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Claire Pollitt

Above: Claire Pollitt – Norland nanny turned children’s ski instructor

Hi Claire, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you became a children’s ski instructor?

I trained as a nanny at Norland College and after I qualified I took a position with a family in San Francisco, California. From there, skiing is an easy 3 to 4 hour drive away near Lake Tahoe and the family skied most weekends during the season. I took a lot of lessons in my first season and made friends with my instructors, and midway through my second season one of my friends mentioned to the ski school director that he thought I would make a good instructor so they set me up with an interview and hired me on the spot.

After 9 years, I’m now PSIA Level 2 Alpine qualified and I also have the Level 1 and 2 Children’s Specialist accreditation.

Should you try learning to ski first before going on a skiing holiday?

It is always a good idea to at least try to learn the basics before you go on holiday if you have access to one of the indoor ski slopes or a dry slope. If there is no opportunity to try skiing before your holiday, then just working on general fitness really helps. Anything that uses both balance and core strength is a good workout for skiing.

What essential safety equipment should you buy beforehand/ensure you hire?

A well-fitting helmet, and goggles that fit with the helmet, is essential. Most ski schools now require children to wear helmets during lessons, and it’s a good idea for everyone to wear one. Goggles are much better eye protection than sunglasses because they give full coverage and there’s no chance of sun burned eyelids. Child sized goggles are readily available and should fit comfortably with the child’s helmet with no large gaps, and feel snug against the face, not tight.

Where are the most family-friendly places to learn to ski?

There are lots of good family-friendly places to learn to ski, and what may work well for one family may not be as good for another. Some things to take into consideration are:

  • Which country do you feel comfortable visiting?
  • Are you flying or driving? For first timers it’s probably better to fly.
  • Transfer time from airport to resort.
  • Proximity to the slopes – with little children being closer to the slopes is generally better since it’s harder for everyone to carry them and their equipment, but teenagers should be able to manage a shuttle bus.
  • Accommodation preferences – chalet style, hotel, B&B, self-catering?  Often with smaller children slope side self-catering makes the most sense since their food preferences can be handled easily.
  • Other activities – swimming pool, skating rink, shops, children’s club. Most children need a break from skiing at least one day during the holiday, and younger children may need one every day, so other activities are essential.

Where has the largest number of beginner/Green slopes?

Generally, anywhere with over 20% of its terrain dedicated to beginner/Green runs has a large number.  However, many resorts count gentle, narrow cat tracks as Green runs which are often not as easy to ski as they appear, so a good look at the resort trail map is essential. Size is also a factor – a large resort will generally have more beginner terrain than a small resort just because of its relative size.

Is it best to arrange private or group lessons for children?

Most children learn quicker and more effectively in private lessons so starting off with private lessons is always a good idea. Plus, with a private lesson there is the opportunity to request an English speaking instructor, which might not be available in a group lesson in a non-English speaking country.

Are children more affected by altitude sickness?

In my experience, children are no more affected by altitude sickness than adults. However, dehydration is often an issue, which often is characterized by headaches and sleepless nights. A good measure is to drink twice as much water as you think you need, plus an extra glass at the end of the day and before bed. Stopping often during the day for water and potty breaks is also a good idea.

Working with children, you must have seen some memorable things on the slopes. What was your highlight?

The funniest was the 3 year old that fell asleep standing up skiing, it was obviously nap time!
However, my most embarrassing moment was getting stuck under two trees while following a 9 year old boy hunting for alien base camps in the woods – he’s much shorter than I am and the branches were really low!

If you have any specific questions for Claire, or any of the team at Neilson, comment below or get in touch on 0844 879 8155. Most of Neilson’s destinations are child-friendly and for more information about childcare in resort click hereLes Deux Alpes in France has a Beachclub’s style children’s club and a private nanny service.

Comments (4)

  • Scott says:

    What is the ideal age to start a kid off skiing? My daughter will be 2 1/2 next ski season but I still think it’s a bit too young. Any advice?

    • Claire Pollitt says:

      Hi Scott,
      I’ve taught children as young as 2 2/1 with mixed results. Those that want to ski because they have older siblings that do so tend to be more interested in learning at that age, and any instruction really does have to be tailored to fit the child. Two things I concentrate on with them are balance (basically learning to stand up and slide), and having fun, so we often do very short sessions of 10 to 15 minutes and then have a break. If your daughter is a sturdy and athletic two year old, then she may take well to skiing, but it’s more important that she has fun, than she actually achieves anything!
      I hope this helps,

  • Scott says:

    Thanks Claire, this is really helpful.

    As you say, just getting her used to the snow and sliding is definately the way forward. I don’t want to push her into doing something she won’t enjoy.


  • Sandy says:

    Hi Claire I totally agree with the dehydration part. My kids (8 and 11) spend all day on the slopes and if it wasn’t for me harping on and on about the importance of drinking fluids they will have given up years ago due to dehydration. Stayed in a lovely chalet in Chamonix who supplied the kids with water everyday! I suppose the downside of it being so exciting and fun…shame there has to be one.

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