For many years, conventional wisdom has held that kids need to learn to ski before they learn to ride. But like most conventional wisdom, this is more opinion than fact. Especially in families where one or both parents rides, there is no reason to tell a child, “Nope, you gotta ski first.”
Let the Child Choose
Children are more motivated when they want to do something. They’ll usually put more effort into an activity that they want to do. Because parents are their first role models, very young children often want to be like their parents. Holly Andersen, a snowboarding mom who rides at Mount Snow, Vermont has a three year-old daughter who skis and rides. When Holly is with her three year-old, her daughter wants to ride and be like mom. But if her daughter is with her friends who ski, she wants to ski. As Holly puts it, “Be patient and listen to your child. Whether to ski or snowboard should be their choice.”
Hire A Pro
While parents may be their child’s first role model, they usually shouldn’t be the child’s first snowboard instructor. Nothing against parents, or their skills, but lessons give kids a strong foundation. Many ski and ride schools offer lessons for children as young as three years-old. Because snowboard instructors need to be hands-on to keep beginning kids upright, groups are often very small. Consider three lessons to get your child going. While the first lesson may be all about learning how to put on the equipment and move from point A to point B, by the third lesson, most children will be sliding successfully.
If parents want to take over where the lessons leave off, a private lesson for parent and child is a great idea. When the lesson ends, the parent can take over using tips from the pro. Parents need to remember that little kids are all about fun and may not be very serious about learning technique. As Holly puts it, “As long as my daughter is outside, having a good time and safe, learning to me right now is optional. There is no right or wrong way for her to ski or snowboard.”
Get the Right Gear
Finding the right equipment can be a big challenge for the parents of itty-bitty riders. While most resorts will teach young riders, not all of them have equipment available for the smallest kids. Do some research before you sign up for lessons.
Kids’ equipment has improved in recent years and is much more age appropriate than it used to be, according to Earl Saline of PSIA/AASI. Snowboards for kids are softer and more flexible than they used to be. They are available in sizes as small as 80 centimeters and the best boards are convex edge-to-edge and rockered tip-to-tail. This design makes them much easier for little bodies to move. And while snowboard boots are not as stiff as ski boots, newer kids’ boots have additional support to hold up little legs.
Keep Your Expectations Low
Holly Andersen found it difficult the first time she took her daughter snowboarding. “It was frustrating that she lasted only a few minutes. It was a lot of work on our end for just a few minutes on hers. Although, as soon as she said she was done, we were done. I didn’t want to force her into it.”
Keeping parental expectations low and realistic is important. Little kids often can only get their balance on one edge and that’s perfectly acceptable. “For young snowboarders, success is staying upright, sliding and moving downhill,” explains Earl Saline. “They may be stuck on their heel side, but that’s okay.”
Still, once kids get the idea of edge awareness and heel and toe balance, the learning curve can be quick.
At age three, Holly Andersen’s daughter comfortably switches between skiing and riding. She enjoys both sports and her parents see no reason to make her specialize. Professional snowboarder Chris Klug agrees. “I think that skiing and snowboarding compliment each other,” he states. Klug, who won a bronze medal at the 2002 Olympics began skiing as soon as he could walk and didn’t see his first snowboard until he was nine years-old. An avid skateboarder, he was immediately hooked. Chris is a new father, so I asked him if he would encourage his daughter to ride when she’s big enough. “I’ll let her do whatever she wants. It is good to be able to do both, but it will be funny if she wants to ski. I’ll have to ski, too.”
May “The Force” Be With You
For “younglings” ages 3-6, Sierra-at-Tahoe resort in California offers a unique, out-of-this-world learn to snowboard adventure. New this season, the Burton Star Wars Experience is a joint effort between Burton Snowboards, Lucasfilm LPD, and Sierra-at-Tahoe resort. The Star Wars Experience has two parts. Young riders start at the indoor Padawan Center, where they practice balance training. Then they blast outside to Yoda’s Riglet Park where three interactive nodes teach them how to ride using Burton’s Riglet Reel. The Riglet Reel is a specially designed tool attached to the nose of youth snowboards. Using the Riglet Reel, coaches can tow kids on their snowboards so they quickly learn how to balance, move and control their boards.
The Burton Star Wars Experience has been wildly popular. According to Steve Hemphill, spokesperson for Sierra-at-Tahoe, “We’ve seen our snowboard lessons double this season because of the Star Wars Experience. Sierra plans to continue the interactive Burton Star Wars Experience and carry it into next season.” The cost for the full-day experience, with lunch is $135. A ‘3-Pak’ brings the price down to $81/day and is valid any day of the season with no blackout dates.
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