I’m Oliver Staley, Quartz’s New York-based culture and lifestyle editor. When it gets cold, I think about skiing, and for the last eight years, that means skiing with my two children.
Skiing with kids is not for the faint of heart. It often begins with a painful, pre-dawn wake up. Equipment must be accounted for, including the invariably missing mittens and goggles. Sluggish children are roused from bed, plied with breakfast, and stuffed into a freezing vehicle. Skis, boots, and poles are either schlepped awkwardly across a vast, icy (or muddy) parking lot, or procured after a long wait in the rental shop. More lines follow: first for chairlift tickets, then to get on the chairlift. The first ride up can be bottom-numbingly cold. There will be whining.
And then you arrive at the top. The air is clear, the snow is crisp, the kids are bursting with excitement. In front of you are miles of snowy slopes, hours of lung-stretching exercise, and a full day of screen-free entertainment. Skiing (and snowboarding) isn’t for everyone, and astronomical prices mean it’s increasingly hard for almost anyone, but there are few better ways to spend a winter day. Let’s get suited up.
Equipment matters. Nothing will turn kids, or you, off of skiing faster than being cold or wet. Make sure you’re all properly equipped with—at a minimum—long underwear, warm socks, waterproof pants and jacket, gloves (or mittens), sunglasses or goggles, and a helmet (you can rent these). A neck gaiter can be a lifesaver too. You don’t need to spend a ton: Columbia makes decent gear that’s reasonably priced.
Next up: skis and boots. If you plan on skiing more than a few times a year, buying skis and boots for adults makes sense, and they can often be found deeply discounted in late spring or summer. But with rapidly growing children, renting is almost always better. After years of enduring rental lines at the resort, and like feeling like my life was slipping by as the rest of the world was out skiing, we now rent skis and boots for the season. Most ski shops offer seasonal rentals, and may also provide you with discounted lift tickets.
Keeping track of all this gear can be a challenge. We have a dresser dedicated just to ski-gear and I zealously police it so gloves used for snowball fights make it back in time for skiing. (This applies to any sort of equipment for sports-crazy families, of course.)
Lessons learned. Your kids might think they don’t need lessons. You might think you can teach them. You’re both wrong. Ski school will make better skiers out of everyone and save frustration. And with kids in lessons, you’re free to explore the mountain on your own terms and hit slopes a beginner may not be ready for. My wife and I typically put our my nine-year-old in lessons during the morning, then all ski together after lunch.
Where to go. Depending on where you live, skiing might not be within driving distance. Or maybe you’re ready for something more ambitious. A ski-destination vacation can be amazing, if you keep a few things in mind. Most importantly, pick a place that appeals to everyone. If not everyone in your group is a die-hard skier, look for towns with other activities, whether that’s shopping, sight-seeing, or lounging around a spa. That might make taking a day off an appealing option, too. Also, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of staying on the mountain. While ski-in, ski-out access is hugely convenient, you’ll pay for that luxury. Often you can stay farther away and still take advantage of shuttle busses run by the ski area.
Why we do it. I love to ski. My father began taking my brother and I at a young age, and I was quickly hooked. In my 20s, I lived in Idaho, Montana, and Washington, and would ski 30 or 40 days a year. When lift-supported skiing got too pedestrian, I dabbled in the back-country, hiking up slopes with skis strapped to my back. When traditional alpine skiing became boring, I learned to telemark, a form of downhill cross-country skiing. While I was never a full-on ski bum—I took my journalism career too seriously—I was at least ski-bum adjacent.
Now I’m older and slower, with aching knees. I can’t ski the bumps like I used to, and lining up early to get the first lift on a powder day no longer appeals to me. These days I get my thrills skiing with my children. I love to see their progress, and watch them master new skills and challenges. My son, now 12, has always been a daredevil and took to it early, but my daughter spent her first years on skis alternating between clinging to me and sitting in the snow, crying. She is nine now, and sails down intermediate slopes with confidence. She is already asking when we will go skiing this year.
As my kids develop their own hobbies and interests, they’re spending more time on their own and it’s harder for me to find room in their lives. Skiing, at least for now, is something we do together, and that they want to do together. And I’m hoping it stays that way for decades.
Have a great weekend.
A recipe for when you’re cold and hungry. Now is the time to make a hearty coq au vin that can last several days. Here’s my go-to method:
Start with 8-10 chicken thighs, and flour them, adding salt and pepper. Cook 8 strips of bacon in a large frying pan, and set them aside. Don’t wash the pan! Add the chicken to cook in the bacon fat until it’s golden brown on both sides, for about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken into a large dutch oven with some olive oil, and cook it over medium heat, adding frozen pearl onions and baby button mushrooms. Add a cup of red wine, a cup of chicken broth, some chopped garlic, and whatever miscellaneous root vegetables you have in the fridge (for me that’s usually carrots, parsnips, and baby potatoes), plus a bay leaf. Bring it all to a boil, then simmer for half an hour, and serve over broad egg noodles or rice. The leftovers are even better.