Skiing is cool? There’s even more to it. In fact, skiing improves physical and mental health — experts say kids who ski become smarter. We want to find out more during our visit to Gerhard Told’s Ski School in Scheffau am Wilden Kaiser.
Much to the children’s delight, Gerhard Told uses a snowmobile that resembles a ‘Dragon’ with wagon to haul kids around the snowy mountaintop. You can hear the snowmobile howling and the children laughing. They are sitting in the wagon, waving and laughing. “That’s the best part for them,” says Gerhard Told. He’s smiling, too. He seems to enjoy these moments as well. He cruises around the on-snow playground and stops. All change! It’s time to learn how to ski once again.
Years ago, it was only natural for kids to learn skiing. Nowadays, things have changed, with numbers of young people who are being introduced to the sport dropping each year. That’s a pity because kids are the future of the sport. Skiing pushes and supports children. Some experts even say that kids who ski become smarter.
Welcome to Kids-Only Ski Zone
Gerhard Told’s Ski School has its own learning area atop the summit of Brandstadl Mountain, an enclosed kids-only ski zone right next to the top of the gondola. Situated at an elevation of 1,650 meters above sea level, stunning views of jagged and rugged Wilder Kaiser Mountain Range included. The village of Scheffau spreads out in the valley below. 20 years ago, Told moved to the mountaintop with his ski school and transformed it into an amazing on-snow playground. Inside the specially-designed learning area, first-timers start on flat snow to get a feel for their equipment. There are merry roundabouts, colourful children’s features and gently moving conveyor lifts to take little skiers up the hill. Toddlers accelerate their progress by learning how to ski with sculpted snow features such as banked turns, bumps and rollers. As the learning area is fenced in, youngsters are enjoying their outdoor experience on skis without worrying about expert skiers coming up fast from behind. It’s a safe learning environment. The risk of injury is low. “Safety always comes first,” says Told. His ski school introduces tiny tots to skiing in small doses, allowing them to have fun on the snow and get the feel of skis and ski equipment. Before heading outside, to the public slopes, the kiddos must learn to adjust to the motion and the feeling of skiing while maintaining a sense of balance and security. Their on-mountain experience incorporates the use of the ‘Dragon’, a decorated snowmobile with wagon that hauls kids around the snowy mountaintop. It’s a welcome extra to ski instruction. “Our overall goal is for kids to have fun,” says Told, who hopes to instill in his students a lifelong love of skiing. “We want their first encounter with skis to be a positive one.”
A Matter of Balance & Coordination
In peak times, up to 200 kids learn how to ski atop Brandstadl Mountain. Kids around the age of four are the perfect age to learn new skills such as skiing. The natural curiosity, lack of fear, love of excitement, and desire kids have to expend energy together make them great students for skiing. Skiing involves quite a bit of balance and coordination, and the children must be conscious of the many slight movements and positions of their body if they want to ski well and stay on their feet.
Physical activity is important to overall health and wellness for people of all ages, but many recent studies have focused specifically on linking physical activity, cognitive improvement, and long-lasting health effects. The art of skiing is to keep yourself steady on the slippery slope. To help balance yourself, you naturally engage your core stability muscles – the sheath of deep muscle that starts either side of your spine and runs around your body, ending up in your pelvic region. Although skiing exercises all our major muscle groups, it particularly targets the shoulder blades and lower back, inner and outer thighs and buttock muscles – thanks to the crouching position that skiing involves. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced skier, you will be giving your cardiovascular system a good workout on the slopes. Improving your cardiovascular system means elevating your heart rate, which increases blood circulation. Working out in this way also means that you can burn up calories. The steeper the slope, the more calories you’ll burn because your body has to work harder to keep your body balanced. Experienced skiers are also more likely to ski faster, which uses up even more muscle power and so burns even more calories.
Children who Ski are Better Students
Children who hit the slopes perform better at school, says Frieder Beck, brain researcher and teacher. Beck used to coach the German National Freestyle Ski Team and is convinced that “children who ski are better at school.” In order to understand this process, Frieder Beck enters a journey into the past – the basic structure of our brain has not changed appreciable since primeval times. Our ancestors had to fight for survival; they were constantly on the move, searching for water, collecting berries or hunting. The ability to concentrate or rest in stressful moments was an evolutionary advantage, says Beck. “If we exercise regularly, we stimulate the same brain systems where the executive functions are also located. Likewise, our learning and motivation system is promoted in our minds.” Evaluations demonstrate that young people who participate in outdoor recreation, like skiing, perform at a higher academic level than their peers. Through outdoor participation, kids gain a wide array of skills necessary to build and strengthen academic achievement. Physical activity leads to increased brain functioning imperative to high academic achievement, with concrete connections between increased activity and stronger concentration and memory skills. Frieder Beck believes that because skiing needs planning and concentration skills, it sharpens a child’s mind – and it makes them perform better at school.
It’s not all just physical and mental health — gaining appreciation for the great outdoors is a benefit of skiing too. “Spending the day on a snow-covered mountain, surrounded by natural outdoor beauty, boosts overall happiness and well-being. Skiing allows children to experience and interact with nature. The beauty of the mountain environment fosters a respect and love for nature that they will carry throughout their lives. Kids involved in skiing forget everything else in their lives while they are on the slope. They find an escape from the stressors in their lives, such as school,” says Frieder Beck. Children are found to reap the most benefits from skiing – because of the above-mentioned connections between increased activity and stronger concentration and memory skills.
Considerateness & Self-Confidence
There’s even more to skiing than improving physical and mental health and inspring love for nature. Not only will little ones benefit from staying active, but they will also get to socialize with other kids in the sport. They will learn to behave in such a way that they do not endanger others. They must adapt their personal ability to the prevailing conditions of terrain, snow and weather as well as take care of other skiers to avoid crashes. Outdoor recreational experiences such as skiing have also been proven to increase the self-confidence of kids. Progression depends entirely on their mental toughness and willingness to push themselves to improve.
It’s amazing to see how tiny tots socialize with other kids in the sport at Gerhard Told’s ski school in Scheffau. The instructors are friendly, very focused on the kids, and seem to be really excited about reaching a new generation of skiers. They are great at getting kids past the on-slope meltdowns and into the business of learning. They cheer and inspire. They encourage and entertain. Kids become a little more confident and outgoing with every run. Soon, they rip it up with their instructors. “Our overall goal is for little ones to have fun!” repeats Told. “You never want to push a kid into skiing if they don’t want to. It will be the most miserable experience of their lives and they will hate skiing for at least one season—or forever.” Gerhard Told walks away to his converted snowmobile and starts the engine once again. The ‘Dragon’ howls and the kids laugh and shout. Skiing is supposed to be fun, after all.
Gerhard Told’s ski school is one of about 20 Tirol Ski Schools that offer “Playground Snow” Programs. Second to none, these programs are geared for preschoolers as young as 3 years old and introduce children to the fundamental moves of skiing through play and fun. Learn more about Tirol’s Ski Schools here.