Should our child learn skiing or snowboarding first, and when?
December 16, 2004 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Should we start our toddler out on skis or snowboard? We are avid snowboarders and want her to ultimately take up boarding. However, is skiing easier for kids because they can hoof it along on the flats and it's like walking, and they can snow-plow? Any first-hand experience? Recommendations?

Also, what age is best for her to begin? (I started at 4)
posted by aacheson to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total)
i always felt that snowboarding was easier -- 'course, i basically grew up on a skateboard, so ymmv. i've only skiied once and it was *hard*, but the first time i got on a snowboard i was able to go to the more advanced slopes within a few hours.
posted by fishfucker at 2:20 PM on December 16, 2004

With regards to age, I have no idea. Sorry. I've seen some pretty young kids learning to ski, but I'm horrible at telling kids' age.

As to whether skiing would be easier than snowboarding, probably, but kids have never failed to amaze me at how easily they pick up everything.

Snowboarding does seem to be easier for those that skateboard, but most people find skiing more intuitive. You can move your feet independently and you're pretty much always facing downslope.
posted by SAC at 2:40 PM on December 16, 2004

Quick question. There's always the possibility your kid won't like it! :) Are you prepared to deal with the fact that if you start them TOO early, a traumatizing experience may make them more likely to be resistant to learning later?

This happened with my mother and me. She was a champion figure skater in her youth. She took me ice skating when I was about 4. I kept falling and crying, and would NEVER go on the ice again.

Just food for thought - sometimes it's better to wait until they have more awareness/less likelihood to develop intense primal fears.
posted by u.n. owen at 2:40 PM on December 16, 2004

I took up snowboarding after trying to learn to ski for a while. I'd fall, and skis would pop off (or worse, my legs would be turned in different directions) and poles would go flying, and it took me several minutes hopping around just to get everything together and go again. Meanwhile snowboarders would sail by, fall, and virtually bounce back up again. I finally switched, and never went back to skis. Maybe toddlers would appreciate the simplicity of a board as well.

(For non-boarders: Since the snowboard does not disengage from your feet, you just tumble and maybe slide a bit, then hop up and go again. No poles to mess with, either. The lack of releasable bindings isn't a big deal. Since both feet are fastened to the same board, your whole lower half is a very strong and stable construction. You can't possibly twist one leg around and snap an ankle or knee, the way you can on skis.)

The single downfall for me was that rope tows were tougher. It was hard to keep the pulling force centered along the axis of the board. That finally came with practice (when the rope tow wasn't super busy.)
posted by Tubes at 3:01 PM on December 16, 2004

I can't really picture a very young kid snowboarding, but then I'm a grump who doesn't like snowboarders and wishes they wouldn't carve up the hill and make it all icy. Regardless, I think the key is that the child should be a fully confident walker, with good co-ordination and muscle control. I don't think I've ever seen a child younger than 3 on skis.

I've always heard snowboarding was tricky to pick up; I'd think little skis would be a lot easier to learn first for a young child. The balancing seems like it would be much easier, but I've never boarded, so ymmv.

And u.n. owen has a good point, although the inverse could also be true. I learned to ski at 7 and even though I don't ski much now (not many opportunities or cash) I'm still comfortable doing it because I learned when I was young and crazy and fearless. If I didn't know how to ski already, at this point in my life there'd be no way you could get me on that hill - my confidence to do dangerous things has totally plummeted (yes, skiing is dangerous!) I have a friend who didn't learn how to swim as a child and is now too frightened of water to take lessons - so I do think starting kids young is good. Just be sensitive to whether or not they're enjoying it. I could have started skiing at 6, but I watched some of it first and didn't want to go; the next year I was totally psyched and so I started lessons. If my dad had pushed me to go the year before, I think I would have hated it and quit, since I wasn't ready.
posted by livii at 3:06 PM on December 16, 2004

Many resorts won't put kids that young on a snowboard, although their ski programs will take kids as young as 4 or, for some activities, 3. I can't offhand think of programs that put kids under 6 on a snowboard (although I hardly know them all!). The main thing kids need to learn is edge control, and skis sort of have a built-in "training wheel" setup, with snowplow and being able to climb more easily.

I'd sled and snowplay with kids that young, but I'd want them in a class to get oriented to equipment, anyway, so I'd call around to the places I like to board and see what they offer and for what ages.
posted by caitlinb at 3:10 PM on December 16, 2004

I learned to ski as a youngster, and I switched to boarding about 15 years ago in junior high. Skiing is actually much more difficult to learn IMHO. You spend months doing stem christies and worrying about your form before it becomes really enjoyable.

As you know, with a snowboard is just clicks... You learn to turn by shifting your weight and just go. It's much more intuitive and having taught a number of people to snowboard people pick it up fast, especially kids who hate being told what to do and having their form corrected.

The thing that does suck about learning to board is that the first day or two until you get comfortable turning, you fall a lot because you only have one edge to catch and have no poles to balance you. But the nice thing about being a kid is that you are spry and don't weigh a lot, so falling and getting back up is a much less traumatic and painful experience.

I say if you want them to board in the end, don't bother getting skis. It'll be more of a hassle for both of you. And I'd say 4 or 5 is about right to start them.

Good Luck!
posted by Heminator at 3:18 PM on December 16, 2004

u.n. owen, answer the question or butt out.
posted by whatnot at 3:43 PM on December 16, 2004

u.n. owen's answer is tangential, but seems to be a perfectly appropriate tangent for AskMe. Advice you didn't ask for is sometimes a good thing to have (and this has been covered extensively in metatalk), otherwise you get the "monkey's paw" kind of problem...
posted by weston at 4:08 PM on December 16, 2004

So, there is the disparaging joke about snowboarders that goes : What's the difference between a beginning snowboarder and an expert ... Three days.
It is a joke for a reason, because there is truth in it. BUT, new technology in skiing has made learning to ski MUCH MUCH easier than it was 5 or 10 years ago.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 4:26 PM on December 16, 2004

I would get the feeling that skiing below the age of 10 would be a heck of a lot easier than snowboarding.

It takes time to get your balance in a sideways sort of way. Unless your kids are already skateboarding up a storm, I'd say skiing is easier to learn (and I'm a longtime snowboarder).
posted by mathowie at 4:55 PM on December 16, 2004

I think that our general bias as skiers as showing. I too am a skier, and I think the hard part is going from one to the other. I tried to pick up boarding after I was already a pretty solid skier, and it was really freaking hard. Friends that board stare at me in wonder when I manage to get down a hill on two planks without exploding or otherwise dying.

Which is all a long way of saying that I think you should start her out on a board. If no hill will take her in their classes at her age, just wait a little bit. Transitioning from skis to boards is way, way harder than starting to learn at the (still young) age of 6 or 8.

As a tangent - I think the difficulty comes from the way you position weight. On a board, you should be leaning down-slope and carving with the leading edge. On skis, you're more neutrally situated and the parts of your skis you're digging in the most with are right under your feet and behind them.

Also, I don't think skiing or snowboarding are inherently harder to learn than the other. It's just that everyone whose learned both has gone from one to th'other which is, again, pretty difficult.
posted by kavasa at 5:18 PM on December 16, 2004

Whatever you decide, I would second and emphasize the tangential recommendations to send your kid off to lessons. As preparation for this, talk to various ski/snowboard instructors and see what the youngest age they take kids is, what they recommend, and so on. I (as a former kid who hated having to take lessons) believe that the kid will be best served by professional instructors who have clear expectations and teaching agendas for kids that young. This will be especially impoartant if your kid is going to be skiing and you snowboard. A few trips down the bunny slopes with your kid at the beginning/end of the day will help boost morale and remind them that this is family fun time, but leave the serious teaching (at least at first) to the pros.

I'd also second the opinion that learning at a young age gives you a huge advantage. I think I learned to ski at about 5 and now at 23 I'm unafraid to try even the most difficult runs despite only skiing once or twice a year for most of my life.

[on preview: what kavasa said too.]
posted by rorycberger at 5:24 PM on December 16, 2004

I'm a shitty, late-learning skier, so I've got nothing for you about that. But if either of you are lefties, teach her to switch-hit! XAcheson, first female major league ballplayer!
posted by mookieproof at 5:25 PM on December 16, 2004

I had little plastic yellow skis strapped to my moon boots when I was around 5 or 6. I've never tried snowboarding, but I have a feeling it would end like it did the time I tried skateboarding (badly).

Would it be possible to do both? I'm not sure if you want to put the resources towards two sets of equipment, but, like my little yellow plastic planks, maybe there is Toddler Beginner type stuff nowadays that would let you feel out both without plunking down too much money and would also keep it "fun" for the child without getting too wrapped up in equipment at this stage.

Anyway, I'm sure your child will thank you in the future for teaching her these skills. I'm glad we had a hill nearby to ski on and now it's just a natural feeling to have slippery boards attached to my feet.
posted by stefnet at 7:28 PM on December 16, 2004

I think the important question to ask yourself is, are you prepared to let your 4-year-old child smoke weed?

I am joking, of course. I skied for 11 or so years, got bored and took up snowboarding. It was tough at first, but 3 trips later and I was making it down the hill. I was scared but I was doing it. I am going into my third season and I expect to be boarding terrain as difficult as I had been skiing. I think that going from skis to a board was a tough switch to make in my head. Once I had some skill I found I could get better a lot quicker as I wasn't afraid of the mountain.

But, to answer your question, and to repeat others, I've never seen a 4-year-old on a snowboard. i am sure that a quick call or website browsing of the local ski resort will answer the question of age. Looking at Killington and Vail's websites did not provide me with any information aside from that Killington has a ski class for kids 2-3 years old.
posted by bDiddy at 7:29 PM on December 16, 2004

... and I think the hard part is going from one to the other. I tried to pick up boarding after I was already a pretty solid skier, and it was really freaking hard.

I grew up in a resort town and only skied until I was ~15. When I decided to pick up boarding, it only took me 4 back-to-back days to go from unable-to-get-off-the-lift-without-falling to Level 6 ( Advanced Intermediate) and another 2-3 weeks to get up to a 9 (riding 4-5 full/half days per week).
posted by fourstar at 9:55 PM on December 16, 2004

I snowboard about 70 days a year and when I have kids I'll start them on skis. It's a lot easier for young kids to ski because you can tie the tips together and they can't start going to fast. Also, getting off the lift and skating across flats are a real pain for young kids. By the time the kid hits 10 they will want to snowboard so bad, it won't be an issue anyway. Also, I think you'll have a hard time finding lessons for you child on a snowboard under the age of 7, I would guess.
posted by trbrts at 8:59 AM on December 17, 2004

I started out skiing young, and converted to boarding in highschool

i often felt (having done both) that snowboarding is easier to pick up, but harder to master, and skiing is harder to pick up, but easier to master.

the three day joke is a funny one, but reflects the ignorance of snowboarding. while mastering skiing means parallel skis, pinpoint turns, and other technical challenges, being a great snowboarder means deep carved turns, the ability to get some air, and doing things that skiers cannot do...

for what its worth, my 2 1/2 year old will strap on a board this winter - however, most of the time it will be in the backyard, or on a tiny hill just to get used to messing around with it and feel comfortable with it on his feet for 15 minutes at a time. when he feels more confident, and starts to express some interest, we will introduce lessons (parents should NEVER teach kids how to ski or snowboard - its always a mess in my experience)

as long as your expectations are honest, whether skis or board, it will be fine.

its worth noting that of the two, snowboarding is much more social (i hate the punks that stop in the middle of the run as much as the skiers do)

also worth noting that of my 10 nieces and nephews, almost all started out doing one, and have since incorporated the other into their winter recreation. it seems to matter little which one they start out on. just get them out there
posted by angry jonny at 9:57 AM on December 17, 2004

and poles would go flying, and it took me several minutes hopping around just to get everything together and go again.
fyi – I have never seen a 4 year old skier using poles, especially with an instructor.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:00 AM on December 17, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you all for your insight. I appreciate it! Still don't know what I'm going to do but we have some time to think about it...
posted by aacheson at 10:51 AM on December 19, 2004

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