Here is why your kid should be introduced to the slopes on a snowboard, EVEN IF YOU'RE A SKIER!
Let's start with a funny story. At the beginning of last winter, I got really excited when I got the opportunity to get my son a snowboard and just went ahead without too much thought. I mean, he was going to get one eventually, but in my mind, and coming from a predominantly skiing family, I always thought that skiing first was the natural order of things because of the forward facing position and the access to kids' skiing lessons and gear. Being a true snowboarder at heart (okay, some of you have seen me on skis, I know) I accepted this reality that my son Elliott would start his career on the slopes as a skier and move onto snowboarding at an older age.
So I got the board, and then things just kind of unfolded really nicely for him. Snowboard companies have put in a lot of effort to make mini snowboards, and all the accessories that make life super easy for kids as young as about 18 months old. In his case, Elliott first strapped in when he was 15-16 months (he's a big guy, it helped) and I pulled him around the house on the Burton Hover Cover that protected our floors. He loved going over door thresholds as they acted like little bumps, or jumps at higher speeds. I was amazed by how easily he could just stand there and keep his balance, all while having an absolute blast! Check out the video below, but watch out for cuteness overload...
Only a couple days and a few indoor practice sessions later, the first snow of the season came. As I opened my curtains, I saw the white blanket over our lawn and ran down to Elliott's room to tell him the good news. Honestly, he probably didn't understand my excitement, but that didn't stop him to feel it and get excited himself. He agreed to throw on his gear and we headed out before breakfast was even served. Lucky for us, our front yard consists of a short mellow slope, so we didn't have to go very far for him to start sliding. It was love at first try. At this stage, the reel installed on the nose of the board was key. With it, I was able to guide the nose of his board while holding his hand at the same time. That kept the nose slightly heavier, making it easy for him to just stand there and feel the basic position while the board was sliding. Having forgotten about what tobogganing feels like since the previous winter, he probably felt something similar... while standing sideways!
Over the weeks that followed, our son got on the board many times. Indoors and outdoors, by his own will or ours, there were definitely ups and downs, but he remained a 16 month old little boy with his own emotions and a tiny muscle mass, even for his size. We started realising some of the limitations based on my experiences as snowboarder. The first one being that he never wanted to be on the board for too long. It really wasn't surprising to me after all. Think about a long flat cat track you need to stay on for a while in order to get back to a lift... It hurts, the lactic acid build up is fully turned on, and in this case is only amplified by the fact a toddler does not have the same stamina as an adult. To keep the experience as positive as possible for Elliott, we would make sure to let him have all the fun he wanted, and then let him free as soon as he asked for it. I even showed him how to undo his bindings by himself, so not only could he step out when he was tired, it was a really fun game for him. He loved the clicking sound of the ratchets and, because the board was also laying about as a toy in the house, he practiced a ton and became really proficient at it. A great bonus for the future as many kids struggle with this aspect when they start later on.
Another limitation, in the beginning, was the boots. We all know what breaking in new boots feels like. It's horrendous! They needed to be packed in which happened after some time. To get around this, we made him step into the bindings with his winter boots (not so much smaller than the snowboard ones). This allowed him to keep practicing without the discomfort of new boots. We noticed a significant difference in the balance he had, but it was only good for him in the end. Loosening the bindings on mellow terrain is a basic exercise used by snowboard instructors to develop balance, and this had the same effect.
It was then time for Elliott to attack the ski hill. We are fortunate to have an amazing kids area at our local hill, full of toys and obstacles to make it attractive to the little ones. This is a must, kids need to feel like it is all a game. Going from one stuffed teddy bear to the next was crucial in getting him to move forward. They understand the board is their transportation mode, and as their attention span is extremely short, you always have to bring up the next thing that will make them move, otherwise they will just want to stop and get off the board as it feels a bit pointless. We found that the more things there were to see, the longer he wanted to stay strapped in.
Another really good incentive was the fact he loved going up the magic carpet more than actually riding down. Once again, we turned this "negative" into a "positive". We explained to him that the lift only went in one direction, so we had to ride down in order to go up again. So after meeting all of his new teddy bears, he was super happy to head back up again. Once at the top, we would also bribe him down by catching him with hugs after he had gone a few meters.
Once we had gone to the ski hill a couple of times, we started realising something extraordinary from our perspective as parents. And it was actually Karolina who came to that realisation first as I was just having fun with my son. She is an avid skier, and she was also thinking our kids would start with skiing first, because you know, it's the "natural order of things" when you come from a skiing family growing up in the 90's. She had looked around and noticed what a family trying to teach their kids how to ski had to go through. The boots. The multiple pieces of equipment. The bindings. The missing reel. Each leg having a mind of its own. Not that it didn't look fun, it just didn't look fun. For anyone. And we were just zooming by all of them with big smiles and laughter. My impulsiveness in buying our son a board had just turned into probably the smartest thing we could have done to give Elliott a really positive first experience on the slopes.
Of course, it wasn't always fun and games. Missed naps and a toddler's mood swings sometimes made things hard. We could sometimes get him back with snacks and the sweet "saft" served at this hill, but other times it was just better to leave and go rest. If you have children, you know that's how it goes. If you don't, well, now you know!
By being around other children that skied and seeing his mother ripping by him on the planks, he came to the decision that he wanted to ski. We unfortunately ran out of time before the season was over, but he knows he wants to try it. After all, it isn't a competition between which sport is best and for what reasons. The important here is that we all enjoyed our winter on the slopes. All the accessories available for kids' boards make the experience for the parent as easy as it gets. The gradual move from our wooden floors, to the front yard, and finally to the ski hill made Elliott feel like there was no rush. It also kept his mind interested as there was also something new to try. Our patience was one of the most crucial factors. Letting him go at his own pace allowed him to not feel rushed and develop the way he needed to. Here is to seeing where all of this is going. I am really looking forward to next winter, to see how he progresses, to keep developing his balance on skis, which will also allow him to feel what edges do. Oh, and we get to do this all over again with the second one. Now go and get your toddler a snowboard, and have an awesome time as a family this winter!