5 Steps for Teaching Kids To Turn on Skis

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If you’re teaching kids how to ski, there are a few essential skills that every beginner needs to learn, including stopping, turning, and getting on and off a chairlift.  Of all of these skills, teaching kids to turn on skis is the easiest skill to teach.  As a former ski instructor, I believe that if you are on the right terrain and can focus, you can teach any kid to turn on skis! 

toddler learning to ski

We’ve talked a lot about the best ages to teach kids to ski and whether or not kids need ski lessons. Turning is one of the most important skills to teach when teaching kids to ski. Whether or not you’re teaching a toddler or a teen, these tips will help make things easier.

Watch Where You’re Going!!!!

The most important thing about teaching kids to maneuver on skis is to have them watch where they’re going.  This is because where their eyes focus, their skis will naturally turn.  That means that if they’re focused on a giant tree, and can’t stop looking at it, they’re probably going to head right towards it.  If they’re looking at Mom and she keeps making nice, smooth turns, they’ll probably follow her path.  It almost sounds too good to be true, but for the basics of teaching kids how to turn on skis, this is exactly where we focus our energy.  

toddler learning to ski

Before you teach kids to turn on skis

Before you get to the mechanics of turning, ensure your kids are comfortable with the basics: gliding, shuffling around, and the snowplow or pizza position to stop. All of these can be introduced on pretty flat terrain and practiced on a magic carpet surface lift area.

first time skiers at Nordic Valley resort with kids

5 Steps to Teaching Kids To Turn on Skis

Remember that every kid is different. The tips below will work for about 95% of kids if you’re patient with them. Remember that some kids will master this skill in a few hours, where others might take a week or longer (especially for really young kids).

Step 1: Start with a Good Body Position

The proper stance is critical and we firmly believe that if kids learn to balance properly when they’re learning how to ski, it will help them all throughout their ski journey! 

Have your kids stand with their skis parallel, knees slightly bent, and weight evenly distributed. They should feel relaxed and ready to move. Have them practice going from having their skis parallel to a wedge shape on flat ground and maintaining that good balance (if they’re struggling with this, use an edgie wedgie).  

We recommend having kids put their hands on their hips or straight out in front of them (like they’re holding a steering wheel) to promote the best balance.  

Little boys skiing together

Step 2: Think About Shifting Weight

Turning on skis is all about weight transfer, but kids don’t know that and will be confused as you tell them that.  Have your kids practice shifting their weight from one foot to the other while standing still. They can lift the uphill ski slightly to get used to the feeling of putting weight on one ski more than the other.  We often teach kids how to do this by having them glide and do short sections where they glide/balance on one foot at a time.  Again, don’t make this a major focus, just touch on this skill.  

Kids usually learn to turn while in a snowplow position, which naturally creates a wedge shape with their skis. This ‘pizza wedge’ slows them down and gives them control. For older kids you can explain that to turn right, they gently need to put more weight on the left ski. To turn left, the weight shifts to the right ski. For younger kids, just skip those instructions – they’ll naturally figure it out!

Toddler learning how to turn skiing

Step 3: Practice on a Very Gradual Slope

Choose a gentle, wide slope for practicing turns. It should have enough of a gradient for them to move without pushing but not so steep that they really get going fast. Try and find a fill that isn’t crowded so you can focus on teaching them, not on avoiding other people (which often really scares kids).  

Mom skiing with little boys

Step 4: Play Follow The Leader

Without going into too much detail, tell your child that you’re going to play follow the leader.  You’re the leader and they’re the follower.  Explain that to play follow the leader on skis, they MUST always look at the leader (this is KEY).  Start by making large, smooth turns, and having your child follow about 8-10 feet behind you.  

As you go down tell them to keep their skis in your ski tracks if they want to play the game.  

If you’re comfortable skiing backwards in a wedge, this always works best when you can maintain eye contact with your child.  It’s not the most natural position, so I recommend practicing before you head up the hill with your child, and remembering to always keep glazing over your shoulder to look out for other skiers, riders, and obstacles..  Your turns should be pretty large and as your child figures out how to turn on skis better you can introduce them to smaller radius turns as well.  

Mom skiing with little boys

Step 5: Make Turning A Game

Turning on skis takes A LOT of practice before kids really get the hang of it and can ski independently.  While older kids and adults might need just a day or two of practice, younger kids will need several months (or years for really young ones) to practice before they can be trusted to turn on their own on more difficult terrain.  Not only does making turning into a game get kids excited, but it gives you a chance for face to face interaction with your kids where they can learn to trust and rely on you on the ski hill.  

toddler learning to ski

Best Games To Teach Kids How to Ski

Any type of follow-the-leader sort of game works well for teaching your kids how to ski.  These are a few of our favorites that we’ve used throughout the years, that you can easily adapt to your child’s interests.

Race Car Driver:  Put your hands out in front of you to hold your imaginary steering wheel.  When you enter a turn, turn your steering wheel causing you to lean into the turn a bit.  Keeping hands out front helps with balance. 

The Snake Game: The lead skier snakes down the slope with smooth S-shaped turns. Kids follow in the leader’s tracks, trying to match their turns with the leader’s path.  Make funny snake noises and silly faces whenever you turn.

Animal Ski Parade: Each skier picks an animal that they’re going to be.  Whenever they turn, they have to make the noise that animal makes.  

Follow the Story: The leader tells a story that involves different actions as they ski. For instance, “The dragon swooped down to the valley” could signal a wide, arching turn. Kids follow and perform the turns that fit the story, engaging their imagination and coordination.

The Shadow Game: The leader becomes a “shadow,” moving slowly with exaggerated turns. The followers are tasked with staying as close to the leader’s path as possible, mimicking their movements like a shadow.

boy skiing with mom

Tips For Teaching Kids to Turn On Skis

  • Offer Positive Encouragment: Always encourage your kids, regardless of how many times they fall. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.
  • Bring Treats:  I always ski with treats in my pocket to give my kids a little boost when they’re struggling.  It’s amazing how well kids will respond to skiing if they know they’ll get a couple of M&Ms on the chairlift. 
  • Practice Patience: Kids learn at their own pace. Allow them to be comfortable with each step before moving on. Sometimes it takes hours and other times it takes months.  Skiing with kids is a long term game so practice lots of patience. 
  • Safety First: Make sure they know how to stop and slow down reliably before tackling steeper terrain.
  • Model the Movement: Kids mimic what they see. Skiing in front of them and letting them follow your turns is the best way to model where to ski.  We do this when our kids are beginners a lot, but also as they advance into more difficult terrain, we have them follow us as well. 
  • Take Breaks: Kids don’t last too long on the ski hill, so just plan on a short day.  Hot chocolate breaks are your best friend, and it’s important to watch your child for cues that they’re getting tired or frustrated.  Try to quit before they get overtired so they can end the day on a positive note.   tire easily and a tired skier is more prone to accidents. Take breaks often to keep the energy up and the experience positive.

Written by Jessica Averett

Hi, I'm Jessica! After meeting my husband on a chairlift, we now live in the mountains of Utah with our 5 kids. As a former ski instructor and mom, I'm here to help you make your family ski trips as easy, and FUN, as possible!