Skiing Lessons

Parent Q&A

  • Anyone have some advice to share about the kids' ski school at Sierra-at-Tahoe? We're considering having our 5 and 6 year olds take a few days, but have heard some pretty negative things about the school and the instructors. 


    I am looking at previous reviews here and don't see anything negative. Our daughter (now 12) learned how to ski at Sierra and was on the non competitive ski team 2 years ago. Our experience was entirely positive. Both in ski school and on the team she got moved around a lot as her skill level changed so she was exposed to a lot of different instructors and they were all great. She has very fond memories about the program and when we've been up recently, she was saying she'd be interested in rejoining the team (which is not going to happen, only because it was exhausting for her parents!). 

    Overall we love the vibe at Sierra -- people who work and ski there are very nice. It is a low key and family friendly place to ski, which is what keeps us coming back. 


    Both my kids (9 and 11) learned to ski at Sierra and loved going there starting at age 4 so this is a few years back.  As parents, we appreciated the convenience of having the school provide equipment and lunch during the lessons.  We were committed with 10-pak group lessons each season for three years straight and, overall, thought the majority of instructors were great with the occasional instructor being just ok.  As the kids progressed, we found that the best instructors taught the more advanced levels (5+) and we saw many of the same instructors return each year.  Having also put our kids in group lessons at Northstar and resorts at Utah, I can't say those lessons were any better, although we certainly paid a lot more for them.  Depending on your expectations and child's temperament, you might also consider a shared private lesson. 

    We have had bad experiences at Sierra. The trouble is not with the instructors, who are well meaning teenagers and young adults. It’s that the resort accepts far too many children and overload the instructors, especially over holiday weekends. We saw children lying on the ground crying and the one teenager instructor at her wits end. She picked up one and another fell over, with another crying and screaming. My son sat on the snow for HALF AN HOUR and nobody even came to see if he was ok. We eventually went and got him and signed him out. The instructor burst into tears when I spoke to her and said she just didn’t know what to do with so many kids. We also heard instructors talking about losing a child on the slopes—they actually came down the hill and only at the bottom did they discover one child was missing. We have friends who like the instructors at Sierra, especially as they are cheap, but I would never send a child there over a holiday weekend. NorthStar has far better instructors. It is much more expensive but then again nothing is cheap when it comes to skiing. It’s just an expensive sport. I also hear good things about Dodge Ridge—smaller, very cheap to hire a private instructor, and not as busy as Tahoe. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Skiing lessons for 3 year old

Sept 2008

Our son is 3, and will be almost 4 this winter. Would like to try one or two ski trips this winter. Where is the best place to get lessons for him? Ideally, lessons that would take 2 or 3 hours, so we can get a little skiing in also. Tahoe is fine, but interested in places like Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley too, which are probably cheaper and easier to get to with a kid. thanks. Bryan

We went to Dodge Ridge last winter with our three year old twins and had a great time. They have an all day (or half) preschool ski program that is terrific. They don't really ski but they get used to the equipment and play in the snow and they have a great indoor classroom and they get lunch and snacks. They need snowsuits, boots, gloves and sunglasses to participate. Our kids can't wait to go ''skiing'' again. The snow hasn't been epic but that is the story just about everywhere. Welcome to global warming.

We put our daughter in ski school at Squaw Valley since she was 4 (she did snow cubs at 2 & 3 which is daycare with snow/ski play) and now she is a solid intermediate skier at age 7. For a 3 year old, it may be a bit young, but try Tahoe Donner (very kid oriented) or Bear Valley. Bear Valley also had a magic carpet area that you could use without taking lessons which made it nice for a family experience after lessons. Keep in mind some places require reservations, especially for weekends and holidays. Happy skiing. ski mom

We have skied recently at several places with my son, now age 6, including Bear Valley. We liked Bear Valley a lot, but we stayed at a place you took a snowmobile into, so it was great for sledding, but difficult to schlep to morning lessons. For the best bargain and easiest option, I would definitely recommend Badger Pass in Yosemite. It is not very crowded, very family friendly, and has great ski classes. Since the lift tickets were so inexpensive (and free for young kids), I chose to invest in a private lesson - following several friends' suggestions. That was some of the best money I spent. After one hour, my son now can ski on his own. We rented a house nearby (within a little development on the edge of the park), but you can also stay in the valley and take a shuttle bus up. Another more expensive option, but one worth considering is Northstar. There is a good ski school program, and it is so handy to get there - either staying in the new village (very fun and ! so convenient, but $$) or in a nearby rental (with a shuttle bus). So many of the issues with small kids and skiing I found to be about convenience and avoiding schlepping equipment, kids, and gear around. Have fun on the slopes. Jennifer

Ski lessons for 8-year-old

Jan 2007

Our 8 year old has expressed an interest in skiing. Does anyone have any advice on wether two plank skiing or snowboarding is easier for a child of this age to learn. We've also seen ski schools at Heavenly and Kirkwood, does anyone have recommendations on a ski school in Northern california? Many thanks! stace

I can definitely recommned Squaw Valley Ski school. My oldest daughter has been in their program since she was 4 yrs old and at 7 she is finishing their last level (8) before going on the ski team. My husband and I are avid skiers so having a great ski school with amazing teachers was important. She enjoyed it right away, learned really fast from them and now our little one (3yrs old) is attending the snow cubs program and after 2 times she is really excited about skiing and going to school all day there!! That is the best thing for us. Catherine

Lessons for an adult who has never skied

Oct 2006

Hi everyone: I am relatively new to California and I have never skied in my entire life. I would like to take lessons this winter, together with my preschooler. Any ideas or suggestions about companies you recommend or any other advice? Again, I have NEVER skied in my life; I wouldn't even know what questions to ask! Thanks a lot for any info!
New in the snow

We went last year to the Sierra ski resort in Tahoe. They had great ski lessons for my then 4 year old, and daycare for my 2 year old. They also had ski lessons for me...very convenient...the lessons include skis, which you pick up right next to where you start out for the lessons. I found the instructors to be very good and the whole set up very convenient. You can do private or group lessons. I am sure other places in Tahoe are good, but I thought Sierra was perfect for our family. The only potential negative is that it is about 30 minutes away from Tahoe itself and since lessons for the kids start early in the morning, you have to get up early! Check out the website.
Learning to ski

First of all, I think skiing is one of the best family sports that you can all do together! I commend you for trying it. It allows for ''car time'' in getting to the slopes for quality talk time, then you usually have to stay over somewhere, so it feels like a vacation even if it is only for the weekend.

That said, I learned from friends and do NOT recommend it. I started my kid at the daycare center at Northstar Ski Resort in North Lake Tahoe. In the daycare package they would take the toddlers out for a quick ski lesson starting at around age 3 or 4... later she took half day lessons and is now a black diamond skier. We still have her take a half day lesson about once a season just to perfect her skills... Northstar used to have adult ''free'' lessons at the top of the hill! I hope they continue them. The best part about Northstar ski school is that they have an area for beginners and a couple of easy lifts (one is called the magic carpet - think flat escalator up the hill) to get kids and beginnng adults a place to practice their new skills. This helps build up the confidence of a new skier or boarder. I highly recommend Northstar ski school as they have really great ski instructors and you can rent the whole package, skis or snowboard, with lessons at one place. I live to ski.

In my opinion, the best place to learn how to ski is not in Tahoe but in Yosemite, at Badger Pass. It is terribly boring for really great skiiers but it is perfect for beginners. I learned there, as an adult, in 3 days. After a few trips you will be able to ski every hill there which gives you a great feeling of accomplishment. They have adult and kid group and private lessons. There are cabins you can rent at http:// or condos called ''Yosemite West'' or stay at the Wawona Hotel. It is very old fashioned--no tv, piano player in the lobby, some rooms have shared bathrooms. Both the cabins and the hotel have ski packages sometimes. Happy skiing! I love Badger Pass

Sierra at Tahoe Ski School for Children

Nov 2005

We're planning to go to South Lake Tahoe this Xmas. We have a 4 y.o. boy and he wants to ski. Unfortunately, we do not ski but we're thinking to enroll him in a couple of classes, so he can get the basics. I looked at the kids program at Sierra at Tahoe (Wild Mountain Lesson 3-Pak). Any parent out there whose kid learnt at Sierra at Tahoe? Good and bad experiences, please. I also checked Heavenly, but the program is full day, kind of child care that we do not want and Kirkwood is still not offering classes for the next winter. Thanks! Nina

Both my kids are learning to ski at Sierra. We only get to go once a year but we keep going back there because it's a very pleasant place and it's pretty easy to watch the kids while they are skiing. We started my daughter when she was 4 and she is now 6 1/2. This past winter as she kept going up and down the slopes, she kept telling us how much fun she was having. My son started this year and he was 3! By the end of the first day, he was riding up the chair lift (with help!) and barrelling down the control, I might add. I highly recommend Sierra as a place to start skiing. Sharon

Enviro-Friendly Ski School?

Jan 2003

I just found out about the Ski Area Citizens Coalition of environmental groups which has issued ratings for Ski Resorts in the West. Northstar at Tahoe, where we've skiied in the past, received an ''F'' for its practices, and in fact was rated one of the 10 worst in the West. We won't go there until they clean up their act (and the website had a handy way to send an email telling the manager of our decision.) The Tahoe area resorts which earned an ''A'' are Alpine Meadows, Boreal, and a few I've never heard of: Sierra Summit, Snow Summit, and Snow Valley. I'd like to hear about the ski schools for kids at these places, if anyone has any experience (they aren't mentioned in the archives.) Here's the website, in case you'd like to check out your favorite ski resort in the West. It also has handy links for sending messages of concern to the appropriate resort: Natasha

This may be more than you were looking for but... The Auburn Ski Club has great ski programs for kids, both nordic and alpine. The Alpine lessons start at age 6. It's a season package that includes a season pass for Boreal. They meet about every other week for lessons. This is a winter-long program that kids sign up for in the fall. It's probably full for this year but it might be worth checking out.

Ski Classes for Young Kids

Jan 1999

Does anyone out there have experience with teaching young kids to ski? I took my 3 year old skiing last weekend by putting his skis between mine and holding his hands constantly. He enjoyed it, but it was clear to see that he wasn't learning how to balance his body, or to ski by himself. Is three too young? Are there any special techniques you have tried that were successful? I've seen some skiers use a harness for small kids. Does anyone know how it works? Thanks. Hagit

We were in Tahoe last week and had my 3 year 8 month old daughter take a ski lesson at Northstar. Here's the details:

Northstar has a very small bunny hill that the under 5 crowd practices on. The instructor used what he called an 'edgie wedgie' which is a thin, round piece of rubber about 6 inches in length that has a screw clamp on both ends. She would hop on a motorized ramp that took her to the top of the bunny hill and then the instructor would screw the wedgie onto the front of her skis. He then had her bend her knees and place her hands on her knees and give a gentle push off. The wedgie basically forces her skis into a permanent wedge. He would then take the wedgie off so she could walk back over to the ramp. The lesson consisted of her doing this exercise over and over. Incrementally he also worked on getting her to look at me as I moved positions at the bottom of the hill in order to get her to turn. There were also some arches that were staggered that she didn't really get to. There was a four year old practicing going through the arches and ending up at his mom's feet and he appeared to have the same crouched position with hands on the knees. No poles were used.

Whatever your child's age you could probably glean a lot just by watching the exercises that the paid instructors have the kids go through.

The hill was being used by the ski school as well as other folks that weren't taking lessons. The hill is right across from the ski school building at the top of the gondola ride. If you tell the lift ticket checker in the gondola line that you're going up for a ski lesson they don't require a lift ticket.

My kids, now aged 10 and 14, have been skiing since they were old enough to walk. I did start each for the first day between my legs. However, most of the larger ski areas (i.e., Northstar, Squaw Valley) have excellent ski schools for younger children. I highly recommend the younger children's programs as they combine elements of day care (little kids can't ski all day) snacks and ski instruction. Most of the traditional ski schools won't take kids under 6, so they've developed the little kids programs. Personally, I like Squaw Valley's the best. I hope this helps. Have fun! David

Jean-Claude Killy claimed he learned to ski before he could walk, which was probably as much brag as fact, but a kid can learn to at least slide down a short & very moderate slope on skis pretty much as soon as they can stand well and balance. It's easiest as a two-parent exercise--one to release the tyke, one to catch. Very much like the routine during first steps. Even so, expect him to still want to ruin your back with that skiing between your skis bit. I didn't have much luck teaching my kids unassisted skiing before maybe five or six, and typically it was a fairly frustrating experience for both child & parent until around seven or eight. One thing that really helps a lot is nice weather, because kids fall and get cold & miserable easily, so planning kid ski trips for the spring rather than winter helps a lot. Patrick

Did you know that Dave's Ski Shop (and maybe other places) in Tahoe will rent you kids' skis and boots for the whole season at a very reasonable rate. And you can exchange boots if you need to while the kids' feet grow. We ski a lot with many other families, and that seems to be the best deal around while they're growing so fast. Gail

I have used the all-day ski-school for my 8-year-old at a lot of different ski areas, and Heavenly has a great program. Although I don't have any direct experience with the day-care per se at Heavenly, I wouldn't worry. If it's anything like the kiddie ski school, your child will be happy and safe. The day-care facility is modern and completely apart from the kids' ski school. It seemed very peaceful and safe. People are not free to roam in and out. Parents have to have claim tickets to get their kids back. The staff seemed really friendly and, while young, interested, organized, and aware. I think there is a system for assigning pagers to parents. Why don't you try calling Heavenly or logging on to its web site for specific questions. Have fun! Linda Linda

Oakland Ski Club takes children. They are located near Northstar. Here's their website: Welcome to the Oakland Ski Club . Trish