Teaching the little ones to snowboard (ski)…
It's no secret that we SnowProfessors are parents/'older riders' and we make all our content with people like us in mind. One question we get often is, “How can I teach my kids how to snowboard?” Most of our instructing experience has been with kids, so that’s an easy question, right? If the kids are about 8 years old and up, yes it is (watch our videos and get a lesson or two). But for little kids we don’t have any experience teaching snowboarding and have generally given this simple advice: Get little kids on skis first.
This season, my wife and I (with a little help from my parents) actually put our money where our mouths are and taught our kids to ski. This is what we did and what worked and what didn’t.
Our kids started the season right after their 3rd and 5th birthdays. Spencer (3 years old) is a boy who seems to have a natural athletic ability. He just gets sports and physical stuff in general. Ellie (5 years old) is a girl and is more normal in her athletic ability. In April of 2011 we had the kids go down a very flat Magic Carpet run a few times in Colorado. They were able to stand and even change directions a little bit. They stood on their own and stopped naturally in a flat area. Most importantly THEY HAD FUN.
For 2012 we wanted to be more serious in our family ski time. Jenny (wife) and I took Saturdays off from teaching (first time in 11 years) and planned to go with the kids instead to a local area. Our first Saturday in Minnesota didn't go as planned. The bunny hill was longer and steeper than in Colorado and was also full of people. We held the kids between our legs for a few runs, but it just didn't work. Time for a change in plans…
First, I should tell you about my philosophy with little kids and snowboarding. I know that Burton says a 2 year old can snowboard, but that has not been my experience. Generally, kids don’t have the attention span, strength or muscle control for snowboarding until about 8 years old. I know there will always be mutants that get it early, but I am talking about average kids. Snowboarding requires fine movements of small muscles in the feet and legs; hard for little kids. One over-excited muscle twitch and you end up catching an edge. Skiing requires big movements from big muscles that little kids can do; think pizza/French fries. My goal in teaching our kids is to get to the point where we are all together and in control on our own on Green and Blue runs in Colorado as soon as possible. While you can get little kids on boards and tow them around the flats, they will not be fully snowboarding down the mountain on their own. Now, back to our story…
I realized that we had to be able to control the kids speed while making them do as much of the work as possible. I bought a ski shoulder harness for this purpose. These devices have a harness around the kids upper body with two 7 foot long straps that attach at the waist. The little skiers can ski on their own while mom/dad can keep them close and stop when necessary. I really liked this idea except for one big problem; if you pull back on a skier's (or snowboarder’s) shoulders, it instantly puts them in the backseat. This is not a position we want to encourage on skis or a board. The simple solution was to get rid of the harness and put the straps around the feet. This worked great!
Due to timing and other issues, we didn't get out much with the kids in Minnesota, and when we did, it was still very crowded. We even tried a private lesson for Ellie to see if that would help (she was quite timid with mom and dad around). Despite having both instructor parents AND an auntie, we thought a more 'official' teacher could connect with her. To be blunt, a 1 hour private lesson was a waste of money for her.
With the garbage winter we had, the snow in Minnesota was gone early so we headed to Colorado in April without much practice for the kids.
Colorado brought warm temperatures, soft snow and no crowds. This is where both kids really got it. We did the first ‘day’ (maybe 3 hours) with straps for both kids. I controlled Spencer and Jenny had Ellie. My mom & dad would ski in front as a visual demonstration for the kids to watch and follow (this really helps the kids actually make turns, as opposed to going straight). They both did great!
For the second day I asked who wanted to go without the straps. Spencer said yes and Ellie said no. From the top of the run, I skied backwards (switch or fakie for any young people reading this) very slowly making big turns and had Spencer try to follow me. He did and by halfway down was turning on his own. From there on he wanted to follow me, or grandpa. After another run or two, he didn't even want to wait at the bottom for the full group. He would get right back on the lift with whoever was with him. Then he found out that he could lead instead of follow! Spencer was hooked! Ellie followed the same path with a little bit more time using the straps.
After a full week of skiing every morning, both our kids love skiing. They have been asking all summer when they can go skiing again. This is exactly what I wanted; kids who are excited to be outside sliding down a mountain (or hill) in the winter. This winter Ellie will be doing a class on Saturdays with Skijammers, Jenny will be teaching a snowboard class with Skijammers and Spencer and I will free ski at the same area (he's too young for a class). In a few years, if the kids want to try snowboarding, then we will be more than happy to get them going. My plan of family fun on the snow is coming together nicely! Exactly... doh! I mean excellent.
The SnowProfessor Guide to Getting Young Kids On Snow:
- Under 8 years old, start on skis, it's easier for everyone
- Use straps around the feet to control speed and help the little skier turn (kind of like a horse)
- Have someone that the little skier can follow while using the straps
- When the little skier is ready, remove the straps. Start by having them follow a skier who is skiing backwards
- Ski together on green runs
- Have fun throughout the process! If they don't have fun, they won't want to come back!