The Young and the Restless Snowboarders

I've often been asked by parents how old a child should be before they start to learn how to snowboard. I usually tell them the guideline set out by the ski school, and the Canadian Alliance of Snowboard Instructors, is to discourage kids from taking up snowboarding before the ages of six or seven. As a professional instructor, I've always accepted this guideline. However, as an expecting dad, I'm anxious to be able to share snowboarding with my offspring and have found myself questioning whether this is really a guideline, or simply a rule of thumb.

It's no understatement that parenthood can change your outlook on life. I'm finding that what seemed rational and prudent before, now seems like an onerous limitation on a child's ability to learn about the world (apparently I'm setting up to be one of those parents in favor of less rather than more sheltering for his child, it remains to be seen if that attitude persists after the baby is born).

Bebe PerronWe decided that our unborn child should have a season pass. Mont Cascades must really be desperate for instructors, they gave baby a staff pass.

This opinion is shared by both mom and dad; Elodie, my girlfriend and mommy-to-be, agrees. Since we are both avid snowboarders — and certified instructors to boot — we are hopeful that parenthood does not preclude snowboarding, but that it is an activity that can be done as a family. To that end, we want to get our child involved in snowboarding as soon as possible so that we can share the awesomeness early on. In fact, thanks to the magic of ultrasonography, our unborn baby already has its first season pass. However, in spite of this excitement part of me is anxious that he or she might be unable, or unwilling, to do it.

One of the main reasons often cited for the age restriction when learning to snowboard arises from physical limitations. A child's physical development may not have advanced to where the fine motor control required for proper pressure control and edging — which are essential skills for snowboarding safely — is sufficiently evolved. The live strong blog (yes the one inspired by Lance Amrstrong's struggles) describes the obstacles of learning snowboarding at a young age quite well:

Balance can be challenging for children because a child's head represents a greater proportion of weight to [its] overall body weight. Effects caused by this disproportion in development are tipping, or falling over, and leaning back. Because snowboard boots are softer than ski boots, a child can not rely on the same calf support offered by hard-shell boots. Depending on your child's development and balance, it is recommended children learn to snowboard after the age of 6. However, with private one-on-one instruction kids can learn to snowboard at an earlier age.1

In the early stages of snowboard education falling, failure and cursing can be frequent. I have seen many would be snowboarders get frustrated and give up on snowboarding after one hour because they lack the balance to make it down the tiniest of hills in an upright position. If a fully (or mostly) realized adult can get discouraged in this way, then it is quite possible that a child, in the formative years of their psychological development, could develop and aversion to snowboarding if they suffer a sufficiently bad experience. Fortunately, many kids are good at forgetting these early bad experiences, however, it's not a natural law that should be counted on. Unless you actually want your child to dislike snowboarding, pushing them to learn when they aren't ready can have a negative effect.

I definitely don't want my child to dislike snowboarding which would make family snowboard trips more of a pain than the joy they should be. However, I'm confident in mom and dad's ability to recognize when he or she will be physically capable to start, as well as our ability to teach in such a way as to make it fun. Besides, until the child is old enough to snowboard, there are plenty of activities that we can do to get him/her interested in winter sports in general. We may even consider starting the young whipper snapper out on skis. Although neither Elodie or I are very comfortable with that idea — a grizzled old man once told me that snowboards were the devils tools; if this is true, having seen the guest lists, I think Hell will have a much better party — if this is what it takes for our child to share in the magic of winter with us, then so be it. Either way, it seems likely that family shred trips are on the radar. In fact, I'm planning to take the whole family to Thompson Pass next spring for Tailgate Alaska; the adventure just got a lot more interesting.

Winter Matters Bubble

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