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How to teach children about piste safety

Skiing and snowboarding are fun and exciting winter activities for children, but without proper safety awareness there is an increased risk of accidents.  As part of our piste safety campaign we would like parents and caregivers to take on more responsibility in teaching children the rules of the pistes.  We want to help to ensure the safety of children as well as to teach them how to behave responsibility, whatever their age. 

Children are never too young to teach about piste safety.  So where do you start?   

First and foremost, set a good example.  If you are not adhering to the rules of the piste, how can you expect your children to?  Model good behaviour by checking uphill before you set off, ski and snowboard in control, stop in appropriate places and obey signs. Children usually absorb more through observation and practice than they do by being told to ‘be careful’.  

Secondly, children need to understand why the rules are there.  Yelling at them to ‘watch out’ and ‘slow down’ doesn’t teach them anything.  Frequently explain what you are doing and why to help to reinforce the Piste X Code. 

Children often fall into one of two categories. Those who love the thrill of speed and take risks and those who are cautious and scared.  Adapt your communication with regards to piste safety according to which category the child falls into.  A gentle approach is recommended with nervous skiers and a firmer approach with the thrill seekers.  

Children in either category can lose control if they are skiing and snowboarding on pistes outside of their ability.  Do not pressure children to ski beyond their level.  If they are green run skiers at ski school, do not try and take them down a red run.  Whilst this seems obvious, there appear to be many parents who like the bravado of saying that their child managed to ski down a black run when he/she was age 4!  From a ski instructors perspective, if a child is still turning in snowplough, they should not be on anything harder than a blue run.

STAR

S – Stop / Start

T – Teach

A – Anticipate

R – Remind

STAR

Stop and start safely.  Explain the importance of checking up the hill before starting, as well as checking that the coast is clear before re-entering the piste from outside the markers.  Children love nothing more than darting on and off the sides of the piste and they need to be taught to do so safely. 

If your child is old enough to ski then they are old enough to learn where to stop. Plan where you will rest in advance of setting off.  Point out a landmark or a safe place at the side of the piste in a visible spot where you will be stopping.  This also helps a group stay together and reduces the risk of becoming separated from your child.  

STAR

Teach your children the rules of the Piste X Code.  This needs to be approached in an age specific way.  Try and make it fun.  Whilst riding chairlifts, quiz them on where they should or should’t stop.  Point out hazards and ask them how situations could be made safer. Also, point out people that are behaving in a safe manner, for example, ‘that group have done well as they have all stopped out of the way at the side of the piste’.  

Explain that the downhill skier always has the right of way and how important it is to leave plenty of space when overtaking people.  Teach children to adapt their speed if the pistes are busy. 

Of course, children will still make mistakes and overlook hazards from time to time.  When this happens, use it as a teaching opportunity.  If you see your child cutting in front of someone, tell them about it and ask what they could do differently in future.  

Respect piste signs.  Everybody must slow down at intersections and when the signs indicate.  Older children and teenagers need to be reminded not to ski down closed runs.  

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Children, especially young ones have not developed the ability to forward think.  This is where you, as the parent or caregiver need to anticipate potential hazards.  If your are crossing an intersection, point it out. If the pistes are busy, help your child to pick a safe path and to ski or snowboard at an appropriate speed.  

Children must be able to control their speed.  It they cannot, then they need more lessons.  

Consider the terrain that you take them on.  Ideally, have some knowledge of the pistes so that there are no surprises. 

Anticipate tiredness in children and allow for fatigue.  If young children are in ski school all morning, they may not have the stamina to continue skiing in the afternoon.  Injuries are more likely when you are tired.  Factor in rest stops, snacks and time off the mountain.  

Explain what to do if you get separated and keep your contact numbers in your children’s pocket. 

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Remind children regularly of the rules of the pistes.  Children are easily distracted and quickly forget. 

The rules are exactly the same for children as they are for adults, however the way in which you will approach them will need to be age specific.   

Children will make mistakes.  It’s human nature.  When they do be calm and kind. They have probably already frightened themselves.  Make sure that they are aware of what happened and ask them what they could do differently in future.  

Of course, helmet use, good clothing and proper equipment is also of key importance to and we will address this in future blogs.  

Let’s create a fun, safe and happy environment for all our skiers and boarders.

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