It’s a myth that preschoolers can’t learn to snowboard.
My daughter learned to ski at 2, was ski racing by 6, and retired at the ripe old age of 10. The good news is we can rip Copper’s Spaulding Bowl together. The bad news: She now is intent on switching to snowboarding.
I have nothing at all against snowboarders. I married one. What I’m bristling at is the fact that I’m back on the bunny hill. Our weekends are spent lapping the slow-moving beginner chair at Eldora and making low-speed, fall-filled descents on terrain that is tipped only slightly. It’s killing me.
When my daughter first expressed an interest in snowboarding, I told her she needed to get good at skiing first—she needed to be able to rip Spaulding or Eldora’s West Ridge. It’s too hard to learn to snowboard when you’re little, I said. Newsflash: I was wrong about that.
The number-one myth surrounding snowboard instruction is that kids can’t learn until they reach a certain age—maybe eight or nine. Conventional wisdom suggests that younger kids don’t have the balance, the muscle mass or the attention span to snowboard. So say the naysayers.
“We’ve overcome all those barriers,” says Jeff Boliba, VP of global resorts at Burton Snowboards, which has been leading the charge in youth snowboarding with advancements in instruction and gear. As long as a child has feet big enough to fit in snowboard boots, they can snowboard, says Boliba.
Once you’ve seen a toddler sliding over fun boxes and jibbing in mini halfpipes in a beginner terrain park, you’ll know the notion that 3 year old can’t learn to snowboard is fast becoming apocryphal. By the time kids turn 6 or 7, they can be doing grabs and ollies, sliding on big rails, and landing their 180s switch.
The Riglet Revolution
Today, Burton continues to expand its Learn to Ride (LTR) program and Riglet Parks at resorts around the globe, including a Riglet Park at Purgatory—and temporary pop-up parks at Steamboat. Designed for teaching kids ages 3 to 6, Riglet Parks are a kids’ snowboarding playground that’s filled with mellow terrain features like berms, banks, ramps, rollers and slider boxes. The idea is that with terrain features controlling a student’s speed, kids can master basic maneuvers in a safe and controlled environment.
One of the keys to the success of the Riglet Parks is that they’re essentially playgrounds built of snow. “Kids understand how to play,” says Boliba. “Through discovery, they’re learning critical things like balance, movement and control.”
Burton pairs instruction with gear specifically designed for the tiniest riders. The company’s LTR snowboards are flexible, have a convex base shape and upturned edges for catch-free learning and can be outfitted with a Riglet Reel, which is an innovative device the size of a hockey puck that attaches to the front end of a small snowboard. The Riglet Reel has a retractable wire and pull handle that allows instructors or parents to tow kids along on snow to teach balance and edging skills. When not in use, the wire retracts back into the reel’s casing. New for Burton is the Handle Bar, a learning device that’s affixed to a child’s snowboard to give them something to hang on to for balance.
Head Snowboards is also doing their part to promote young snowboarders. The company offers its Rowdy Kid snowboard, which comes in lengths as short as 70 cm and is outfitted with a leash hole in the nose for towing tots, catch-free rocker and an easy-going flex. Pair the Rowdy with Head’s extra-small P KID binding, which allows for hassle-free exit and entry with a single triangular strap. The binding has a wide range of adjustability, so it can grow as your kid does.
Not only can tots learn to ride, they are at an advantage in some ways. “The biggest difference is that instructors aren’t just telling kids what to do,” says Tony Macri, a development coach for PSIA-AASI and an instructor at Copper Mountain, where instructors have been teaching kids to ride as young as age 3. “Kids are building movement patterns as they experience the terrain. Letting kids move over terrain like mini halfpipes and low banked turns, you allow them to feel the sensation under their feet. They’re very aware.” Macri says verbal instruction isn’t effective with the preschool set. “Cognitively really young kids can’t do that.” In fact, Macri says, when kids get older, they start to overthink the process. “Then there’s too much cognitive awareness,” he says.
As to the argument that very young kids don’t have the muscle mass to learn to snowboard? Macri says little rippers aren’t muscling the board but creating movement through their cores. “When they stand on a board, kids stand naturally, holding themselves up by stacking their skeletons,” he says. They make subtle adjustments as they encounter terrain. “It’s more reactive than proactive,” says Macri.