Verbier local, Graeme Gibson takes us through some essential tips for getting your kids into snowboarding
I’ve been teaching snowboarding for over 10 years in the swiss resort of Verbier. Teaching kids can often be the most rewarding part of my job. Its great to see kids getting onto a snowboard for the first time and their enthusiasm is infectious!
How old do kids have to be to start snowboarding?
I’ve been teaching snowboarding for over 10 years now, and when I started out I can't remember teaching any kids under 6yrs old in my first few seasons. In recent years I’ve started noticing more and more tiny little kids snowboards and the youngest I taught this season was just 3! This is largely thanks to the snowboard manufacturers who realised the sooner they can steer kids towards snowboarding and away from skiing the better! In Fact you can now get your kids snowboarding when they are still toddlers. It's recommended not to start kids skiing below the age of 3 as hard shell ski boots are not good for their still forming bones, you don't have this problem with snowboarding as the tiny beginner boards can be used with normal soft snow-boots.
Renting Snowboard equipment for kids
Finding the right size snowboard for smaller kids can still be a bit of an issue in some resorts. To avoid disappointment, check ahead with the rental shop that they have the right size snowboard board and boots. Typically a snowboard could come up to your chin.
Keep them warm and dry
Learning to snowboard tends to involve much more contact with the snow than skiing (aka falling over). In particular, kids will have their hands in the snow much more than when on skis, so it's worth investing a decent set of gloves or mitts. Make sure at the end of the day they are hung up and make sure they get dried overnight. The next part of the body that's likely to spend a lot of time in the snow is the bottom. As many a skier has noted, snowboarders tend to spend a lot of time sitting in the snow. This is because it's hard to keep your balance when stationary...especially for beginners. A decent thermal layer next to the skin will keep the core warm even with a bit of snow down the pants. Over the top of a good base layer any decent ski outfit will keep your kids warm and dry.
...but not too hot
Often when teaching beginners, the problem can be overheating rather than getting too cold. Like many resorts, Verbier’s beginner area is at the bottom of the mountain and is somewhat protected from the elements. Try and find out in advance where the lesson will be taking place and dress accordingly, it's not a problem being too warm as long as you can shed some layers, so several thin layers is better than a thick, insulated jacket. Also sticking a bottle of water in your kids pocket will keep them hydrated and going a bit longer.
Snowboarders will always fall over more than skiing. Being fixed into one plank rather than two means any loss of balance will result in a fall. Don't let this put you off however, in over 10 years of teaching I’ve only had to call the ski patrol once. Here are a few bits of kit which I recommend to keep your little ones safe
Most important is protecting your child's head with a well fitting good quality helmet. These days, every kid learning to either ski or snowboard wears a helmet. If you’re buying a helmet for your child go for a reputable brand which meets the minimum safety standards. I’d recommend choosing a helmet with a dial lacing system which tightens the helmet at the back and makes sure its a snug fit.
Alternatively you can rent. All good ski shops will be able to rent you a helmet to fit from 3 years old and above.
Goggles or sunglasses
If you’re going to buy just one I’d go for goggles, but try and get one with a decent lens which will protect against the sun. Sunglasses can be great on warmer days but are no use when it snows. For younger kids goggles are easier because they fix to the hemet and once they’re on they’re on!
Wrist guards for beginners
Anyone who has tried snowboarding will know why these are a good idea! Catching an edge when learning either flips you forward onto your wrists or backwards onto your bum. Whilst its rare that this is anything serious, especially amongst kids who are more used to falling over, a sprained wrist can ruin your day. I’d recommend wrist guards for beginners of any age especially if the snow is a bit on the firm side. Make sure you try them on with the gloves or mitts to be sure they fit underneath
Similarly a fall on your bum can be pretty painful and dent your enthusiasm! This tends to be more of a problem with adults as the bigger you come the harder you fall, but definitely worth considering for bigger kids and teenagers. They are pretty comfy to wear and lots of experienced snowboarders still ride with them just in case…
Choose the right runs and keep it fun!
Kids normally don't care about whether they are on a black run or not. For younger kids in particular keep them on the easy runs where they play around and develop their skills. Taking them up on the steeper slopes too soon can sometimes freak them out or force them to rely on basic sideslipping just to get down. If you want to make the most of your time in the mountains then get them some lessons so that you can be free to ski/snowboard at your own level