Get kids started with winter sports: Snowboarding

We’re one year out from the 2018 Winter Olympics! Skiing, snowboarding, skating–winter sports are all about having fun in the cold, schussing down snowy hills or defying gravity with leaps through icy air.

Even if you’re not “going for the gold,” staying active in cold weather is a great way to battle cabin fever.

We have expert advice on how to get kids started with winter sports. This week — snowboarding!

charissa-2Charissa Klinedinst is a Central Pennsylvania native and a snowboard instructor at Roundtop Mountain Resort in Lewisberry. At age 2, Charissa’s ski-instructor mother put her on skis in the backyard; at 11, Charissa rebelled and started snowboarding. Twenty years later, Charissa is “sharing the stoke” with her three daughters and anyone else brave enough to strap on a board.

A decade ago, she began teaching snowboarding where she started riding, at Liberty Mountain Resort. Now, living closer to Harrisburg, she instructs at Roundtop Mountain Resort. Charissa is a Certified Member of American Association of Snowboard Instructors. The mother of three girls, Charissa is also a yoga instructor, and says she loves being in the mountains. She would prefer a snow day every day. 

Central Penn Parent: In general, at what age can children begin learning to snowboard?

Charissa Klinedinst: Children can participate in snowboarding from toddler up. While skiing is typically the chosen snow sport for toddlers because of earlier independence, snowboarding can be explored from this early age with use of Riglet boards; these are 90 cm snowboards specifically designed for very small children. Riglet boards often come with a leash attached to the board. These types of boards are used in small children’s terrain parks or with a parent walking along with the child near the bottom of the slope and across flats.

Older children are typically successful and start becoming independent on a snowboard sometime between 6-8 years old when they start developing more muscle strength and coordination. Most resorts require a private lesson for children younger than 6. I highly recommend a lesson or beginner camp to start learning the sport. A professional instructor is trained to coach your child through the learning process and will create a fun, safe learning environment.

CPP: How can I tell if a younger child is ready?

CK: Kids who are active and enjoy being outside in the snow are the best fit for snowboarding. If your child expresses interest in trying snowboarding, your best bet is to put them into a small group children’s lesson. If your child hasn’t developed the needed muscle coordination, a better option may be to send them out one-on-one with an instructor who can help them in a more hands-on capacity. Younger children often remain in the beginner area riding a “magic carpet” conveyer belt a short distance up the hill rather than tackle the chair lift the first lesson.

CPP: What equipment do they need to start?

CK: Warm winter gear can make or break anyone’s snow experience. At our mid-Atlantic resorts, our winters range from freezing, blowing snow to warm, wet and slushy conditions.

  • An underlayer that wicks away sweat, a thermal layer to hold in warmth, and a waterproof outer layer will dress your child for success. I’ve seen kids and adults come to lessons in sweat pants, jeans and knit gloves. These students are often cold and wet by the end of the lesson and even on a moderately chilly day that can make anyone miserable.
  • Water resistant gloves are a must. Beginner snowboarders spend a lot of time with their hands, knees, and bums in the snow. Keeps those body parts warm and dry.
  • Steer away from traditional scarves and opt for a neck and face gator to protect those rosy cheeks from frostbite. Goggles or sunglasses will help protect the eyes from the sun and wind.
  • Extra protective gear like knee pads, padded shorts and wrist guards can keep bumps and bruises at a minimum, but aren’t required.
  • Wearing a helmet is a must. It’ll keep their heads, warm, dry and protected. At most resorts, helmets are included with rental gear.

You can also rent boards and boots so no need to purchase snowboarding equipment for your little beginners. Once you determine your child’s level of interest in snowboarding, I suggest checking out ski swaps and classifieds to find lightly-used equipment. After a few trips to the mountain, you may find it’s quicker, easier and less costly to have your own gear. Brand new equipment is nice but can get expensive as boards and boots may only last one or two seasons as your children grows.

It’s worth mentioning that snowboard boots are way more comfortable than ski boots; imagine them as oversized, stiff snow boots. Check out your local ski and board shops for the best in-person advice on equipment and outerwear. The folks that work at those shops are passionate about winter sports and have years of knowledge and experience on the same slopes you’ll be taking your kids.

CPP: What are some of the first skills an instructor will teach a beginner ?

CK: Your child’s beginner lessons will start with learning about their snowboard and how to strap onto the board. Stance, skating, gliding and basic turns will be taught at the bottom of the hill with one foot unstrapped. The instructor will then take the group to the lift where your kids will learn how to safely and successfully ride the chair lift. At the top of the bunny hill, they progressive learn skills like sliding down the hill, traversing across the hill, pointing the board down the hill and back across, and eventually how to turn. All skills taught in the beginner lesson are focused on helping your child feel comfortable on the board, how to turn, and how to stop. Safety, fun, and learning are our priorities.

CPP: How quickly will my child progress in learning skills ? charissa-1

CK: Progression in snowboarding happens with every lesson and visit. Like any other skill, repetition stimulates muscle memory so each subsequent trip to the mountain becomes a little easier. Children that have experience in skiing, skating, surfing and other balance sports and activities such as gymnastics sometimes have an easier time when first starting. But with time on the snow, everyone can find balance and comfort on the mountain.

By the end of most first lessons, your child will have had at least one complete lift ride and run down the slope. They may or may not have become comfortable with turning. Over the next few lessons, expect more focus on turning, controlling speed and stance. Once your child is comfortable and confident turning in both directions on the bunny slope, your instructor will take them to more challenging trails and the excitement just explodes from there.

The local Central PA resorts offer affordable beginner packages for kids and adults that include lift, lesson, and rentals. If your child is in 4th or 5th grade, they’re eligible for a free learn to ride program with a paying adult. Check out those details at . Check out your resort’s Ski and Snowboard Learning Center for a better idea of what lessons they offer. Group lessons, family lessons, private lessons, half-day camps, full-day camps, and month long weekend camps are just a taste of what’s available.

CPP: My child isn’t super competitive or “athletic,” or my teenage child wants to try snowboarding for the first time. What options are available to them?

CK: Once upon a time, there was an uncoordinated, non-competitive, hardly-athletic, gawky preteen: me. At age 11, I started snowboarding. I wasn’t graceful to start. But after a while, the skills clicked. Twenty years later, I’ve only missed the two winter’s I was pregnant. As a middle and high school girl who didn’t participate in team sports, snowboarding gave me a deep confidence and sense of self.

If your child shows any interest in snowboarding, I highly recommend getting your child or teen on snow not once, but three times. It’s been my experience that it can take up to the third lesson and trip to the mountain for the skills to really start to click. Once they do, you’ll have a kid who loves being outside in the winter. Their self-confidence will get a big boost too. Just like the children’s lessons, a teenager taking a group lesson will go through the same progression of learning. Have your child try the sport with a friend or sibling close in age. They’ll stay safer on the hill with a buddy and have more fun sharing the experience.

CPP: What should I look for in a snowboard instructor?

CK: A great coach or instructor will have experience teaching and be enthusiastic about taking your child out for the lesson. As instructors, we dedicate a massive amount of time to learning how to impart our skills. Snowboard instructors have two professional associations: American Association of Snowboard Instructors and United States Snowboard Association. Both these organizations offer training and certification. Look for an instructor who holds certifications through these organizations. Don’t be afraid to request an instructor by name as well. You can check out to look up instructors by resort.

My bottom line is: get outside in the winter. Embrace the cold. Learn to snowboard. Share the stoke!

Group of smiling snowboarders

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