When you live at, or visit, a local ski mountain, you have two main choices: skiing or snowboarding. Adults can make the decision on their own, but what about the kids? Do you send the kids to ski school, or snowboard school? Some of the experts have some advice.
Ben Boyd runs the snowboarding program for the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. He hails from Sydney, Australia. He is also the father of four-year-old twins. "I've had them skiing the first two years. It's hard for them to ride sideways on the snowboard as they don't have the balance yet. They have a massive big head which tips them over easily."
Boyd says his son is skateboarding, so now he'll put him on a snowboard and point him down the hill. "If they're skating or something with balance like gymnastics or ballet, something that helps with their coordination, they can get snowboarding easier because it's a lot of balance."
While Boyd's kids will more than likely be boarders just because he's one of the top snowboard coaches in the country, he says it's not bad to get them on skis when they're really little. "It gives them the sensation of sliding and they get used to sliding on the snow. Then getting on a snowboard is not as hard because a lot of the concepts are similar."
Jon Casson runs the snowboard program at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. He says to see what your kids are motivated to do, whether skiing or snowboarding. "You're on vacation. Let them do what they feel like. But understand that with real little kids, they're not going to be ripping down blue runs in one hour. Talk to the instructors and see what they will be capable of. Set the expectations right at the beginning."
Casson says, "Depending on a kid's physical development, I would say generally between the ages of six and eight is the best time to start snowboarding." He says the younger kids don't really have the fine motor control as easily as they can control skis. "If I get really little kids and they're just riding down the hill, I'll ride in front of them and catch them. They're not really learning the proper way to turn. But if they're smiling at the end of the day, who really cares if they turned or not?"
Mark Markowitz is the Children's Snowboard School Supervisor at Beaver Creek, Colo. He says they can start kids on a snowboard as young as three years old, but in a private lesson, with one-on-one attention.
Vail Resort's new Mini-Jibbers program (at Vail, Beaver Creek, and Breckenridge; called the Blasters at Heavenly) starts at age five, with no more than four kids per instructor. Markowitz credits it to new technology. "In the past, these kids were using adult equipment. Now, Burton makes some incredible stuff for these little kids, that is truly tailored for them, to help them learn. As the industry evolves, the ability to have gear for these little guys has increased. These smaller snowboards make it easier for a kid to roll from edge to edge. You don't have to be a full-sized person."
Markowitz says he's been involved in snowboarding for 20 years and it's amazing to see the progression. He says it's incredibly fun. "It's much easier to walk around in the boots and not carry poles. Kids don't have to worry about crossing their tips. Sometimes for little bodies, it's hard to keep the tips from crossing and they want to go where they want to go. In snowboarding, we don't have to worry about that."
Boyd agrees that it's all about having fun. "I think it's going to be whatever they enjoy. They have to enjoy what they are doing."
Casson says, "Who knows what might trigger a kid to try something?" His very proud example is Maddy Schaffrick of Steamboat. She kept pressuring her parents to learn to snowboard at five years old. She loved it and caught on quickly. Maddy competed in the Winter X Games in Aspen this January, as a ninth grader. Expect to see more of Maddy in the future.