This is a question we are asked all the time. Like most things in snowboarding, there is no ‘right’ answer. Really, it depends on the child and that can get complicated because every child is different.
But if I have to pick a number, they should be at least 8 years old. I arrived at 8 after my observations from 10 years teaching kids in groups and one-on-one. Anything younger and the child doesn’t have the muscle strength and control to snowboard nor the focus to persevere after repeated falls. Someone will say, “But my 4 years old picked it up right away.” Great for your 4 year old, but MOST kids won’t get it that early (and to be honest there are teenagers and adults that would never ‘get’ snowboarding).
If you can’t wait until they are 8, I say start them on skis (pizza/french fries is easy, even for little kids) and let them follow you around the mountain. If they are interested, provide the option of snowboarding once they are 8 or 9. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WITH LITTLE KIDS IS TO MAKE SURE THEY HAVE FUN! If they don’t have fun, they won’t want to come back.
I could go into a long writeup about the technical aspects of snowboarding that make it hard for young kids, but someone else on the internet already did. Below is the text from a post on EasyLoungin. Snowprofessor fan Duhg found it on a golf forum he frequents and posted it for all the Easy Loungers to read. It just so happens that many people who learned to ride during snowboarding’s early years are all grown up and want their kids to snowboard now.
Here is my 02 cents and it is based on both my personal experience and the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) Core concepts and Training modules.
Simply speaking, most kids under 7 or 8 typically do not have the fine motor skills required to be able to Snowboard effectively. This leads to lack of progress and frustration and sometimes an early rejection of the sport. In detail, in order to effectively apply pressure to one edge or another of a board requires that you can differentiate between gross and fine movements of legs, feet and even toes. Often kids just have not yet developed the ability to do this in a fashion other than the skills required for walking or running. The key here is walking or running maintains a skeletal alignment that centers the mass of the child BETWEEN the feet. When they get the mass over one foot or outside one foot, typically, younger kids fall down. This is especially noticeable in the fore/aft balancing skills.
This is exacerbated by the fact that kids body proportions are way off compared to an adult and a tiny kid with a helmet can have a head that weighs as much as 20% or more of their body weight. Here is a case in point. When I first taught tiny tots skiing, I observed they tended to sit back on the skis, bend only at the ankles and not the knees, bend forward at the waist and bob their heads up and down. The more I watched, it became quite obvious that they were adjusting their center of mass fore and aft and left and right …its really an amazing adaptation and something we don’t teach. In fact, if you are not aware and observant enough, you may send a kid backwards by trying to teach traditional skeletal alignment (think standing up again) too soon.
So, if you put this all together, skiing for little kids involves in essence keeping center of mass between a pair of skis set to form a wedge and movements achieved by weighting or unweighting one side or the other. The beauty of a wedge is it puts the skis on edge and all you have to do is pressure them. As you advance, you spent a lot of time learning to flatten the ski and only engage an edge when you need it. Eventually you move onto rotational skills which very difficult initially for the youngest of kids.
On a board, even at a basic level, there needs to be the ability to add subtle edging pressure to one side of a board and this cannot be achieved by just moving the whole leg. This is where the balance and center of mass issues kick in as well. If you can’t bend at hips, knees and ankles, you will quickly get your center of mass outside the board and pain is next on the lesson plan. Also, human nature will default to the uphill side of the board as fear kicks in when you are on the downhill side. Stiff straight legs and unbalanced to the uphill side is not a good way to learn as it normally leads to either a fall to the uphill side or the inability to disengage an edge and the board ‘locking in’ to an edge and picking up speed, fast!
Now this is where most folks will tell me their kid is very advanced/determined/special etc and the above does not apply. Well good, let em run with it. I am a strong believer in experiential learning so I say make it fun and have at it … what you need to be aware of as a parent is keeping it fun.
If you were to give me 8 to 10 kids between 5 and 8, in 3 hrs I would have them be able to ski in a line under some degree of control down the bunny hill in a very cute crocodile of multi colored nylon and fleece fun..and trust me, its fun for both kids and instructor. With boards, its just not gonna happen. One or two may ace it and the other 6 will be screaming, throwing snow, horribly distracted and probably hating life.
Hence, and finally to the point :
At an early age, typically 8 or less, kids have more fun and have a better experience at a ski resort on skis than they do on a board. It allows them to ‘play’ with other kids, get some sense of freedom (the bunny hill is huge to a 5 yr old) and learn the essential skills of sliding on snow, slope safety and riding the chair and finally, and don’t underestimate this, being cold and dealing with 27 layers of bulky clothing
Once they develop the basic snow survival skills, if they are still young, grab a board for a day and see how it goes. They may never look back. I have taught kids who are learning to board but spend half a day a week on skis as they can see more of the mountain and have more fun with the other kids. Similarly, I have seen 7 yr olds ride the whole mountain with consummate ease.
Just be aware that when the kid gets frustrated and says he can’t do what the instructor is telling him or her, it may be physical and not mental AT THAT AGE !
Best advice if they want to do it at a younger age:
Get a good private instructor and check references…e.g. does this person teach kids all the time and give it a go. If they don’t get it, get em on skis to enjoy the snow experience/adventure and try snowboarding as they develop
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