How young is too young when it comes to skiing down a slope? Since it’s a regular activity among the European aristocrats most people I know started skiing between the ages of 3-6 years old, including… you guessed it – yours truly. More about that later. Back when I was young, wild and free – childless… lol I used to bring the discussion up amongst my friends who clearly weren’t so wild and free- they already had kids. The discourse often deviated towards my inability to understand their worries when it came to the welfare of children since I used to propagandize the fact that the earlier children hit the slopes the more expert skiers they’ll be and obviously if the legal age is 3 years old, then it is perfectly acceptable to send them on their way with an experienced ski instructor, especially if he is from a reputable ski school in Saanenland, Courchevel or St. Moritz. Or any other ski resort for that matter. Surely one would assume that if these schools are taking preschool aged children under their custody for the duration of the ski lesson and accepting the responsibility over both the physical and emotional welfare of the kid or kids (if it is a group session), moreover, even accept the fact that any given kid can throw a fit in the middle of the lesson out of fear or let’s face it just because he or she are 3 years old, you as a parent assume these guys know what they are doing and you can rest easy knowing your youngster is in good hands.
I for one must say that it is my plan to get my kids on the slopes as soon as they reach the widely accepted age of 3-4y.o. Will I be shitting myself? – of course. Should my insecurities get in the way of my kids getting the most out of what their abilities and opportunities allow them, I think not. I myself was slightly older when I was sent to boarding school in Gstaad, but skiing was part of the daily routine. Since I was just under 7 years old my progress was rapid and before I knew it, I was on the black runs of Gstaad, racing down the Saanenmoser, Wisspile and of course the tiger run on the Wasserngrat. I was winning cups and medals and my parents had no concerns over my escapades, in fact they often referred to it as me looking like a little fly, flying down those mountains. Having reminisced on the big boys (the steep mountains), it all of course began at the kiddie slope at the bottom of Wispile (Gsteigstrasse 45), where I was taught how to stand, fall and ‘pizza slice’ my way down a mountain – a term referred to a triangular formation of ones skies when going down even the slightest hill in order to learn to maneuver – the first technique so to speak. Regardless of my history, I hope that this will be the very place my kids and grandkids will try their first ‘pizza slice’ as well, even if the thought of it gives me the chills.
A legitimate fear on the parent’s side, even if exaggerated and a tad selfish (stopping kids from taking in all that they can), what I cannot wrap my head around is the balls on the actual instructors and ski schools. The responsibility taken on must come with many strings and an unfathomable amount of paperwork just for insurance. This is just my opinion I have no hard evidence or any form of knowledge as to what goes on behind closed doors. Before assuming the role of the ‘temporary guardian’ of an underaged and even preschool ages child on a mountain certain paperwork must be expected to be signed by the parents. I remember going on a paddle boat with my kid and having to sign a form that the water sports company takes no responsibility over any casualties – totally routine, of course this means that in case of injury or death they are not liable, again totally normal, and obviously I had to sign the same form on behalf of my youngster as well. The difference here is that on the paddle boat I am next to my kid hereby taking full responsibility while personally in control over the situation and quick decisions. In the case of the ski schools, they must request a signature on similar paperwork with one caveat, once on a ski lift the parent is no longer with their child, nor the decision maker, nor the responsible party – it is the instructor. Even if a parent is comfortable giving such permission – as no parent normally pictures the worst outcome, my question is how the hell does the instructor assume this role? What is their training, experience and expertise? I for one am aware that the process to become an instructor in some of the most reputable schools isn’t exactly a four-year bachelor’s degree. Of course, when it comes to working with children it is most likely the instructors with the highest qualifications, nevertheless it is hard to comprehend. From what I have found so far, the instructor is insured by the ski school, and ski school requests the necessary paperwork from the parents or legal guardians. So, who the hell is responsible in case of an undesirable situation? If places such as Switzerland have been growing a skier population from age 3 with no concerns and casualties most likely the system considers all the necessary repercussions. And I am incredibly curious to find out how this system operates, and I am planning to investigate this topic further. However scary this may seem we must all remember that no matter how hard we try to control the situation we do not ever have any real influence on it, regardless of who takes the responsibility – insured or not.
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