Don’t you love it when your child tells you they’re going to ski today, for the hundredth time, and when it’s their turn they run screaming and crying! Over years of teaching tiny tots how to ski I have realised there are some key fundamentals to getting even the most stubborn or timid of children on the water and loving it.
Make sure your child is comfortable in the water and wearing a life jacket. Whether they can swim or not, they need to be relaxed and happy to play around in the water, so when they do fall off, this will prevent them from being startled and panicking.
Before attempting to get them on the skis, tow them around in a ski biscuit or on the front of your skis if you are a competent skier. This will help them acclimatise to the forward pulling momentum and sound of the boat, allowing them to be more aware and relaxed in this environment.
Make sure you have the correct size and type of skis for your child to start on. A pair of Hot Shot trainers or a skimmer board is highly recommended, as both of these have the rope connected to the skis and are a nice steady platform, making the learning curve quick and easy.
Show your child how to stand on the skis in the correct position with arms straight, knees bent and chest out, then tow them around on the grass so they can figure for themselves what muscles to use and how to balance on the skis. This is a great way for them to develop confidence and a good understanding of what you are trying to say without all the explanations.
There are a couple of different approaches you can use to start your child on the water, depending on what equipment you have available.
Firstly if you have a boom bar, I can guarantee that your child will not fall off or even get their hair wet.
Place the trainers on the back corner of the boat and loop the rope around the boom, leaving about 3m of rope for you to hang onto. Make sure there is no handle on your end, so if you did have to let go, it will release from the boom freely.
Stand your child in the skis up on the back of the boat and get them to show you their body position. Explain to them each step of the process so they are aware of what you are doing with them.
It is very important to keep a positive reinforcement and reassuring them that you have hold of them the whole time, making it impossible for them to be in danger or fall.
Slowly have your driver idle up, increasing the speed to a speed that will support your child’s body weight. Take note that with tiny tots you only need to be a fast idle, not even on the plane. A common occurrence is parents driving too fast for their child’s body weight and ability.
Once you are at a comfortable speed, place one hand around their chest under their arms and the other under the back of their legs. This will allow you to push their hips and skis forward, then lower the child over the side of the boat till they are evenly supporting their own bodyweight. Either another person can hold tension on the rope for you, or yourself with one hand as the other hand will be on the back of the child’s jacket, offering support if needed.
Once you feel they are stable and the rope is tensioned, let them go and watch their face light up as they realise that they are skiing on their own. The beauty of this method is you are constantly within arms reach to grab them if they need assistance, and also you are able to talk to them the whole time.
Once you have carved a couple of laps and the proud parents have got all their photos, grab hold of your little one and lift them back into the boat, showing them that their hair is still dry.
If a boom is not an option, place the child in the skis on the bank. If using a skimmer board, they can start on the water’s edge. If using trainers, start in about knee deep water with an adult holding them. Again idle up slowly while standing in the back of the boat, holding a handle on the end of the rope so you can assist in controlling the child and remember to let go of the rope if they fall.
The most important thing at this tender age is that it MUST be fun and confidence building. It can take years to get a child back on the water if they have a traumatic experience, so be patient and even keep the rides a little shorter so they are always wanting more!
Article by Jason Stone, Head coach, Stoney Park