“Here,” I say, handing him a pair of alpine boots with fingers crossed, “Try these on, and with skinny socks, this year.”
Growing up the middle child of three, I recall all too well the annual transfer of clothing, boots, skis, and poles with the next in line, up or down. I remember boots that were too big (“Just wear three pairs of socks”), skis that were too long (“When I was a kid, skis had to be a foot over your head; you’ll be fine”), and the finest in 1970’s hand-me-down fashion courtesy of my big brother. Fortunately, I still managed to grow up into a respectable skier who swore I would never, ever make my kid use leftover stuff.
Then I had my own kid. Then a second one. And I had to rethink this idea of brand-new equipment every year, and more important, how it was supposed to fit.
As anyone who has tended to children (or adults) on a ski hill with poorly-fitting equipment knows, a day spent in discomfort because of gear that prevents success is a day wasted. As we rapidly approach skiing and riding season, and as my son now sports feet the size of a sasquatch, I am conflicted. New gear, old gear, and the money I must invest in a sport that grows more expensive every year.
So I turned to Jeffra Clough, Marketing Manager and a darn-fine skier/instructor at Eaglecrest Ski Area in Juneau, Alaska who knows her stuff, and kids. She says ill-fitting gear will only hurt progress, and in fact, can lead to injuries that might keep a youngster from wanting to ski or ride anymore, at all.
“Purchasing boots or skis too large for your child will only inhibit skill development,” Clough says. “Success on the hill at the child’s skill level is what we’re after.”
Other tips? Yes, Clough has plenty, so I’ve listed them below as an easy checklist to remember when you’re off purchasing gear for your young learner. Or if you’re going to raid the neighbor’s garage.BOOTS: Make sure kids wear one pair of medium-weight socks (knee-high) with a wicking fabric. Cotton gets sweaty, wrinkles easily, and doesn’t protect against the cold.
Boots should fit snugly, like a hug, with toes barely touching the inside front. It’s often tough to get kids to articulate that fit, however, so consult a sales clerk at your local outdoor store for tips and assistance. Ask kids to walk around in boots, as the motion sometimes makes it easier to tell you if toes get scrunched at the front.
Have kids practice putting on and taking off boots at home; it does get easier, and saves parents soooo much time later.SKIS: Ski length depends upon age and skill level, but in general, when standing the skis upright…
– Beginner skiers should have the tips somewhere between the chest and chin.
– Intermediate skiers should have the tips between the chin and nose.
– Advanced skiers should have tips between the nose and forehead.
Bindings should be set according to weight, age, and ability, as they are set to release when your child falls. Do not attempt to adjust bindings unless you are savvy to the settings! This can be dangerous; skis might not disengage from boots when kids fall, resulting in knee or leg injuries. Most ski stores will set bindings, but if you’re not in a position to do that, visit a ski area rental shop or mountain ski shop for assistance.SNOWBOARDS: Board length is dependent upon weight.
Bindings are not set to release; in Alaska, riders are required to have a leash that attaches the board to the front leg. Consult a pro shop for tips and proper setting of the binding stance.
HELMETS: Yes. Buy a helmet specifically designed for snowsports. These lids are comfortable, warm, and perfectly suited so as not to obstruct vision or hearing. Not sure which brand to buy? Clough recommends Lids On Kids, a great resource for the basics of helmets and skiing/riding.
Erin Kirkland is Managing Editor of Outdoor Families Magazine, publisher of AKontheGO.com, and author of Alaska On the Go: Exploring the 49th state with children. She lives with her family in Anchorage, Alaska.