I ski. My husband skis. So our two children learned to ski too. Every now and again they uttered the ‘s’ word – snowboarding – but we managed to keep them skiing until they were very accomplished, black-run skiers before letting them switch to boarding.
This philosophy is backed up by Gina Woodward at Hotham, who says that kids should learn to ski first to grasp the skills and safety of the sport, then switch over if they want to. For kids who are bored quickly, skiing is better because they are able to move straightaway, whereas snowboarding can be frustrating.
"The main reason why they shouldn’t learn to snowboard first is that, in a lot of kids, the muscle development in their core is not strong enough at a young age to have a good stance and to get themselves up off the ground," says Gina. And I believe it, because both my children had bruised backsides and sore stomach muscles at first.
Natasha Murray at Thredbo agrees, saying that many young children under seven do not have the strength to turn a board around unassisted.
While my youngest was 12 before he learned, most people don’t wait until then. In fact at Whistler in Canada kids can learn to board from three years of age. In Australia, group board lessons start from age five at Perisher, six at Falls Creek and Mt Buller, and seven at Thredbo, but you can do private lessons at a younger age at some resorts. Natasha Murray says, "While we offer group lessons once children are seven, we do offer private lessons to younger children because they need the hands-on assistance that one-on-one lessons provide."
At Buller, some snowboard instructors will do private lessons with kids three and over, but generally, they find that being on two feet (skis) suits the beginner tots better.
And at Perisher, Rebecca Rae says that kids should learn to ski first and start snowboarding at around seven. However, it’s important that no matter what the age, you want to make sure the introduction to snowboarding is a fun and memorable experience for your kids.
Starting to slide
The main thing to learn on the board is getting your balance – my kids both surf and skateboard and say it is a similar stance. Then you learn to sideslip on one or both edges and then work on control and going in the right direction.
So how long does this take to learn? Well, not that long in my experience. We finally, after much nagging from Alex, booked him into a private snowboarding lesson at Cardrona last year. We watched him struggling up the magic carpet and down the beginners’ slope. He would slide a bit then fall on his bum, then slide a bit more and eat some snow face-first.
But before too long, he picked it up and the instructor took him on the chairlift. This is the hard part: the boarders have to get off the chair with only one leg attached to the board and slide it along the ground to get out of the way. He mastered that and managed some green runs and a few blues in the afternoon. He has boarded for another few days since, and is very competent on the slopes and in terrain parks.
As for Josh, he decided to give boarding a go when we were at Sun Peaks in Canada, and we all had a good belly laugh watching him fall over again and again on the learner slope, alongside the six year olds. It was a bit of a comedown, after zooming down black runs on skis with Olympic gold medallist Nancy Greene the day before. He took some lessons and by the second day was comfortably doing groomed blue runs.
Josh commented that, "Whereas skiing is all about being smooth and fast, snowboarding is all tricks and style. What I liked about it is the feeling of riding a constant wave, like being in a frozen skate park."
But he reports that it’s not all rosy. "The one hard thing about snowboarding is getting used to the edges, which seem to always catch the snow and result in a nasty fall. It is also a bit of a pain having to stop and undo and do up the bindings all the time," he said.
And as for Alex, he found out the hard way that when you’re boarding it is much harder to traverse – move along flat trails – which can be frustrating. Many times we had to pull him along on the cat tracks and linking trails and that is hard work!
Ski or board? Or both?
While Alex has now converted to snowboarding, Josh has decided to stick with both, as "both are awesome in their own ways".
And it seems that many kids are doing just that. At Thredbo, Susie Diver reports that there is a trend for kids at the snow for a week’s holiday with the family, to do ‘half and half’; half skiing and half boarding, and that it’s easy to arrange to switch rental gear mid-stay to cater for that trend.
The number of snowboarders switching from skiing has plateaued after the initial boom, due to the technological improvements in ski design. Twin-tip skis allow skiers to do tricks and jumps, and that spawned the freestyle skiing movement that is now a fixture for leisure skiers and competitors.