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Tiny Skis, Big Adventure

For parents and grandparents who love winter recreation, getting the whole family on skis is something that comes to mind before kids can walk, much less slide down a snow-covered slope.

Most resorts offer family-friendly packages and lessons for kids age 4 and up, as well as instructors with basic know-how for getting kids on skis. Rule number one for the youngest of skiers, says long time Mt. Ashland ski instructor, Dana Yearsley, is comfort.

"Keeping warm is what's really key for a kid to have success. It's not fun if they're freezing," she says. "Make sure you do the layers to keep them comfortable."

Yearsley urges parents to avoid water absorbent 'sweats.' Opt for fleece top and bottom beneath waterproof ski pants or coveralls and comfortable boots. Find a warm hat - popular Turtle Fur repels water and helps retain heat - and thick socks. Air-activated heat packs, such as 'Grabbers,' go in socks and gloves for hours of warmth.

As far as ski ability, Rogue Ski Shop owner Bob Matthews urges parents to ensure their kids are "strong enough they can move the equipment around without overworking their leg muscles."

"You have people that want to start a two-year-old that weighs 22 pounds and you look at a little set of skis and most kids' systems are around 10-12 pounds, some 15 pounds. I tease some adults that if I was 160 pounds, I wouldn't want 80 pounds of skis and boots on my legs," Matthews says.

Matthews advises against buying oversized gear for kids to "grow into." Skis should manageable - no higher than shoulder height - and shorter skis keep feet closer together, reducing muscle fatigue. For safety sake, young skiers should strap on a helmet. Brands like Hamax and Giro offer trendy helmets such as 'Snow Dragon' and 'Ricochet' that kids are sure to want to wear.

Above and beyond usual gear, kid-friendly gadgets make learning easy. Harnesses and leashes, starting around $40, fasten around a child's torso, allowing a parent or instructor to keep kids on a leash, so to speak.

C-clamps, such as 'Edgie Wedgies' ($10-$15) keep ski tips from crossing over or getting too far apart. Kiddie 'lifts' function as a shoulder harness, allowing parents to load and unload children from ski lift chairs and offer a hand when kids fall down.

Before heading up the mountain, let kids try on gear, walk around in boots (which should be more flexible than rigid) and even tackle the living room carpet on skis.

For beginner level lessons, most regional ski resorts offer kids programs for all ages. Programs offer a range of childcare and snow play combinations.

If possible, Matthews encourages parents, especially with children 6 and younger, to invest in private lessons.

"One-on-one is better than a 1 to 10 ratio," he notes. For group lessons, class sizes of about 10 students per instructor are typical, while a half-dozen or fewer is ideal."

While kids can start skiing around age three or four, Yearsley warns parents not to push too hard.

"A lot of parents want to get the whole value of their lift ticket and they get up there and say, 'I'm getting my whole day out of this thing and we're staying,'" she notes.

"Don't force it when they're too young… If parents lose patience, the child gets frustrated and parents have a hard time getting them back out for a number of years until they're eight, nine or 10 years old. It's supposed to be about the fun and the experience of it all."

Tiny Skis, Big Adventure