Photo provided by Snowbasin

At what age should parents consider putting kids on the ski/snowboard slopes?

There is no firm answer. A lot of factors come into play, with opportunity being one. Parents who ski or snowboard are more likely to start their children at a younger age. It also depends on the child and the weather. February and March tend to be warmer and more comfortable for young students. So, should it be at age 3, when they are learning to kick a ball? Maybe 6, when children start learning right from left and how to tie their shoes? Or even 15, when some start working and can earn money for their own ski and snowboard passes?

Age 3, consensus seems to be, is a good start for kids and skiing—that’s the starting age for many ski schools. For snowboarding, kids younger than 5 often have trouble getting the mechanics of standing sideways on a board, and the recommend starting age is 7.

But if you really want to give your kid and early start in boarding, Burton's Riglet Park program at Snowbasin introduces them to the sport at ages 3–6.

Maggie Loring, director of the Snowbird Ski/Snowboard School says to train youngsters in snowboarding "instructors put a leash on the snowboard and pull the student in an enclosed area with bumps and very simple obstacles to introduce them to snowboarding.”

One of the main hurdles children face in learning to ski or snowboard is parents who are in a rush to get their child on difficult black diamond slopes. Often these actions result in a skiing/snowboarding experience that turns into tears.

John Guay, director of ski services at Deer Valley, said it’s better to keep youngsters on gentle runs and focus on narrowing the wedge into a parallel and teaching control, turning and stopping.

“One of our biggest challenges is communicating with parents as to why we keep children on easier terrain and to encourage them to turn more with their feet and less with their body,’’ he adds.

Young children tend to turn from the head down and the last parts to move are their feet. Getting them to turn on skis or a snowboard requires training in learning how children think, talk and respond. In order to teach young children, instructors have to reach deep into how a child views of the world, the way they talk and words they best understand.

Few children, for example, understand terms like wedge, parallel and weighting. A wedge to young children looks like a piece of pizza; skis that are side-by-side in a parallel look like two French fries; and weighting a ski in order to turn is easier to understand if the instructor tells the student to squash a spider under one foot.

So, in skiing, instructors stress “Pizza Pie,’’ “French Fries,’’ and introduce a wide range of games like “Red Light, Green Light,’’ “Simon Says’’ and “Follow the Leader’’ to make learning fun, understandable and instructional.

As for how to teach young children to ski or snowboard, start with a professional instructor. 

Parents may know how to ski or snowboard, but relaying those skills in a language and a way children understand can be very difficult, which results in slow progress, bad habits and bad experiences. And, children have a tendency to “tune out’’ parents.

The Professional Ski Instructors of America-American Association of Snowboard Instructors have been working for more than three decades, says Olsen, to better understand how best to teach children. The PSIA-AASI, in fact, has introduced a special instructional level called “Child Specialist,’’ which requires special training in child development, teaching steps for children and communication skills. At Deer Valley, for example, most of the instructors have gone through the specialist schooling.

Loring recommends parents look into multiple-day programs, “which are very reasonable and more beneficial.’’

All 14 resorts in Utah offer introductory programs for children. For details contact the resort of choice. For contact information visit skiutah.com.