Kids and Skiing 101: What terrain to ski

In this post I’m going to look at where you should take your kids skiing based on my experience as a ski instructor.

In my job I often have the pleasure of teaching skiing to children. Safety, fun and learning are the three main principles of my lessons and are directly impacted by the terrain which we ski. I’m out on the hill every day so I get to see other people ski. Most of the time people look to be safe and have fun but I’ve seen plenty of times when they are not doing either. More often than not when people are not having fun skiing they are somewhere they shouldn’t be and generally a hazard to themselves and others. This brings me to the main point of my article, don’t ‘over terrain’ your kids! or let them over terrain you for that matter.

By over terrain I mean taking them on runs that are too steep for them to ski comfortably. “Children need to be challenged” you might say and I agree with this but not at the expense of scaring them or corroding their confidence and technique.

Here are ten things you can do to avoid over terraining your kids and have an enjoyable day:

  1. Know the system for classifying runs. Be aware that the classification of runs relates to a specific ski area and are a guide only. For example, a green run at one ski area may be considered a blue run at another (I’ll write more about the grading system in a future post).
  2. If you are unfamiliar with a run and have doubts don’t go down it or ski it prior to taking your children there if possible.
  3. Ask for advice on a run from ski patrol, ski school or a mountain host. Sometimes there are Mountain Tours you can take to show you around the place and I’m happy to answer e-mails on runs at Mammoth.
  4. Know whether a run is groomed or not by checking a grooming report, this can make a huge difference in the difficulty of runs. Grooming reports can be found on the Internet or on large screen TVs in the lodges.
  5. Be careful believing what your kids say! Sometimes they can exaggerate their ability or where they may have skied if they took a lesson without you.
  6. Ski with an instructor. Either put your children into group lessons or use a private instructor. You then have the option to ski as a family or split up for parts of the day.
  7. Don’t go anywhere that your child can not ski unaided. If you need hold onto your child in order for them to be in control you are in the wrong place.
  8. HaveĀ  a trail map with you so you know where you are and the easiest ways to get from A to B.
  9. When it is icy or bad weather ski on slopes that your child finds comfortable. Now is not the time to try that first black run.
  10. Don’t be in a hurry to see your children progress to the next steeper slope. Instead challenge them with terrain features on easy runs. Allow plenty of time on easy runs so they build confidence and have good technique.

If you ski Mammoth Mountain or are thinking of skiing here there are some runs that I recommend for each ability level below:

First timers

Choose somewhere flat to begin with then move onto a shallow slope and run out. Usually you will find these areas around the base lodges but these places also tend to be very busy. Of course you can avoid the stress of teaching your children and put them in ski school until they get the basics. The main thing is don’t throw them in at the deep end. I can think of one poor kid last year who had been taken up the beginner chair by an adult and was really struggling. Both the kid and adult were pretty frustrated, in the end they got a skidoo ride down the hill. Point is start off easy or put your children in ski school. Don’t move onto using any lift other than a magic carpet until your kids can stop by themselves.

Recommended terrain: flat areas and shallow slopes until they can turn and stop then move onto Discovery Chair, Schoolyard or Eagle Express depending on where you are. For first timers Discovery Chair is the most user friendly and has mostly perfect learning terrain.


Once children are getting around and mobile it’s pretty tempting to move them onto steeper terrain, especially if the rest of the family can ski it and you want to be together. However be careful here, skiing down in what I call ‘a wedge of death’ (pointing straight down the hill in a giant wedge) is not fun and is very tiring. If children are getting bored where they are then try to find challenges off the side of runs or hit up a beginner terrain park. Sometimes you can find little short steep sections if you know where to look to test your kids out on before getting to top of a long steep run.

Recommended terrain: start off on green runs like those you’ll find from Discovery Chair, School Yard or Eagle Express. Stay on green runs for as long as possible but find terrain features to challenge kids. Then once children are 100% comfortable move up to easy blues like Mambo, Bridges and St Anton. Try to avoid blue diamond runs as some of these can be as difficult as black runs depending on conditions.


Here you might be thinking of skiing the top or getting into some black runs. Before doing this there are plenty of steeper runs you can try lower down the mountain. At Mammoth, Cornice seems to be the run everyone wants to bag but it is quite intimidating and often busy with out of control people. Move up from blue runs to blue blacks then easy black runs. Basically at any resort it comes down to conditions, groomed or ungroomed etc, check the grooming report of ski patrol.

Recommended Terrain: Patrolmans and Spook would have to be the two easiest black runs at Mammoth especially when they have been groomed. The Face of Three also is pretty steep, as is Coyote, so those might be good as well. Rogers Ridge is best avoided as an introductory black run as it is very challenging at the top and never groomed.

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