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Snowboarding is for Toddlers

Photo by Dustin Schaefer courtesy of Loveland Ski Area.

Its a myth that preschoolers cant 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 Coppers 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 Im bristling at is the fact that Im 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. Its killing me.

When my daughter first expressed an interest in snowboarding, I told her she needed to get good at skiing firstshe needed to be able to rip Spaulding or Eldoras West Ridge. Its too hard to learn to snowboard when youre little, I said. Newsflash: I was wrong about that.

The number-one myth surrounding snowboard instruction is that kids cant learn until they reach a certain agemaybe eight or nine. Conventional wisdom suggests that younger kids dont have the balance, the muscle mass or the attention span to snowboard. So say the naysayers.

Weve 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 youve seen a toddler sliding over fun boxes and jibbing in mini halfpipes in a beginner terrain park, youll know the notion that 3 year old cant 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.

Our author's daughter at Cooper. Our author’s daughter at Cooper.

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 Purgatoryand temporary pop-up parks at Steamboat. Designed for teaching kids ages 3 to 6, Riglet Parks are a kids snowboarding playground thats filled with mellow terrain features like berms, banks, ramps, rollers and slider boxes. The idea is that with terrain features controlling a students 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 theyre essentially playgrounds built of snow. Kids understand how to play, says Boliba. Through discovery, theyre learning critical things like balance, movement and control.

Handlebar Boards Testing out the Handle Bar

Burton pairs instruction with gear specifically designed for the tiniest riders. The companys 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 reels 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.

Photo courtesy of Purgatory Mountain Resort. Photo courtesy of Purgatory Mountain Resort.

Teachable Moments

Not only can tots learn to ride, they are at an advantage in some ways. The biggest difference is that instructors arent 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. Theyre very aware. Macri says verbal instruction isnt effective with the preschool set. Cognitively really young kids cant do that. In fact, Macri says, when kids get older, they start to overthink the process. Then theres too much cognitive awareness, he says.

As to the argument that very young kids dont have the muscle mass to learn to snowboard? Macri says little rippers arent 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. Its more reactive than proactive, says Macri.