One of our readers asks:
Any chance you could write an article about getting a barely walking grom strapped in? What to look for in gear, approach for lessons/coaching, etc.
I followed up and find that his kid will be 22-24 months this winter, which is pretty young but not impossible. Having been through this once already with my daughter, I’ve got some insight I can share about what you need and how to get your groms started standing sideways. This is a long-term investment in your shred future: the sooner you get them on board, the sooner you’ll be taking family snow vacations, and you’ll always have a riding partner.
What Gear Do You Need?
Here’s what you need. Buy this stuff used if you can. Craigslist, and local garage sale groups on Facebook will be a good resource. While youth gear is cheaper than adult gear, it’s still a good chunk of change and they won’t use it that much before they outgrow it. Also, given how little time they’ll actually spend on the slopes, renting seems a waste of money.
- A potty-trained toddler. I know this might be pushing it at 2 years old but at the very least, make sure they “go” before you hit the slopes. Like, immediately before. You don’t want any surprises, bathrooms aren’t always nearby, and it takes forever to get the kid in/out of boots, snowpants, etc.
- A snowboard, obviously. 80-90 cm would be ideal. I’ve seen 70cm (never in person) and you could always cut down a longer board, but I’d just go with the 80cm. You may want to test out with a plastic Big Box board, before investing in a real snowboard.
- Once you commit to a “real” snowboard, you’ll need grom-sized bindings. Most brands make these for around $100 but try to buy them used or off-season to save money. Adam recommends Flow bindings for young children, as more responsive than Burton counterparts.
- Boots. Snowboard boots aren’t necessary. Although Burton makes boots as small as 7C, it’s often hard to find anything smaller than 11C or 12C which is still far too big for a 2-year old, unless that 2-year old is Paul Bunyan. Plus, they’ll cost you $70-80 when you don’t really need them. Any structured, reasonably water-resistant winter boot will be OK.
- Helmet. I’m not going to say you need to get your grom a helmet, but the earlier you get them used to it, the better. Realistically if you’re towing them around the yard or sledding hill, a helmet probably isn’t necessary, but if you’re at the resort you should have one.
- Outerwear: coverall snowpants, a jacket, mittens.
What About Lessons?
At this age, mom & dad you may be on your own. While lessons are becoming more accessible for the young groms, don’t expect resorts to cater to kids under 3, and many resorts may not offer lessons (at least snowboard lessons) to children that age. If you have any instructor friends who work with younger children, you may want to enlist their help for a session or two.
If you’re doing the teaching on your own, here’s a few pointers. We’ll have a more in-depth article on instructional techniques, so stay tuned for that.
- At this age, spending time on the board is progression. They won’t be learning “skills” so much as developing balance and core strength, and learning to associate snowboarding with having a good time with mom and dad. I can’t stress this enough: the single most important thing is to have fun.
- Kids, especially young kids, are not going to have any idea what you mean when you ask them to “pressure their toe edge” or whatever, and almost any amount of physiological instruction is going to fly right over their heads, so you basically need to trick them in to everything.
- With children not big enough to skate, it’s best just to leave them in their board, push them up the incline, and have them chase you down hill.
- Make it a game; something like tag or follow the leader (anything they will understand). This is something they already associate with “fun”.
Where To Start
Your backyard, or a local sledding hill is probably the best place to start. You can do this on your own time, and it’s free. The sledding hill is great, because you can also bring the sled as a backup. Sometimes they won’t feel like snowboarding, or they would rather just sled instead, so let them. You don’t want to force the snowboard on them. Otherwise, you need a bunny slope with a surface lift and hopefully a place that has free lift tickets for kids under 5.
Keep Your Expectations Reasonable
You’re the adult here, so let’s keep some things in perspective.
- Set the bar low. Like really low! Realistically, you’re probably looking at an hour of slope time, max. Your 2 year old may be very active at home, but slogging around in snow boots, in the snow, is hard work, and they will get tuckered out very quickly. They won’t be linking turns any time soon, and will probably struggle even to stay upright without the wobbles for any distance.
- You’ll be whipped, too! Most of your day is going to be spent packing/unpacking gear, dressing/undressing the kid, and transporting him or her around the slope. Even with the assistance of a Magic Carpet surface lift, you’ll be doing a lot of carrying kid + gear, and then chasing them/holding them on the way down.
- Let them call the shots. When they’re tired, or hungry or just need a break, let ’em. When they want to make snow angels or mess around, let ’em. Sometimes this means they will barely go snowboarding at all, deal with it, dad. There’s always next time.
- HAVE FUN. I’m gonna hammer you on this because it’s really the only goal you should have. Fall down when they fall down, throw snowballs, make snow angels, drink hot chocolate by the fireplace afterwards, don’t push them too hard. Be supportive but not overbearing. If, at the end of the day your kid is smiling (before passing out in the back seat on the way home), you win: if your kid has fun riding with you, they’re going to want to do it again, and again.
This is a long-term investment, and especially at a very young age progression will be slow, as in the payoff will still be several years ahead of you. For now, you’re basically trying to foster a sense of fun and excitement when you take your little groms to the hill. But if you keep at it and don’t push them too hard, by the time they’re 5 or 6 years old they’ll probably be keeping up with you on the groomers!