Since starting their first ski shop in Val d’Isere back in 1991, Scots Jock and Susan Dun have built their success on NOT just doing things the way all the other shops have always done but on what they call ‘Rental Done Right’.
For over 10 years they have been involved in a joint venture in the ski hire shop, Snowberry, with former World Champion, Annie Famose. Last season saw another step forward for Snowberry, with the opening of their brand new Snowberry Streetside shop – to complement the existing Slopeside shop at Rond Point des Pistes – in the very centre of Val d’Isere.
Here’s Jock’s take on renting ski equipment for children.
There’s very little point in buying ski equipment for your children – unless you’re lucky enough to be able to ski several times each season.
And while borrowing clothes, goggles, gloves and so on from friends is fine, it’s not a great idea to borrow the actual equipment – it does need to fit your child correctly, plus most airlines charge to carry skis these days (and charge the same whether the skis are adults’ or children’s). So most people rent equipment for their children.
Choosing Your Ski Hire Shop
Make sure you choose a reputable shop with plenty of decent – and recent – kids’ equipment. Children’s skis don’t get used nearly as regularly as adults’ ones so some shops just keep trotting out the same ancient kids’ kit every year in school holidays.
English-speaking staff make it much easier for your child to explain what fits and what doesn’t. Some shops offer extra “child-friendly” services which make your life as a parent a lot easier.
These can include courtesy transport, overnight storage and end-of-week equipment collection, but even something as simple as name stickers on your child’s equipment to stop them getting it mixed up at ski school can save you a huge amount of hassle.
Booking In Advance
Especially if you’re travelling in school holiday weeks, you must book your ski hire in advance to ensure availability.
It’s not unknown for every shop even in one of the major resorts to run out of children’s equipment, and the last thing you want after building your child up to ski for the first time for the last six months is to have to tell them they can’t have any skis!
Booking also saves you time on arrival in the resort as certain parts of the process can be sorted out before you arrive. (By the way, while you’re at it, make sure you book their lessons too!).
Some things, though, can’t be done in advance – boots and helmets need to be tried on and properly fitted on arrival.
Renting Skis for Children
The range of children’s skis produced is a lot more limited than for adults, so even the best shops won’t have a massive range of models and styles of skis. At Snowberry we have a much wider range of junior skis in our rental racks than pretty much any other shop anywhere, with almost 30 different models of skis for kids. Most shops don’t even have that amount of choice for adults!
Especially at the basic level, children’s skis are mainly piste-orientated, but piste is where your beginner and lower intermediate children are going to be spending their time anyway.
At the other end of the scale, unlike almost all other hire shops, we do go right up to proper advanced/expert level junior skis. These are usually very hard to get hold of, whether you are looking for out and out junior FIS race skis or proper off piste/freeride models. Only a very few shops will carry this sort of stuff though, so you may need to do a bit of research before you book.
The smallest skis on the market are suitable for children from around three years and upwards, though at that age they probably aren’t going to ski for more than an hour or two a day. Again, stock of this size can be hard to find but a good shop should go right down in size.
Don’t be surprised if the skis the shop offers for your child look short compared to your own. Children have less strength – especially in their legs and can’t bend a longer ski, so a ski that’s too long will be downright dangerous. A young beginner child may have skis as short as mid-chest height, but for a slightly older child with a little bit of experience collar-bone to chin is about right.
Renting Ski Boots
Getting the right boots is important for everyone, but even more so for children who don’t really understand what a ski boot should feel like.
So make sure you choose a shop that does it properly – not all do, some will literally just ask your child’s shoe size and hand you a pair of boots – normally a size (or even two) too big, which is downright dangerous!
Remember to take your child’s ski socks with you when they go to try on boots – just one pair of proper, properly fitting ski socks is all they should wear. And of course they shouldn’t tuck anything else (thermal leggings or the snow gaiters of their ski pants) inside the boots either.
Make sure the bootfitter shows and explains to your child how to do up and adjust the boots as well – they will need to be able to do this themselves at ski school. By all means sit with your child while they’re being fitted, but don’t interfere – the bootfitter should know what they’re doing and make sure the boots fit correctly.
If there is a problem once your child gets on the snow, go back and change the boots straight away, don’t wait until a small problem becomes a big one. If your child has big feet, watch out for shops putting them into adult boots. Adult boots, even though they may fit the foot, often come too high up the leg and are too stiff for a child, so they can be dangerous.
And if your children are quite young and have small feet, make sure the shop has their size before you commit to renting. With most brands of boot, the smallest size that they make is about a UK children’s 7 to 8, so smaller boots can be quite hard to find.
Renting a Ski Helmet
Some ski schools insist children wear a helmet, but whether they do or not you’d be mad to let your child ski without one. In some resorts it’s compulsory for children to wear a helmet, whether in ski school or not.
Most shops have a lot less helmets than they do children’s skis, so in busy periods availability can be a problem. A few shops guarantee to supply a helmet with your child’s skis but most don’t, so once again you must make sure and book well in advance.
Like any safety equipment, a helmet will only protect your child properly if it fits properly. A good shop will size and fit the helmet, adjust all the straps and show the child and you how to do it up correctly.
Some helmets are more adjustable than others and designed to cover a wider range of head sizes, and these are pretty common in rental now just because they fit more people. Small heads can be a problem, though. Very small helmets are almost impossible for shops to get hold of nowadays, so again check what sizes they do.
If your child has a very small head (and even older children can have) even the best-stocked shop may not have a helmet small enough because they just don’t exist. Your only option is to take the smallest size available and put a hat underneath – not ideal, but certainly better than no helmet.
Small children shouldn’t have ski poles when they’re starting to ski. They won’t need them, they’ll just get in the way, they won’t be using them in ski school and they’re just something else for you to carry. If and when they do need them, their instructor will tell you and you can go back to the shop and get them then.
Some kids will kick up a huge fuss if they don’t have poles like everyone else though – after all they’re great for fighting with older siblings – so if you ask nicely the shop may give them to you anyway. Older children will need poles, they come included in the price of the skis so they won’t cost you any more.
Renting Ski Clothing
If you don’t want to buy our children’s ski clothing and don’t have friends who can lend you any, then you will need to rent. In many North American, Australian and New Zealand resorts, you can rent ski clothing and sometimes accessories such as gloves and goggles as well.
But it’s very rare to find ski clothing or accessories for rental in European resorts so if you’re travelling to Europe you’ll need to buy (or beg and borrow) before you travel, or buy on arrival.
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