Kids and snowboarding

Kids love snowboarding, whether it's fun with friends in the terrain park or floating down powder-covered slopes. Children can learn to snowboard at a young age (lessons generally begin at age 7, but motivated youth can start even younger).

This article will help you to maximize their odds for success.

Rule # 1: Keep Them Warm

Snowboarders have a bit different apparel requirements than skiers. Young riders can spend a fair amount of time sitting or kneeling in the snow, with hands making frequent contact with the wet stuff. The bottom line, however, is the same: to keep kids warm and dry.

Never underestimate the weather. A bluebird day can turn into full-on winter conditions in the time it takes to ride the chairlift. The beauty of snowboarding is that you're always close to a lodge—but with a beginning rider, getting down the mountain can take time.

A proper snowboard outfit consists of the following:

Burton jacket

Jacket: A snowboard jacket is roomier than a traditional ski jacket—both for style and function. Articulated arms (with extra room in the sleeves) allow riders a full range of motion. Longer, hip-length jackets help keep little backs and bottoms warm in the snow and on the chairlift, and keep snow from seeping in at the waist.

Pants: These should have extra waterproofing (and padding) on the bottom and knees since part of the fun is sitting in the snow while you put on bindings, waiting for a jump to clear or watching your friends do tricks. Snowboarding pants are designed to fit more loosely than ski pants. Key features are articulated knees, boot gaiters (to prevent snow from seeping in at the ankle) and insulation.

Long underwear: Either synthetic or merino wool base layers (make sure there is no cotton content) both do the trick. If you are going to buy only 1 set (top and bottom), go with a midweight model. This next-to-skin layer shouldn't be too tight or restrictive—kids will end up wearing their "long johns" as a stand-alone layer before and after they ski.

Insulating layer: On colder days, kids can wear a lightweight fleece or wool top and pants over their long underwear. Again, avoid cotton. Alternatively, one trick is to have your child wear 2 sets of long underwear (one a size larger than the other) under his or her insulated jacket. In warm weather, you have a spare—and a set to grow into.

Turtle Fur neck gaiter

Neck gaiter: Often overlooked, this handy item (right) protects the neck, ears and lower face from wind and sunburn. Merino wool or polyester fleece are best for soft, no-itch warmth and minimal odor after long-term wear.

Tip: Wash neck gaiters frequently and let them air dry.

Socks: Stay away from cotton socks and anklets. Snowboarding socks should extend to just above the calf and be made of a blend of wool and synthetic fibers. Kids should have 2 pairs of snowboard socks but wear only 1 pair at a time. Rotate the pairs to prevent blisters; keep the extra one in your pack in case of wet feet.

Goggles: Medium-tint styles are best for all-condition wear. Children's goggles generally start around $25 and last for 2 to 3 seasons if kept in a soft sack when not in use. Alternatively, buy goggles and a helmet as a package—many are designed to work together so there's no "gaper gap" on the forehead.

Mittens: Snowboarders have lots of hand-to-snow contact, so get well-insulated, waterproof/breathable mittens or gloves (mittens are warmer). Frequent manipulation of the bindings (you remove your back foot to skate across flat snow and to get on and off the chair) makes manual dexterity an issue. Some mittens solve this with a "lobster claw" design that encapsulates the 3 smallest fingers while having separate sleeves for the thumb and index finger. Some gloves and mittens have built-in wrist protectors to guard little wrists from getting torqued during a hard fall. Also helpful are internal hand warmer pouches.

Tip: Young riders often get snow down their sleeves. Consider gloves or mittens with long wrist cuffs that can extend either over or under their jacket sleeves by several inches.

Handwarmer packet

Warmers: These air-activated heat pouches can be a kid's best friend on the slope. Many styles of gloves have "warmer pockets," so you just shake the warmers and insert them into the pouches for all-day warmth. Foot warmers work well in most youth snowboard boots.

Tip: Place the foot warmer inside the top of the boot, above the child's toes, so it provides warmth but doesn't bunch underfoot.

To ensure you don't leave anything at home, make a checklist to keep in the top pouch of your gear pack.

Shop REI's selection of kids' snowboard clothing.

Snowboard Gear: Rent or Buy?

While it's usually more convenient to own gear, renting and season-long leasing are both smart options for kids.

If you are just getting started (or plan to snowboard only a few times a season), consider renting. Ask your local ski area or rental shop about a season-long lease for board, boots and helmet (generally such packages can be found for under $150). The best programs allow you to trade up in size if your child outgrows any of the gear. Another advantage of leasing or renting is that you usually get state-of-the-art gear that is tuned, waxed and ready to go.

With beginners, it is best to err on the side of slightly smaller boards. If you lease, you can exchange equipment as the child grows or as they gain the skills necessary for higher performance gear.

Snowboard Gear Shopping Tips

If buying gear makes sense for you, then consider this when shopping:

Helmet: Kids should wear a helmet when snowboarding. The nature of the sport is that riders fall. Even if they're not catching big air in the terrain park, chances are they'll catch an edge and smack into the snow on a semi-regular basis while learning. Make sure the helmet fits well. Many youth helmets are designed with an inner "harness" that can be expanded or contracted for a custom fit. A helmet should also have a strap or attachment in the back to secure goggles.

Shop REI's selection of kids' snowboard helmets.

Snowboard for kids

Board: Smaller children should start with a soft, all-mountain board that reaches chest height, tail to tip. This shorter board is more easily maneuverable, while a longer board floats more easily in powder. As they progress, consider models designed especially for terrain parks (ramps, rails, jumps) and halfpipes. More advanced boards have reverse camber construction, allowing them to "pop" more on jumps and snow features. Kid-specific boards usually range from 90cm to 146cm in length.

Shop REI's selection of kids' snowboards.

Boots: Beginners need warm, well-fitting boots. Make sure the laces and buckles are snug. Soft boots allow the child to flex and move on the board. The movement needed to turn is from heel to toe side—excess space inhibits turning ability; too little space results in pinched toes and heel blisters. Quality children's boots typically have a rip-and-stick strap that can be tightened or loosened to accommodate a growing foot.

Shop REI's selection of kids' snowboard boots.

Bindings: Kids' snowboard bindings are adjustable to accommodate several shoe sizes. Buy quality bindings, since a child can get several years out of 1 pair. If your child owns boots, bring them along when you rent, lease or buy a board-and-binding setup. It is critical that the bindings fit the boots and that your child can easily release and attach the bindings while wearing gloves.

Shop REI's selection of kids' snowboard bindings.

Wrist guards: Wrist sprains are a common snowboarding injury. Snowboarding gloves are available with internal wrist guards, or you can buy wrist protectors separately. Kids should learn to ball their hands in fists and punch the ground when they fall, but guards do lend support against a sprain.

Tips for Starting Out

Snowboard lesson

  • Take a lesson: Lessons are the fastest way to learn skills and safety. There are a lot of "tricks" with snowboarding, from strapping on bindings to being aware of other skiers and riders on the mountain. Plus, kids often respond better to an instructor than a parent. If the whole family is learning, put everyone in age-appropriate lessons, then consider an hour-long private lesson at the end of the day to work together on skills. Most resorts offer beginner package deals that include multiple lift tickets, lessons and gear rentals. (Photo above courtesy of Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort.)
  • Keep it fun: Pack snacks, take breaks and play games like follow the leader. Think of rewards (like treats or cookies) for good turns or an extra run.
  • Not too steep: Make sure children are taught on appropriate terrain. Always err on the side of easy terrain where they will build confidence and technique.
  • Put your best foot forward: The first decision in snowboarding is which foot should be forward. A snowboard stance is either "regular" (which is left foot forward) or "goofy" (right foot forward). To decide, have your child run and slide on the snow and watch his or her foot position. Or have your young snowboarder stand with both feet together (on a step or sidewalk). Tell them to start walking and note which foot they step with first. Don't tell them the names of the stances until you determine their lead foot.
  • Positioning the plates: Snowboard shop employees should be able to help with stance and binding position. If doing this yourself, know that beginners should have bindings set in a stance that is slightly wider than the shoulders. Most riders start with their bindings centered on the board or slightly setback toward the tail. The front foot is slightly angled toward the tip and the back foot should be straight or barely pointed toward the tail.
  • Homework helps: Have your child practice putting on and taking off the board (especially using the back binding, as it has to be released to ride the chairlift and to skate across flat sections of the resort.) This is easiest done sitting down. Place the board on top of a big, fluffy pillow and help your child identify the tip and tail of the board, the toe and heel edge, and the lead and rear foot. This will help him or her to understand on-snow directions from an instructor.
  • Stay safe: It's normal for riders to sit down when they aren't riding, but sitting in the middle of a slope exposes them to the very real danger of being hit by an uphill rider or skier. The safest place to sit is on the side of the run, taking care to be on the uphill side of a knoll or rise. Also, riders should never sit at the base (landing) of a jump.
  • Ride with a partner and beware of tree wells: Kids love to pop in and out of trees, but tree wells (the loose-snow area next to a tree) must be avoided. Emphasize the buddy system of riding, especially on powder days.
  • Skate on: Proper technique is to have the back foot push from behind the board. Do 2 pushes, then put your back foot right in front of the back bindings. It seems more natural to push from the front, but it's awkward and inefficient. Attach a stomp pad to the board to make skating and proper foot position easier.
  • Basics: Loose bindings and boot laces are the common problems. Double-check boot laces and straps before they head off to the chair lift. Double-check the binding too (strap the binding on the front foot first, ankle, then the toe).
  • Make a fist, save a wrist. Kids should practice falling (always to the uphill side of the slope, if possible). If a downhill fall is inevitable, the best technique is to roll with the fall. If they can't catch themselves with their forearm, making a fist and "punching" the snow with a straight wrist (not the hand) helps to prevent injury.
  • Soft snow means soft landings. Learn on a day when the snow is soft, not icy (although too much powder can make it difficult for a child to maneuver). Learning to ride inevitably involves sitting down hard in the snow. On a day with fresh powder, chances are your child won't end up with a bruised tailbone.
  • Stay alert: Teach kids to always look uphill before they launch themselves down a slope and to remember that skiers and riders lower on the slope always have the right-of-way.

Snowboarding group

Kids' Snowboarding FAQs

Q: At what age can my child learn to ride?

A: Snowboarding requires a bit more physical development, balance and stamina than skiing. The golden age is when they are physically and developmentally ready, usually about 7 (with skiing, the average starting age is 4 to 6). For younger kids, it comes down to motivation. If they want to learn and they are highly motivated, you can start them earlier. Remember that every child is different—the bottom line is to have fun.

Q: Which is easier to learn, skiing or snowboarding?

A: Skiing is easier for most to pick up, but it takes longer to become an expert because more technique is involved. With snowboarding, once a child gets the hang of making a left and right turn, they quickly become competent. It is easier to become an intermediate snowboarder, as there are fewer steps to master.

Q: My child wants to go home after a couple of runs. What can I do to encourage him to persevere?

A: Friends can be a big motivator. Make connections with other snowboarding families through school, lessons, social networks, etc. Kids often make friends during lessons. After the lesson, arrange to stay and do some riding with those friends. When a child rides with friends, cousins or siblings, they are more likely to do more runs than if they are only with their parents. (That doesn't mean you can't tag along and enjoy the fun.)

Q: Ride lingo is confusing. What is the difference between "switch" and "duck"?

A: Switch simply means riding backwards. Duck is a riding stance where the front foot points toward the tip and the back foot points toward the tail. Beginners should have their front foot angled toward the tip and the back foot straight or slightly angled toward the tail. An exaggerated duck stance makes riding switch (also called "fakie") and landing jumps easier, but it limits turning ability.

Q: I want my child to love riding. How can I speed up the learning curve so we can shred together off-piste?

A: Start with low expectations. Beginners should start on the beginner slope. Expect that on many days, young children will only want to do a few runs. Chances are, the favorite part of the day for a 6-year-old will be drinking hot chocolate or tailgaiting after snowboarding is finished. Eventually, the magic words will come out: "Can we do a few more runs?"

Q: What can I do with the snowboard gear my child outgrows?

A: Most REI stores offer the Junior Snowsports Trade-In Program to help you save money on new gear. This program allows REI members to trade in old kids' snowboard gear (board, boots and bindings) for 20% savings toward new kids' or junior snowsports gear. Used gear should be no more than 2 years old. The discount does not apply to sale or clearance gear nor snowboard packages.

Q: How do I not embarrass my kids when they're hanging out with their cool snowboard friends?

A: Always refer to snowboarding as riding. People who say boarding usually can't snowboard very well.

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