“My Precious, my Precious.” A quote any Lord of the Rings aficionado will know the meaning of. In the real world, a parent is more likely to refer to their child as “my Precious”, and that is what this write-up is about. How can you make sure your precious is prepared and equipped for skiing and ski lessons?
Uncomfortable, poorly-fitting equipment is the ultimate recipe for an unhappy child, not to mention the potential safety hazards. There’s plenty of good advice out there to help make sure your kids stay happy on the slopes, like this blog post from ES Kids’ Academy manager, Kate St. Claire-Tisdall. However, this particular blog will focus on the fit and safety of two of the most important pieces of kit for kids: helmets and boots.
Of course, these items can always be, and generally are, fitted by a professional, but this can be used as a handy guide or a checklist for when your child starts telling you their boots are uncomfortable! If you’re stuck, pop into one of our partner stores, Glacier Sport in Zermatt, Mountain Air in Verbier or Premier Alpine Centre in Nendaz, they’ll be able to help you out.
I want to start with the single most important piece of ski gear and that’s ski boots.
They are the connection between body and skis, and as such they are a key factor in controlling every motion you want transferred to the snow. If ski boots don’t fit and function properly, your skiing with suffer greatly.
Then what is a good fit for a child’s ski boot? In short, it should fit firmly, but not be uncomfortable. You should not be able to move your forefoot from side to side, but at the same time you want to be able to wiggle your toes. Your heel should sit securely and not come out of the heel pocket. You should also be able to “flex the boot”, by bending your knees and ankles.
A somewhat useful comparison in how this all should feel can be to compare it to handshakes:
- The soft and mellow one that barely grips the front of your hand. Can feel like being greeted by a squid… Not good for ski boot fit.
- A nice firm handshake with the whole hand. Good grip, but not excessively hard, you could greet this person for a long time. Good for ski boots!!
- A handshake with The Hulk. Ouch, yikes, help, get me out of here… Good for experts only.
Now if you can replicate the good handshake and use the same force while “handshaking” your child’s feet you should be able to explain to them how the ski boot should feel and fit.
The Fitting Process
To get an idea of your child’s foot size, use a pen to trace the foot on a sheet of paper. Measure the length from toe to heel in centimetres. This is the ‘mondo’ sizing system ski boots go by. When trying on a boot with the estimated correct size, do as follows:
- Remove the liner form the shell, place the child’s foot in the shell with their toes just touching the plastic.
- Have the child bend the knees slightly and estimate the free space behind their heel and the boot’s heel.
- If the free space is more than 2.5 cm the boot is most likely too big.
When you have determined that the boot shell is a good match, reinsert the liner. In addition to the liner there are only TWO more things that should be inserted into the boot:
1: The child’s foot.
2: ONE medium thick ski sock, preferably a wool mix, and in a length that stops just below the knee.
Let the child walk around / have the boots on for a while before determining if it is the right ski boot.
I know it’s tempting, but please do not use two pairs of socks to substitute for a bad fit! It is a sure source of discomfort, poor skiing and an unhappy child. Likewise, make sure your child’s thermal pants are NOT tucked into their socks inside the ski boot.
While recognising that alpine skiing may be a costly sport, correct sized ski boots should be a high priority on your list of gear to acquire. Children mostly outgrow their boots rather than wear them out, so the second hand market is a good source for affordable ski boots.
The typical ways to buy are:
- Your local sport store. They may offer ski boots exchange programs, too, which are a good solution to affordably replace ski boots. Even better if they are certified boot fitters.
- Local ski clubs often have swap days for used ski gear.
- Hand-me-downs from siblings, relatives or friends.
When buying second-hand ski boots be aware of excess wear on the toe and heel lugs. If they are too worn-down they may not fit or function properly in the bindings.
Let’s move on to talk about another important piece of kids’ ski equipment: the helmet.
Wearing a helmet while skiing has become obligatory for most people. To attend ski lessons with European Snowsport every child has to wear a helmet!
All ski helmets sold in Europe are required to meet the specifications of European standard EN 1077-2007. This means they have undergone and passed rigorous testing procedures and are CE marked on a label or sticker inside the helmet. Do not purchase a helmet without this certification!
Helmets do come in an immense variety of shapes, styles and colours, but in the end it should always be fit and comfort that dictate which one you purchase.
To determine your child’s helmet sizing you can use a flexible measuring tape. Measure the head circumference from a point just above the eyebrows. You now have a centimetre number as a start point. Helmet manufacturers typically use the same shell size for several internal sizes by varying the thickness of the padding or by having a size adjustment system.
When correctly sized, you should not be able to twist and move the helmet around on the head. The chinstrap must be firmly secured, but without pinching the chin. The helmet will, except in the most extreme temperatures, be more than warm enough to wear on its own. Wearing a thick hat under the helmet can be counterproductive to the helmet’s safety function and is not recommended. A thin buff or balaclava can be worn if your child is in need of more warmth.
Remember to bring your child’s goggles along when purchasing a new helmet. It is important that they “interact” well with the helmet’s shape. Ideally, you don’t want any bare skin above the cheeks exposed to the wind chill and cold.
Good to Know
Helmets have a limited lifespan of typically three to five years, depending on use. They are exposed to huge temperature variations and UV radiation so the safety features will eventually deteriorate.
The most crucial part is to know the helmet’s user history. By design they are meant to absorb and distribute the force of power over a greater surface than just the point of impact. Once a major impact has occurred, the helmet’s ability to protect is significantly weakened and it should be replaced. As such, it’s important to be really cautious before acquiring a used helmet without knowing its impact history.
Hopefully you will be better set with this information to equip your “precious” for skiing.