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Jagdhausalmen Alpine Pastures, Defereggen, East Tirol, Austria, Europe

Spielplatz Schnee: How toddlers develop a life-long love and passion for winter sports.

Updated on 01.10.2018 in Family


In Tirol, there are new opportunities to get young kids ages 3 to 6 on skis, in a way that is safe and enjoyable: The pre-school “Spielplatz Schnee" (literally "Playground Snow”) Programs are offered at 28 Tirolean ski schools. I sat down with David Bichler, Manager of Kirchdorf Ski School, to get his take on what it takes to get even the littlest kids in on the action.

I can hear children’s laughter as I’m approaching the designated „beginners only“ terrain area. Instruction is well under way. Parents are standing on the sidelines, chatting with each other, while little ones aged 3 and 4 are trying to jump as high as possible in ski boots under the guidance of ski instructors Nooki, Jessi and Martina. Ten minutes later, instructors take them out to flat, snowy ground where the kids learn to shuffle on the snow. On real skis, of course, as the “Playground Snow” Program is intended to get children excited about the idea of learning how to ski. You can’t do that on plastic skis.

Little ones are introduced to skiing through warm-up games and play.Little ones are introduced to skiing through warm-up games and play.

We have recognized that children who were introduced to skiing at Mini Club are able to learn advanced skiing techniques much faster than others ,” explains David. While combining elements of passion and creativity, kids are able to develop a life-long love and passion for the sport. Together with his experienced team of instructors and teachers, he developed the pre-school ski programs five years ago. Classes are structured just for 3 to 6 year olds and include a combination of outdoor activities that demonstrate proper skiing form, promote muscle memory, and reinforce the skills necessary for the mountain. These blended sessions introduce toddlers to skiing in a fun and relaxed way through play and adventure.

Ski School Manager David Bichler and Teacher Jessica Gruber have developed a pre-school ski program for toddlers five years ago—revolving around Panda Wanda, their mascot.Ski School Manager David Bichler and Teacher Jessica Gruber have developed a pre-school ski program for toddlers five years ago—revolving around Panda Wanda, their mascot.

Mixing outside playtime and ski tuition is the idea behind the “Playground Snow” Program. Children are introduced to skiing through play and fun. First off, the kids are in charge and there is no amount of pushing them into doing it. The blended sessions are made up of 50-70% ski tuition – the remaining time is spent with outside playtime and adventure. Activities vary with each ski school. Kirchdorf, for example, offers sledding, face painting and rides on the snow carrousel. Ski tuition is complemented by regular breaks for drinking, snow play and storytelling – and it’s the kids who say when to do what. On-snow times are rearranged due to specific needs of children during the day.

Kids are on the snow and learn the fundamental moves of skiing in a positive environment that is catered to their ability level. If he or she doesn’t want to learn, there is no amount of coaxing, bribing, pushing or fooling them into doing it.” David Bichler, Manager of Kirchdorf Ski School

Watching the kids on skis, I don’t have the feeling they are forced into something they don’t want. Instead, everyone is enthusiastic, cruising around on skis. For the most part, teaching little ones to ski is about getting them familiar with the equipment and the feeling of gliding on snow. Once they get the feel of gliding down, they can advance to riding the Magic Carpet conveyor belt. And if a child is feeling cold or thirsty, instructors bring them to the Ski School Igloo where refreshments, snacks and games are on hand. As children often listen better, and learn more, when parents are not present, they are only at the sidelines on day one. Separation anxiety is common for young children yet the staff is very skilled at working with children. Martina and Jessi help children quickly acclimate to the ski school environment. And just in case a child has trouble separating from his or her parents and cannot be encouraged to participate in the on-snow activities, the instructors will call Mom or Dad to pick them up. Again, the kids are in charge and there is no way of coaxing them into doing it. However, as I visit it seems as if all children feel safe and have fun.

Once they get the feel of gliding down, thy can advance to riding the Magic Carpet conveyor beltOnce they get the feel of gliding down, thy can advance to riding the Magic Carpet conveyor belt

When teaching young kids “you really have to look at their physical ability,” says David. “It makes a significant difference in the developmental skills necessary and the resulting experience. A skier’s ability is limited to what their body can physically do – and small kids often don’t have the ski-specific muscles needed to stop. It’s important not to expect too much too soon. Small children tire quickly and ski tuition is more about getting comfortable and having fun, than rapid progression. The only reason to learn to ski is to have fun!”

Taking a break from skiing at the Ski School IglooTaking a break from skiing at the Ski School Igloo

And fun they have! The final day of class is race day, allowing kids the chance to show off what they’ve learned. And they have learned a lot indeed! All kids master the racecourse without falling and some even manage to stop at the finish. Without help :-)

The Bottom Line

I really enjoyed the week in Kirchdorf – the “Playground Snow” Program was developed to address the flexibility needed to give little ones a successful experience on the slopes. It addresses families with young children who love being outdoors. Learning to ski means more than just getting into a new sport. It means exploring the outdoors, gaining confidence, and developing skills that follow your child through the rest of your life. And this is exactly what your child can expect when enrolling in this program. Moreover, parents can hit the slopes knowing their little ones are in best hands.

Trust your child to learn, grow, and have fun during your vacation thanks to the Kirchdorf Ski School. Expect highly trained and experienced instructors to make the most of your vacation. Enrollment in the “Playground Snow” Program ensures that your child learns the skills necessary to enjoy the sport, leading to a lifetime habit.

Strongly recommended!

Fast Facts

„Playground Snow“ Programs

  • are offered by 28 Tirol Ski Schools
  • are geared for young kids, ages 3 to 6
  • are designed to introduce children to the fundamental moves of skiing through play and fun
  • are structured to give 3 to 6 year olds a successful experience on the slopes. Each child is an individual, so success is measured by their willingness to want to come back.
  • are ski lessons, no childcare programs
  • 50% to 70% of the time are spent skiing

Kirchdorf Mini Club

  • The Kirchdorf Ski School has developed pre-school ski programs for toddlers five years ago – in collaboration with teachers and trained child experts
  • Classes are structured for toddlers ages 2.5 and older who don’t need to be “potty trained”
  • The only difference between Mini Club and “Playground Snow” classes is lunchtime supervision – all children learn to ski together
  • Guests staying with the “Baby Mio” Partner Hotel are picked-up by the Ski Train for shuttles between accommodation and ski resort

A brave mum to two wild boys, Julia König explores the great outdoors with her family in tow. She is always ready to attempt new challenges and explore new places, providing inspiration, tips and reviews for families.

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