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Before you get too far into this thing, are you sure you want your child to learn to ski? Think of money. Think of outfitting a child for skiing. And outfitting him (or her) again next year. And the next. And every year thereafter in which he grows or her figure changes. Think of lodging him in the mountains, feeding sides of beef to his mountain appetite. Think of long journeys in the station wagon to the ski area and of the curious insanity that creeps over families confined in a small vehicle for several hours.
Consider how you, the parent, will stand up under the impact of your child's first broken ski, his first ripped stretch pants or the doctor's bill of $150 for a cast.
After you have considered all these things, you are ready for the proposal I am about to make: as one who has survived and enjoyed the status of motherhood on the slopes, I honestly recommend teaching your child how to ski. If you take my advice, the next challenge is equipment. You will want nothing less than the best gear for your child. "Best" does not mean "most expensive" or "most elaborate." Sturdy leather boots that fit are imperative. Single boots are fine—much more practical for youngsters than the fancy double boots, and good imported models may be had for about $15 or $20. Fit them over a single pair of heavy Norwegian natural-wool socks. If you have to settle for Orion or two pairs, be supercareful about wrinkles and folds that can mean blisters in half an hour.
Skis now come ready-made with cable bindings, plastic bottoms (no waxing) and steel edges (essential even for 5-year-olds). For the young beginner, they should be shorter than he is tall. Don't let an ignorant salesman give him skis that reach his lifted hand. Your child's legs are too short to cope with skis measured by an adult rule. Perfectly adequate skis cost less than $20. Cable bindings purchased separately may come to $5. Toe irons are fine for preschoolers, but with the longer legs and the increased leverage and speed of later years a properly adjusted toe-release binding may save both his tibia and your pocket-book some pain.
Be absolutely certain the bindings are mounted with the toe of the boot behind the halfway mark—even if it makes the tails look ridiculously short. Because of the odd look of very small skis, some manufacturers still put the binding platform too far forward, which makes it much harder to learn to turn.
From the start, put your child in good ski pants. Blue jeans soak up water as efficiently as a kitchen sponge. Stretch pants are best for children. They're warmer, stay drier, the fabric is more durable. Best of all, they grow with the growing child.
He must have long Johns. The fishnet type are best, but flannel pajamas with knit cuffs do welcome double duty on a ski trip. You (and the youngster) may be glad to have two pairs of longies for him when the sun doesn't shine. Many loose, light layers are what you want in dealing with variable temperatures. A wardrobe consisting of a knit cap, wool-lined leather mittens, goggles, a fishnet top, long Johns, one light and one heavy sweater and a nylon parka generally proves adequate for the range of temperatures you will probably encounter, with the possible exception of extremely cold days, which require a quilted parka.
Cheaper by the dozen
Good rentals for children are unreasonably hard to find. It is far more practical to buy. Many ski shops let you trade in outgrown equipment and clothing on new gear. And their trade-ins may be available for purchase. It may help to join a club and get to know other skiing families for private handing-down. Families with lots of children are in luck on skis and boots, which go from boy to girl to boy in the handing-down process.
Once they have the right clothes and equipment, children will take to the slopes like young snowshoe rabbits. They are natural skiers, with physical equipment grown-up beginners envy. Children's flexibility, low center of gravity, larger impact area in a fall, short, thickly muscled legs, subcutaneous fat all operate in their favor. In families that start skiing together, children of 6 to 10 usually surpass their elders after a lesson or two.