If you’re a parent, the day your child gets on a snowboard for the first time is no doubt a wonderful day. Maybe you’ve spent your entire life on a shred stick, winter is your passion, and now your best bud is ready to learn to ride. I’ve seen a lot of parents let this excitement get the best of them. When it comes to teaching a grom to snowboard, it’s hard to remember that this day is about them. It’s not about you living your life vicariously through your child. Nor is it about you getting your new life long riding partner. This day is about your little one having fun.
Note: Dave wrote an article about this from the parents perspective that I suggest reading.
Kids Need the Stoke
I don’t know a single parent who shreds that doesn’t want their child to ride. Thing is though, it has to be your kids idea. If they don’t want to ride, don’t force it on them. Foster the desire within them. Get stoked about snowboarding, let them watch it on the television, let them see how fun it is. Children mimic their parents, so if they see you love snowboarding, they will want to go snowboard. Watch snowboard videos with them, talk about snowboarding. Even bring them to the lodge and let them see the hill or resort and all the smiling people there. When you take your kids to go sledding, bring your snowboard(and theirs)! Who doesn’t like setting up a random jib session? Find a picnic table and turn it into a fun box. Just let them see you in your element on a snowboard, having fun.
As an instructor, I can’t tell you how many times parents bring their kids out to learn to snowboard because the parents want them to learn to ride. It rarely goes well. Make sure that learning to ride isn’t something you force on them. If the desire isn’t internal, then you’re wasting your time, so do what you can to foster the love for the sport in them.
Buying grom gear can be a challenge. If you mini grom is still small, then the gear may not exist in their size. Boots and helmets are only so small, so you might have to improvise. One thing I highly recommend are Flow Micron Bindings. A lot of the other bindings out there for little ones do not offer as much response. While you may think at the age of five and under this doesn’t matter, it does. Trying to lift your toes at that age is difficult, especially enough to turn a snowboard. So give your grom as much control over their board as possible.
I know it can be hard to buy new gear for kids, or gear at all since they will outgrow it quickly. However there are a lot of trade groups out there, and ski swap meets. This can be a great way to pick up equipment on the cheap. It can also generally be sold for little less than you bought it for. The other option is to find a shop that has a trade in program. Many local shops will let you trade in a gear for a year or two in order to help you purchase new kit. Do some research and ask around. You can usually find great deals on kids gear.
Whether hiring an instructor for your grom or teaching them yourself, make sure Johnny and Susie get plenty of sleep the night before. No staying up late and eating junk food. Being out in the cold is physically difficult before you throw snowboarding on top of it. I don’t care how hyperactive your grom is, after a snowboard lesson they will most likely be asleep in the car before you make it out of the driveway. If you’re staying at a resort, you’ll probably carry them to the hotel room after hot cocoa.
Schedule the lesson ahead of time to ensure you can get an early morning lesson. No sports practice before hand, no parties, nothing. Plan their time on the hill to be the first thing they do. This helps set them up for the most fun time they can have. If they are tired and worn out, this sport will just destroy most kids. After a few days out, then you can start to adjust the scheduling.
If the weather looks like it will be cold or blowing wind, cancel the appointment. Paying attention to the weather is critical. Not only because the resort would like to know ahead of time about the cancellation, but your grom does too. You don’t want your new shred buddy to go to bed stoked out of their mind to go snowboarding, and waking up to find out they can’t go. You don’t want them to be so miserable from inclement weather that they never want to snowboard again either. Just because you can ride when it’s -15 and 20 mph winds, doesn’t mean your grom wants to, or even can.
It’s going to take a long time to get ready. However long it takes you booted up, double that. If you’re late for a lesson, it just cuts into your lesson time. You also don’t want to be in a rush. Please please please please have them use the bathroom before going outside. Moments before if possible in order to prevent that long walk back in and back out.
When it comes to groms under five, you need to have reasonable expectations. The only reasonable expectation is that they have fun and slide down hill sideways. I’m serious. After a decade of instructing, I can tell you that all that truly matters is fun. I don’t really teach little kids how to snowboard in the traditional sense. I teach them how to put their snowboard on, and maybe how to stand up. Aside from that we just play games. Usually follow the leader, tag, etc. The younger the grom, the more true this is. In a lot of ways, they figure out turning themselves and my job is to be a that cool snowboarder guy and keep them safe. I run down the hill backwards and have them chase me left and right, catch them before they fall, etc. It won’t take long until they start to figure out how to turn through this game of follow the leader.
Nine times out of ten, if you are getting your mini grom a lesson, you need to let them go to the bunny hill with the instructor. It normally isn’t a good idea to walk out with them. You can come out to watch incognito after the lesson is started, but let your instructor take them out to the bunny hill. You will likely serve as a distraction and make it harder on the instructor to teach, and your kid to learn. Towards the end of the lesson you can start to show yourself, take pictures and video, give them a high five, etc.
If you come out and see your grom and their new friend sitting down making snow angels, throwing snowballs, or just laying down, it’s normal. Any time my student is tired, it’s break time. I’m not going to push them because snowboarding should be all about fun. This is all about the whole experience and for kids, that’s playing with the snow in their hands. It’s no different than adults throwing snowballs at each other on the chairlift. Once they are rested, they will get back up and start riding again. Your instructor knows the difference between being tired and feigning. The same goes for cold. If teaching them yourself, remember that kids won’t tell you they are cold. You have to ask, read body language, and sometimes make the executive decision to go in. This is also about their safety, so don’t push them to keep going when they are cold.
So your new grom has hopefully made their first turns on snow. They had a great time and are all smiles. Listen to everything they say and talk with them about it. Remember how stoked you were when you first started riding? That very first day when you couldn’t shut up about how fun snowboarding is? Go in for hot cocoa, get them out of their gear, and have fun talking about the day. Try not to over do it with the riding. Your little one will probably want to go back out, but it’s best to not let them get completely worn out. Instead, take them somewhere else to do something they enjoy. Most importantly as a parent, take this moment in. It only happens once, that first day on snow. Soak it up and have fun.
Don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for pictures with your little one, and for them to take pictures of you and your grom. As an instructor, we work as customer service agents and we love seeing people smile.
It’s okay to teach mini groms to snowboard as their parent. However it’s also a good idea to get a lesson as well to mix things up. An instructor knows what they are looking for when teaching and how to get certain results. Plus, the dynamic is different between grom and instructor vs grom and parent. When you do get an instructor, you also get the chance to watch your grom grow up a little bit rather than being the key player all the time. Sit back, relax, and let the instructor do what they love while you watch your grom turn into your new best snowboarding friend.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me through email or Facebook as well as the comment sections below. If you want to come me for a lesson, I’ll be teaching skiing and snowboarding at Aspen Snowmass for the 16/17 season as well.