Family Travel: Make Way For Toddlers

Lisa Sladkus gets the same question each time she tells friends she's taking her toddlers skiing: "Are you crazy?" The thought of a ski vacation with young children might evoke visions of temper tantrums and hazardous wipeouts. But for the Sladkuses, a trip to Utah's Snowbird resort ( snowbird.com ) with the kids is more relaxing than staying home. That's because Sladkus and her husband, Mark, enroll their children in the resort's day-care program, Camp Snowbird ($85 per day, $190 with ski lessons). Three-year-old Naomi takes lessons or plays with counselors while 19-month-old Jonah naps or colors. Mom and Dad hit the slopes worry-free. "Mark and I both grew up skiing, so it's important that we instill this love of the sport in our kids," says Sladkus.

Toddlers used to have to sit on the sidelines--or home with Grandma--while their parents had all the fun. But in the past few years, resorts and equipment makers have made it easier for even the littlest kids to get in on the action. Equipment makers are rolling out tiny boots, poles, helmets and sunglasses, and resorts are introducing "pre-ski" programs for kids as young as 2. "The earlier you fall in love with skiing or snowboarding, the longer you participate," says Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association.

Last year, after repeated requests from parents, Utah's Alta ski area ( alta.com ) started a pre-ski program, in which a mascot in a bear costume shows kids ages 2 and up how to put on their boots and grab their poles. Then, instructors take them out to flat, snowy ground where the kids learn to shuffle on the snow. "We get children excited about the idea of learning how to ski," says Joan Nichol, director of the Alta Children's Center.

Parents can also introduce kids to skiing on their own. Expert skiers Cathy Dixon and Paul Flanagan began teaching their son Eamon to ski at 20 months. They bought him skis and boots (see snowbizusa.com for the $211 Spidy 70cm ski and the $100 Kid Boot), then pushed Eamon down the gentle hills on the cross-country trails at British Columbia's Whistler. "Kids are noodles at that age, so letting them slide in the parallel tracks of the cross-country trails makes up for their lack of coordination," Dixon says. The parents then bought a harness system (see the Lucky Bums Deluxe Ski Trainer Harness, $40; rei.com ) that allows a child to ski in front of his parents. "It allows you to get off the bunny hill and go anywhere on the mountain," says Dixon. Now, on the slopes as well as off, there's no limit to where kids can go.