Teaching Kids to Ski

December 9 in Skiing Insights by Steven Abramowitz No Comments

Teaching kids to ski

Six Tips on Teaching Your Kids to Ski

Skiing with children can provide some of the most fun, memorable and exciting family times. The question is how to get your family to that point? Do you teach them yourself or leave it to the pros, and what’s involved?

  1. Parent Teaching vs. Ski Lessons - The initial stages of getting children out on the snow, up on skis and learning the basics is challenging. It can tax not only the child, but the parents. For some families, teaching their own children is what works best. Generally, however, the experience brought by the pros is a great solution.

  2. Group vs. Individual Ski Lessons - Skill levels range from beginner up to expert. Group lessons are far more affordable and can easily do the job for young children. Save the individual lessons for older children or those ready to perfect their skills.

  3. Full Day or Half Day Group Lessons -Plan for a full day if possible. Children pick-up a lot more by being on the snow longer. Also, keep in mind that half day lessons leave parents with very little time on the snow given the time involved for drop-off and pick-up. Note: Don’t feel pressured to overdo it on the lessons. Maybe mix in a full day followed by a half day.

  4. Ski Lesson Reservations – Make reservations in advance. Don’t wait until the day before, especially during holidays. Expect the unexpected; make sure to check cancellation policies.

  5. Find ”Your Family Friendly” Ski School – Student-instructor ratio, safety and experience are prerequisites for a ski school, but they’re not everything. The level of fun and convenience are also critical. Checkout the ski school, find out how they’ll keep the children engaged, what’s involved with the intake process, drop-off and pick-up time-frames, and how, when and where children must be dropped-off (i.e. at the ski school with their boot bag vs. geared-up on the mountain and ready to go). Beware of schools that will bore your children or leave you or your children exhausted before even hitting the slopes.

  6. Expect Children to Complain – Most will in the beginning, and it’s usually about going to ski school. It’s natural so don’t be duped. Your child is special, but not in that respect. Get them over the learning curve and they’ll likely fall in love with the sport.

Be on the lookout for our next post on “Tips for Skiing with Children.”

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November 22 in Skiing Insights by Brion O'Connor Comments Off

Key Ski Accesories

Other necessities and how to pack them for the slopes

Most skiers and snowboarders will keep the “big” items in mind when packing for a day on the hill. Things like skis, boots, helmet, layers, gloves, goggles, wallet, and mobile phone are all pretty standard.

But oftentimes, it’s the “little” things that can make or break your outing. So, for starters, check out our trusty Kulkea ski gear checklist. That fairly comprehensive list includes accessories such as helmet, goggles/sunglasses, balaclava, ski boot bag, ski bag, and miscellaneous items like lip balm, sunscreen, hand warmers, winter hat or cap, and a gear lock.

But, remember, these items are just for starters. We spoke with a number of ski professionals and dedicated winter enthusiasts who recommended a number of other items that they consider essential. With a sturdy bag like the Kulkea Boot Trekker (which has been getting great reviews, including this one in Men’s Journal), you’ve got enough spare room to bring along all the necessities.

Duct tape. The granddaddy of all-purpose emergency repairs. Gloves, jackets, boots, and a variety of other items can all be fixed, at least temporarily, by this tough, sticky silver tape. And you don’t need the entire roll. Some skiers will wrap anywhere from 15 to 20 inches of duct tape right on their poles. However, cold weather can affect the adhesive and make the tape a little more difficult to work with. I prefer putting the same amount on a ballpoint pen, and leaving it in my boot bag.

Spare screw set. This is particularly important for snowboarders, as snowboard bindings are more prone to loosening to those on alpine skis. The same holds for telemark bindings, though to a lesser degree. That’s one of the reasons many ski areas are installing workbenches near the base lodge and chairlifts. But those benches provide the tools, not the actual screws (usually).

Multi-tool. Murphy’s Law dictates that the very moment you need a workbench, you can’t find one. In those instances, it’s nice to have your own tools. A Leatherman-style tool (or, as one friend calls it, a “McGyver-style tool”) should be in your bag. Full-size screwdrivers will give you more torque. The Brooks-Range Backcountry Multi-tool is one of the best of the lot. Though a little pricey (about $70), it is designed specifically for the backcountry, and features several blades, a bit driver combined with five bits (two Phillips, two flat, one Pozi, and one Torx), wire cutters, needle-nose and regular pliers, four sizes of wrenches, and a bottle opener (of course). Money well spent.

Tuning kit. If the conditions are on the icy side, you’ll want sharp edges. There are a number of terrific miniature tuning kits that allow you to bring your tuning table with you to the lodge and keep your edges sharp and smooth. One of the best is the Tognar Alpha ski tuning kit, with a 6-inch true bar, brake retainers, base repair candles, a set of three pocket diamond stones, edge file/bevel tool, brass file brush, and steel scraper. Perfect. But the Tognar kit is also one of the most expensive, at about $115 (though it’s money well spent). Dakine also makes a great kit, complete with all-temperature wax, P-tex, a wire brush, scuff pad, a scraper, and edge-tuning tools, in a convenient, low-profile zippered case, for under $60. At the very least, bring a pocket stone to work out any nasty burrs.

Lost and found. If you plan on a little backcountry adventure, you should have RECCO technology, which allows resorts and rescue teams to find lost skiers carrying RECCO reflectors. If you’re apparel is not RECCO-equipped, the Patagonia Tech Web belt ($45) is a must, and a great price-point for that technology. Massachusetts ski mom Nancy Eileen Williams, who spends a good portion of her winters at Sugarloaf in Maine, always makes sure her teenagers have an emergency whistle and compass if they’re going to do some off-piste glade skiing. In the same vein, a reliable headlamp with full-charged batteries is nice to have.

Spare change. Boston Herald travel editor Moira McCarthy suggests stashing a few $20 bills in those hard-to-find pockets of your boot bag and parka. That way, you’re never at a loss for cash when you need it. “I don’t know why I don’t take them out at the end of the season,” she said, laughing, “but I always feel like I won that money.” Likewise, a spare car key and spare condo key can come in handy.

Spare clothing. Beyond regular layers (including glove and boot liners), a toasty pair of wool socks is a real treat après ski. Race coach Vaughn Harring, who calls Wildcat in northern New Hampshire his home area, says that for those really rainy days, “I have some industrial rubber gloves. They work great in the wet, and you won’t trash your leather gloves or mittens.” Extra goggles aren’t a bad idea, either (consider different tints for different lighting conditions).

Snacks. If you’re a parent traveling with young children, snacks are an absolute must. Because when little ones get hungry, they get cranky (the very definition of “hangry”), and that can put the whole day in jeopardy. Truth is, hunger pangs can affect anyone. So a few energy bars (Clif Bar and Luna bars are personal favorites) can help take the edge off. Energy gels, such as GU or Hammer Gel, also work, though not quite as filing. Shot Bloks by Clif Bar are a big hit with kids. Beef jerky is terrific if you’re feeling iron deficient. Fresh fruit and dried fruit are also great options. Just don’t forget that you have it in your bag after you get back home. “And chocolate,” said travel writer Hilary Nangle who lives near Sugarloaf in Maine. “Always chocolate.”

Instant warmth. Tea bags are an elegant solution to warming up while saving a few bucks. Skiing isn’t cheap. Anytime you can save some money, that’s a good thing. If you bring your own tea bags, all you need is a free cup of hot water. For the kids, bring packets of instant hot chocolate.

Vitamin I. Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are a great way to take the edge off those nagging aches and pains that come with skiing and snowboarding into your 40s, 50s, and beyond. They’re especially popular with the telemark set and freestylers. However, you should be aware that the National Institutes of Health has stated that NSAIDs may carry a higher risk of having a heart attack or a stroke, and may cause ulcers, bleeding, or holes in the stomach or intestine. So use with care. If you’re concerned, stick with aspirin.

Phone accessories. Our mobile phones have become our connection not only to family and friends, but the world around us (I absolutely LOVE my Urban Spoon app to find nearby restaurants when I’m in a new place, and my Yelp! App to provide reviews). Want proof? Think of how you feel when your phone dies unexpectedly. Plan for that inevitability by packing a back-up phone battery, a phone cable, and a phone AC plug. The Voxer app converts your cell phone into a walkie talkie, and is easier to use compared to texting or even the actual phone mode.

Personal grooming. Let’s be honest – one of the best aspects of skiing is après ski. There’s nothing wrong with sprucing up after your last run. Women have known this for generations (judging from all the micro-toiletries that she manages to squeeze into her over-sized purse). Toothpaste and toothbrush, maybe floss, comb and/or hairbrush are all compact and convenient. Don’t forget the breath mints.

Flask. Really, no explanation needed, right?

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Family Skiing

November 11 in Skiing Insights by Steven Abramowitz Comments Off

The Right Stuff for Family Skiing

Experienced ski parents know that family skiing starts with having the right gear, apparel and accessories. Hitting the slopes under-prepared isn’t only frustrating, but can be very costly when you have to buy necessities at the Mountain. Here are a few tips to help your family have stress-free fun on the slopes.

  • The “Stuff” List. Every skier in the family needs the right gear, apparel and accessories. See Kulkea’s printable Ski Gear Checklist.
  • Keep them Warm & Dry. There’s no need to overspend when outfitting children, but the quality of the apparel is important. Rule #1 for skiing with children is keeping them warm & dry. If they get cold or wet it’s over. “A happy child means a happy parent!”
  • Buy, Rent or Lease Skis, Boots, Poles & Helmet? This all depends where and how often you and the family expect to ski during the season so you will have to run some quick and easy numbers on the costs, but as a rough guide…

Local Skiing

One or Two Days-Rent. Three Days+ Lease.

Note that many local ski shops offer reasonably priced seasonal leasing programs for skis, boots and poles. Other than a helmet you should be able to cover all of the gear for younger children through a lease. For older children you’ll likely end up buying at least some of the gear, so check for shops that offer seasonal buyback programs. Keep in mind that buying with hopes of passing gear down to a sibling is often an idea better in theory than in practice.

Traveling by Air to Ski?

You’ll likely be much happier using your own boots and helmet so bring them along. Make use of an organized ski boot bag to stow and keep track of your gear. Good skis and poles, on the other hand, can likely be rented at or near the mountain. Bringing your own skis and poles boils down to a cost versus convenience decision.

  • Avoid Rental Shop Lines. If driving to the mountain and planning to rent, try off-mountain shops for convenience, selection and cost savings. If using the mountain rental shop try very early morning, or better yet, late afternoon the day before skiing. Don’t underestimate how poorly children and long rental shop lines mix.

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How to Buy Skis: Tips from an Insider

October 25 in Skiing Insights by Brion O'Connor Comments Off

Best Skis 2014

Finding the Right Skis for Your Style

Skis have changed dramatically in the past two decades. I recently dug out my classic K2 KVC Comps – pearl white with neon pink highlights – and my first thought was: How did I ever ski on these beasts? And the fact is, I loved those skis. Which just proves how far ski technology has come since I brought those K2s home in the late 1980s.

Today, it’s next to impossible to buy a bad pair of skis. But it’s far too easy to buy the wrong skis. That’s because skis, like skiers, run the gamut, with different price points and different performance points. Ideally, you want the ski that best reflects your style, and your ability.

To determine several guidelines, we once again consulted with Chris O’Donoghue, Kulkea’s national sales manager. With more than two decades in the industry, working in both retail and directly with the manufacturers, O’Donoghue is an expert at matching the ideal ski for every skier. Much like buying ski boots, O’Donoghue understands the right ski can make a world of difference.

Do you need new skis?

First, though, determine whether you need new skis. Many skiers don’t realize the physical forces at work on the boards. While all skis are designed to perform, the sheer physics involved mean that your boards have a limited lifespan.

“A ski has an average life of about three to five years,” said O’Donoghue. “Skis are just a bunch of layers. It’s wood, and foams, it’s plastics, it’s epoxies, resins and fiberglass, all built layer on layer. Most skis built today are laminates. Which means the bottom layers are always longer than the top layers, and every time the ski flexes, all those layers sheer on each other.

“Over time, the core is fine and fiberglass is fine, but the adhesion of the layers to each other breaks down, and the ski doesn’t have the same spring that it used to have,” he said. “It’ll get you down the hill, but you won’t have anywhere near the power transmission or the energy boost that you get when you rock back and load the tail of a ski, exploding out of a turn. That stuff fades.”

We refer to that phenomenon as skis getting “banged out.” That’s exactly what happened to my KVC Comps. So how do you know when it’s time to upgrade?

“You’ll notice it when you grab your skis, and squeeze them together when they’re base to base. You can feel it,” said O’Donoghue. “If you have to push hard to get the skis to go together, you’ve got life in them. If you squeeze just a little bit and they go right together, there’s no spring in the ski. And that spring is important. That’s the ski retaining its shape, which means it has life.”

Next, find out which ski is best for you. Start with two simple questions

“What I ask most customers is, ‘Where do you want to go? What do you want to get out of it?’” said O’Donoghue. “Twenty years ago, we spent a lot of time making sure skiers didn’t get in way over their heads. Because if they bought too much ski, they’d work way too hard, they’d get really frustrated and tired, they would not have a good time. And the only association they’re making is ‘I spent $1,000, and I’m dying out here.’

“Today, skis are like a Porsche 911,” he said. “You can take any driver, stick them behind the wheel of a 911, and they can drive it. That fear element is gone. But are they getting the full $90,000 benefit out of it? That’s the big question.

“And that has to do with where you’re going to take it, and how hard you’re going to push it,” said O’Donoghue. “So we swing that conversation to, ‘Where do you want to go (skiing), and what are your expectations?’ Depending on that, skiers are realizing they don’t need as much ski as they think they need.”

Aside from terrain parks, where freestyle skis reign, destinations include traditional “alpine” (groomed runs at lift-served areas with varying levels of difficulty), “backcountry” (untracked, potentially unstable terrain without lifts or patrols – just you, your skills and the mountain) and “sidecountry” (lift-accessible backcountry terrain just beyond resort boundaries, typically accessed through marked gates).

“Much crossover now occurs between these styles, and some skiers regularly migrate between groomed slopes and riskier, off-piste terrain,” said O’Donoghue. “Many skis are engineered to perform well in either environment.”

Ski cut and ski size

To get an idea of how much ski you need, O’Donoghue suggests the following metrics: Width, side-cut, length, construction/sidewall, and metal vs. non-metal.

“The first thing you have to look at with a ski is its width,” he said. “There are multiple width profiles out there, anywhere from the low 70s at the waist to 100 millimeters. The wider the ski gets, the more it floats, the more varied terrain it will handle, the more versatile it gets. But the tradeoff you get is you give up precision, quickness, carving ability, to a degree.”

For more performance, consider skis with more pronounced side-cut. “The next big issue is the difference between how wide the tip is and how wide the waist is, from one ski to the next,” said O’Donoghue. “If there’s more variation, the deeper the side-cut, the sharper turn the ski is capable of making.”

“Narrow waists allow you to establish an edge sooner, resulting in speedy, usually nimble skis that are ideal for groomed runs. They can also shift from edge to edge more quickly,” he said. “Wide waists deliver more surface area (more area to make contact with snow), which makes them preferable in soft snow and powder.”

Another factor is ski length, which is determined by skier height (in general, with ski tails on the ground, tips should touch between your nose and eyebrows), weight (skiers with larger frames are good candidates for either longer skis or wider skis, since extra mass provides leverage for turning longer skis), and experience (shorter skis appeal more to novices because they’re easier to turn, while veteran skiers will choose their size based on the type of turn they want to make).

Construction also plays a role. Skis with a “torsion box” – a wood or foam core encased in a fiberglass wrap, impregnated with epoxy – are preferred by more aggressive skiers, though it might create a fractionally heavier ski. In general, it resists twisting, creating a more rigid ski and improving edging.

With cap construction skis, the top layer (usually fiberglass) spans the core from one edge to the other, creating a rounded ski top. “Cap offers a more forgiving feel and results in lighter skis,” said O’Donoghue. Conversely, laminate (or sandwich) construction features horizontal layers of various materials, such as wood and/or foam, stacked atop one another and glued together.

Ski sidewalls

“Vertical sidewalls provide more direct transfer of energy, thus accommodating more precise turns and more ambitious skiing,” said O’Donoghue. “Slanted sidewalls are more forgiving.”

Finally, there’s the metal vs. non-metal debate.

“Adding metal into the ski adds dampening. It’s still the best way to dampen the ski for high speed,” said O’Donoghue. “If you’re a skier on hard surfaces and you want to go fast, then you need to think more about metal. And the price of skis comes from the quality of the metal you put in the ski.

“Look at a Völkl, and the way they keep the weight of the ski down at the high end is milling really high-end titanal alloys into that ski,” he said. “It’s thinner metal. It’s machined differently, and that’s what you’re paying for.”

If there’s one major caveat that O’Donoghue has, it’s the ever-popular “Demo Day.” These events, where manufacturers descend on a particular ski area en masse to showcase their latest products, seem like a consumer’s dream. Not so fast, said O’Donoghue. There are simply too many variables on the slopes, including the snow and weather conditions that day, to make the best decision.

“Demoing skis is like taking a car for a test drive,” said O’Donoghue. “You take out a Honda, and then you take out a Lexus. You might detect subtle differences in the vehicle. But really, from a track performance point of view, you have no idea of any significant differences. The reality is that the dealer is doing it because they want you to establish ownership with the vehicle before you get back to the dealership, so that you’re more likely to buy the car. It’s all designed to create an emotional bond with the product.”

Instead, be smart, and find the right ski for your skill level by discussing your choices with a ski professional. That chat will pay big dividends.

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How to Buy Ski Boots: Tips from an Insider

October 3 in Skiing Insights by Brion O'Connor Comments Off

Photo by Ola Matsson

Get the Ski Boot That’s Right for You

Admit it. When you start thinking about new purchases for the upcoming ski season, your thoughts wander right over to those new-fangled skis, don’t they? How many of us give serious thought to our boot choice? Even the legendary Lange ads – who can forget the classic “Keep Those Tips Up” poster? – had us (or at least the males in the audience) thinking more about the curvaceous models in those boots, rather than the boots themselves.

But ski boots are crucial to our performance, and in large part our enjoyment, on the hill. They are the primary connection between our bodies and our skis. If the boots aren’t right, everything else can go wrong.

Chris O’Donoghue, Kulkea’s National Sales Manager, has almost three decades of experience in the ski industry, working for both retailers and manufacturers. He readily admits “purchasing a ski boot is quite difficult for most people, as it is usually the most precise piece of footwear one will ever own.” Fortunately, he’s also more than willing to share some “insider information” for prospective boot customers. That starts the minute you step through the door.

“When you walk into a ski shop, watch how salespeople approach you,” said O’Donoghue. “The first thing that should come out of their mouth is, ‘Well, let’s look at your feet.’ Because without looking at your feet, they’re wasting your time. How could you possibly know which boot to even begin to look at unless you know what shape the foot is? How long is it, how wide is it, what is the instep height? You’ve got the Fred Flintstone feet, and the long, skinny paddle feet, and they all fit boots differently.

“The analogy I always use is, round peg, round hole. Square peg, square hole,” he said. “If you’re going to try to cram the square peg into the round hole, you’re going to be there a while.”

And, more than likely, you’re not going to be happy with the results. Don’t fall into the trap of buying the same pair of boots that a buddy loves, unless you have the same exact feet. Everyone’s feet are different. That’s why it’s important to deal with a salesperson/boot-fitter who understands that variety.

To find out exactly what type of foot you’ve got, and which boots represent the best option, the salesperson ought to have “an Old School shoe Brannock Device,” and know how to use it, said O’Donoghue.

“Brannock is a company that makes those silver foot-measuring devices. If the salesperson doesn’t use that device first, he doesn’t know your foot,” said O’Donoghue. “That device is the end-all, tell-all for the human foot. It tells you so much about the foot, and what you’re looking at. Not only your foot, but how your foot relates to everybody else’s foot, which is important to understand when you’re thinking in terms of the generic nature of boots and shoes.”

Speaking of shoes, make sure you don’t confuse your run-of-the mill dress shoes with ski boots. They are very, very different animals. That’s why it’s critical to have your foot measured without any weight on it, while you’re sitting.

“Ski boots are not shoes,” said O’Donoghue emphatically. “For example, shoes allow you to stand perfectly upright, while ski boots usually force your knee forward about 12 degrees, depending on the boot, so that your weight is balanced over the ball of your foot, not your heel.”

Essentially, you don’t want extra space inside the boot, because that allows your foot to move.

“When you stand up, your foot widens,” said O’Donoghue. “The shoe industry wants your foot to spread out, so they’ve trained you to buy your shoes loose. In a ski boot, that is a catastrophic mistake. You can get away with it most of the time in a shoe, but in a ski boot you create all kinds of problems.”

The same caveats apply to your ankles.

“If you don’t fit the foot inside the boot the way the engineers designed it to fit, then the boot shell is not close enough to the foot, it’s not immobilizing the ankle from lateral movement,” said O’Donoghue. “You want the foot to be able to articulate up and down, and you need to be able to move forward and back, but you really don’t want the ankle to roll inside the boot.”

Why? Because a ski boot is a performance piece of footwear, similar to any other piece of high-performance equipment, designed with a very specific purpose.

“In a ski boot, we purposely hold the knee right over the mid-body of the foot, so that you’re held in that locked position, and everything is about power transmission, through the boot, into the ski,” he said. “So if everything isn’t held just right, nothing works. And you’re at higher risk (for injury).”

Essentially, a good boot fit is snug, and takes into account the foot’s length, arch length, width, instep height, general shape, and tissue density (hard feet vs. soft feet). There can also be “personal quirks,” said O’Donoghue, such as hammer toe, pronation and supination of the ankles, poor circulation, athletic calves, and the like. The more experienced the boot fitter, the more likely he or she will take all these factors into account.

The next step is to match the boot with the type of skiing you want to do, and the type of skiing you’re capable of. These aren’t always the same. “A good salesperson will get you to describe many of the details of how you ski and what your goals are,” said O’Donoghue. “Buying a ski boot to make you a perpetual intermediate doesn’t make a lot of sense if you really want to become an advanced skier, does it?”

“(Salespeople) need to ask many very descriptive questions about how and where you like to ski. Attitude matters. Goals matter. Pure athletic ability is only part of the story here,” he said. “See if they ask you to describe your aggressiveness in sports in general. If you are timid at tennis, then you are likely to be cautious when you ski.”

Much like skis (and skiers), boots come in various performance categories, from “recreational” to “performance” to “advanced.” The high-end “advanced” boot will be stiffer, less forgiving, but far superior in precisely translating any exertion directly to the ski. So it’s critical to conduct an honest evaluation of your abilities, present and future, and then convey that to the salesperson. If you’re uncertain, don’t be bashful (better to feel awkward in a cozy ski shop than on top of a mountain in single-digit weather).

“Ask the boot-fitter what to be on the lookout for,” said O’Donoghue. “They will likely have a good idea of what you can expect.”

After a brief break-in period (typically two to three days), boots can be “tweaked” to further modify fit, such as adding material between the liner and shell, grinding material from the liner and/or shell, or adding a custom foot-bed (check out the moldable insoles by Footbalance) to enhance stability.

“Ask the fitter what solutions they may apply to anything they expect to see flare up, based on your conversation,” said O’Donoghue. “The good boot-fitter will know pretty well what they expect to happen, and will have the solution to those potential issues in mind already.”

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