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Winter Sports: Gear Up and Go!

Do you want to take the kids skiing, snowboarding or ice skating but don’t know where or how to get started?

Several ski resorts in the Poconos and North Jersey are only a two- to three-hour drive from the Delaware Valley. At these destinations you can gear up and go, or find kid-friendly instructors to teach the basics.

Skiing 101

Kids can start skiing as young as age 3 or 4. “Generally at that age, it’s done with a family member, someone who can take them out on the slope and spend a half-hour or hour to get them acclimated to the environment first,” says Roni Mattiello, director of the ski school at Hidden Valley Club in Vernon, NJ. “Because of their muscle and cognitive development, they may not be up to the level they need to perform at the sport, but they can certainly be introduced to it.”

Mattiello says it’s important for kids and beginners to take lessons the first time they visit to ensure safety and make the experience enjoyable. “Even if you go with someone who may know how to ski, they might not know how to teach it,” she says.

To keep the experience positive, Kevin Frey, children’s director of the Snowsports School at Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Macungie, PA, recommends frequent breaks for kids. He says that while kids are learning, encouragement from parents is critical to their success.

“Keep your mind open. They’re going to learn a lot of things and sometimes they don’t pick them up the first day,” Frey says. Usually by the third lesson, kids have grasped basic concepts, including how to stay balanced on the skis and make turns.

Insiders offer these tips to get the most from your ski trip.

Make reservations for lessons. Classes can fill up quickly, especially on weekends and holidays. If you can arrange your trip on weekdays, the slopes are usually less crowded. On the weekends, arrive early in the day to enjoy the best mountain conditions.

Plan ahead. Visit the ski center’s website to learn what to expect and where to go when you arrive. Check the weather forecast and make sure to go to sleep early the night before and eat a good breakfast.

Dress appropriately and wear layers of clothing. Make sure that the base layer isn’t cotton, which can absorb sweat and make you feel colder, and that outer layers are water-resistant and waterproof. Bring goggles and sunglasses for sun protection.

Alternative Winter Sports

Kids who have tried skateboarding or have watched the X-Games might want to jump right into snowboarding, but both Frey and Mattiello recommend skiing first. Those too nervous to attempt skiing but still eager to enjoy the snowy mountains can consider snow tubing, a downhill sledding-like activity which requires no extra equipment or athletic ability.

Parents and kids looking to try a new sport without traveling north can go ice skating at a local rink. Kids comfortable in roller blades or who have taken dance classes might be more balanced or flexible when learning ice skating. However, Christie Moxley, an instructor at the Skating Club of Wilmington and the University of Delaware, says there’s no required skill — or level of competitiveness — necessary for any kid who wants to give the sport a spin.

"You don’t have to go to the Olympics for your kids to get something out of skating,” Moxley says, adding that the activity is great way for kids to stay physically fit, increase focus and embrace a more artistic sport.

Keeping Costs Down

A major parental concern about winter sports is their cost. “Like any sport there is an expense to get involved, but there are ways to get around that,” says Mattiello. She recommends renting ski equipment at a local ski shop. If you’re buying equipment, some ski resorts and shops offer quality used equipment.

For ice skating, Moxley advises renting skates at first and to investigate group classes, which are more affordable than private lessons. She adds that a group setting offers kids the opportunity to develop friendships while learning. Interview the instructor ahead of time to learn his teaching style and get a sense of his personality, she suggests.

Families who want to skate casually without the formality of lessons can try public sessions. The Skating Club of Wilmington offers family general sessions at a discounted price. At them, families can practice together “without feeling overwhelmed by higher-level skaters,” says Moxley. These sessions are also an opportunity for kids to learn at their own pace.

In all winter sports, parents and kids should “come with an open, positive attitude and you’ll have a lot of fun,” Frey says.

Check out our Attractions Guide for our comprehensive list of ski resorts and ice skating rinks.

Stephanie Halinski is calendar editor of MetroKids.

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