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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Nancy Prichard Bouchard Ph.D.
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Last updated: 02/18/2014
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