving me in the dust and probably yelling at me to go faster.
Treat them like toddlers. Your teenagers still have the brains of infants. Make sure they have hats, gloves and the right equipment to keep them warm and dry—and make them dress warmer than they think they will need to, as that’s the real secret to keeping feet and hands warm. Have snacks ready for them and plenty of water. Put sunscreen on them. Make sure they have sunglasses. Don’t be afraid to buy hot chocolate. A cold, hungry and thirsty kid is not a happy kid, and that will shorten your time on the slopes. When they do forget something, like gloves, buy a cheap replacement on the way, not at the ski resort. Lastly, do not expect them to tough it out: I’ve made that mistake a few times. Just because you relish the chance to show off your ability to go without food or rest doesn’t mean your kids will. Maybe our kids are the smarter ones.
You don’t have to ski. Snowshoeing is cheap and fun, and sledding and tubing are as much fun for adults as they are for kids. The bumps just hurt more. I talked a lot about skiing, but these rules translate well to any activity (and yes, you should dress for skiing when you’re sledding). Just get out and have fun.
Dan England is a freelance writer and mountaineer, hiker and ultramarathoner. He lives in Greeley with his jazz-singing fiancé, his three kids (including twin girls) and a dog, Pepper, who likes to run more than him. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram, @DanEngland, and TikTok, @adventuresinengland.