Why don’t we see more tiny snowboarders? I’m typically on skis myself, but it was a question that crossed my mind as I started to introduce my son to snow sports. The typical answer from skiing parents is that skiing is easier to pick up as it gives young kids more freedom of movement. I wondered just how biased that assumption was as I watched my two-year-old son precariously use his wheeled xylophone as a skateboard in our living room. He seemed determined to slide sideways, on anything and everything, like it was built into his nature.
Despite my son’s proclivity towards sliding sideways, we started his foray into snow sports with skiing. First with a pair of rentals at the age of one (mostly for the fun photo opp and stoke factor). He spent his second season on a borrowed set of plastic skis that go over his shoes. As skiing parents, starting him on skis was simply more convenient and comfortable for us. We knew what we were doing here, and it mimicked the gear we packed up every weekend and brought to the mountain, so he identified himself as a skier, just like us. That said, his sideways rolling persisted in the house.
And so began the venture into snowboarding…
I always intended to introduce my son to multiple snow sports, but I definitely needed help with snowboarding. My experience with the sport is limited to once every few years and my skill set is far from advanced. And I had lots of questions. How do you start a two year old on a snowboard? Can they balance? Focus? At what age do resorts offer toddler snowboard lessons? After a quick internet search, I landed on two great resources: Burton Snowboards and Smugglers’ Notch Resort.
Burton Snowboards introduced the Burton Riglet Reel in 2010, drastically increasing the accessibility to the sport for young shredders. The Riglet Reel attaches to a small snowboard and allows parents and instructors to guide children through obstacles on snow in a safe and fun way.
Smugglers’ Notch features Burton’s Riglet tools in their rental fleet and lessons, and even has a dedicated Burton Riglet Park in their learning space. They also offer private Mom/Dad and Me lessons to introduce parents and kids to the sport, so I knew what I had to do next .
Smugglers’ Notch Mommy and Me Toddler Snowboard Lessons
I signed Ollie and myself up for a Mom and Me snowboard lesson at Smugglers’ Notch in early March of 2019. The lesson caters primarily to kids 3 to 5 years old and their somewhat experienced parents and focuses on assisting mom and dad in teaching their kiddos to snowboard while bonding and having fun.
I talked the lesson up to my son, Ollie, in the days leading up to it. At just two years old, I knew I was testing the age threshold, but his already growing love for snow and adventure kept me positive. He was super excited as we packed up gear and snacks and were shuttled from our slopeside condo to Smuggs’ Snow Sport University headquarters. After checking in, we outfitted him with boots, a snowboard and a helmet and met our instructor, Allison.
Allison clearly had a lot of experience with kids. She immediately entertained Ollie by pointing out the cool graphics on the board and asking him about his favorite colors and animals. We had been struggling a touch with him accepting his new gear, so it was a welcome distraction.
On the way to the Burton Riglet Park I was also able to chat with Allison about expectations and what we’d be learning together today. She explained that we’d focus on getting Ollie comfortable with the gear and sliding on snow with instructor or parental assistance. Other than that, “It’s all about keeping it fun,” she said. A parent looking to start their kids on snow at a young age is looking for a lifetime attachment so making it enjoyable for the kid is essentially the most important goal. Positive association will keep them wanting to come back and keep learning new things. We not only had a great instructor on our hands that day to help with that, we had sun, no wind and a lot of snacks.
Once we arrived at the Riglet Park Allison and I strapped Ollie into the board. She took his hand in one of hers and the Riglet leash in the other and pulled him around to different features in the park, entertaining him while testing his balance. It was great to watch them as they explored the little brush features down low, and high-fived characters up high. He did well with squatting, balancing and reaching. The best part was seeing the beaming grin on his face as Allison pulled him up a teeter-totter ramp and he slid down the other side.
Of course, with a two-year-old, it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. He eventually complained about being strapped to the board. Then he didn’t like his boots, or the sun, or the color of his snowsuit. Breaks were taken. Silly games were played. And snacks were consumed. Together Allison and I improvised and went with the flow. We gave him a break from board and eventually put on his regular boots. He got back onto the snowboard once more with Allison and eventually he and I played with another Burton tool, a snowboard with a cross bar attached to it. I was able to pull him around on this a take him down the beginner hill while I wore my skis. All-in-all, a pretty good win for the first day.
Throughout the snowboard lesson Allison stuck to her mantra of keeping it fun. I could tell though that she also knew that most customers want and expect solid results for the price of the lesson, $120 per hour. She never gave up trying to teach Ollie new skills and was persistent in her attempts to get him back on the board over and over again. It was clear she knew how to balance fun with actual education and Ollie and I both left the lesson feeling like we really achieved something. I gained new skills as a mother teaching her son to slide on snow, and he left thinking about how he can turn his xylophone into a snowboard. Win-win.
Tips for Being Prepared When Teaching Toddlers
Outside of booking a great instructor and one of the many resorts in Vermont, the of the best way to can ensure a positive experience teaching kids to snowboard or ski, is to be prepared. I’ve learned most of these through trial and error, but you don’t have to! Manage you tools well, whether they are mental or physical, and you’ll be far better off than if you just wing it.
Expectations? Lose them.
Going into a lesson with a kid under four can be risky, and they can read the frustrating vibes you give off if you’re upset about how it’s going. You need to keep expectations pretty low if you want anyone to have an enjoyable time. And weigh the cost benefit ratio before investing in something like a lesson and rentals for a young shredder. If you don’t want to spend the money on the lesson without major results, opt to start them at 4 or 5, when they’re a bit more mature.
Cold or wet weather can take a tike down fast. Come with proper gear, and plenty of it, to make sure they are well protected from the elements. Or look for the bright spot in the weather when booking. Later season (March/April) is a wonderful time to introduce a kid to sliding on snow, as the days get longer, warmer and sunnier.
Hunger is another fun killer. It’s hard to focus with a growling stomach and learning a new sport takes a lot of energy. Keep easy snacks on hand or slip in a hot chocolate break when you see young kids heading downhill fast. These moments sharing pretzels and cocoa together can be just a memorable as the on-snow activities. Don’t brush them off. Embrace them.
Keep it fun.
Like Allison said – the fun factor matters. Don’t put too much pressure on you or your kid. Stay playful and your kiddo will likely follow suit.
The Right Recipe for Snowboarding Success
So what did we learn? Just like you can’t bake a (good) cake without sugar, you can’t teach a kid to snowboard without fun. I found the best recipe for a successful toddler snowboard lesson is one part awesome instructor, one part patient parent, sick snowboard Riglet gear from Burton, a profound program from Smugglers Notch, and of course, snacks. Lots and lots of snacks.
More info on teaching toddlers (and other kids)
Head to the All Mountain Mamas lessons page for feedback on a variety of resorts, programs and sports.
Visit skivermont.com to learn more about lesson programs at other resorts in Vermont.
Visit smuggs.com to learn more about the Mommy and Me toddler snowboard lessons.
Sarah Wojcik is the founder of All Mountains Mamas. Becoming a mother in 2017, she grasped the opportunity to share her passion of skiing and snowboarding with families across North America. Formerly the Director or Marketing and Communications for Ski Vermont, she writes with great knowledge of the ski industry in Vermont and beyond, and from the point of view of a mother working to get back out on the slopes with a pre-schooler and baby in tow. She currently works for Ski Area Management magazine as an Associate Editor and wearer of many hats.