If you want to raise the next Shaun White, you’re going to eventually require (really expensive) professional help. But you’re more than qualified to start the process by turning your yard into a sweet, safe mini-terrain park for teaching basic skills. That’s the opinion of Jeff Boliba, who’s a little biased considering his day job is overseeing the Burton Snowboards Riglet Parks program, which builds parks for little kids all over the world.
Boliba came to this conclusion while walking his dog. “I’d pull my son, who was one at the time, in a sled behind me. One day I thought, ‘Why is he just sitting there? I should throw him in a snowboard and tow him along.’ I had to hold his hand for a little while, but then he started balancing, making movements and learning how to control the board — all while we’re walking the dog.”
Follow Boliba’s tips and you can skip the dog walking and go straight to towing, followed by carving and — before too long — the climbing of Olympic podiums.
Any flat space is enough to teach your kid how to stand and balance on a board. Get them used to the sensation of forward movement by securing a length of rope to the front of the board and towing them around. This keeps their hands free, so they develop balance naturally. “Once they get used to doing that and can control the board, set up a cone course to pull them through,” says Boliba.
You’ll Want This: Burton’s Riglet Reel ($30)
This ingenious contraption was designed to make securing a tow rope to the nose of your kid’s board a piece of cake. It looks a little like the dog’s retractable leash, which, by the way, is a workable Plan B.
When they’re comfortable being towed around, it’s time to let them play with gravity. A gentle slope over about 8 feet of ground will create enough speed to teach them how to put pressure on their front foot, which is the first step to making turns. Once they’re used to that, break out a shovel build some terrain features at the foot of the slope.
- Rollers: These are like a series of speed bumps in the snow, which teach kids to absorb terrain as it rises and falls.
- Banks: Build one to the right and one to the left, which will help them learn toe-side and heel-side turns.
When creating snow features, remember that the snow needs to “set up.” As you pile it, pack it into shape and then let the snow bond for a few hours so the end result is more durable. And if shoveling all that snow sounds exhausting, just think of the energy you’ll save by not towing your kids all over the place.
You’ll Want This: The Spork ($130)
The Spork is the terrain park builder’s Leatherman. It works as a mini plow to push snow into place and as a hand-held groomer that turns surfaces into smooth corduroy. It will last forever and let you make fun of your neighbor, whose little sled jump blew to pieces after their kid hit it twice.
It’s All In The Transition
The most critical part of any snow feature is the compression zone, which is the area between the natural terrain and the start of the feature. A snowboard compresses to stay in contact with the snow as it passes through here, so before you send your kid, test it. Run the board through the zone with your hands; if there’s a big gap the between board’s base and the snow, your kid will get bounced when they ride through. Smooth it out until that gap is gone.
Got a hula hoop? Cut it in half and stick it in the snow for your kids to slide under. A lunch tray can be placed upside down on top of a small bump for a quick, DIY fun box. Teach them to ollie by placing small, rugged toys in the snow for them to try and jump over. Boliba once made a snowboard limbo bar from a Star Wars lightsaber, so anytime the bar was hit it made that cool “whooshing” noise. Use your imagination — and let your kids use theirs.
“I’ll have them draw up something they want to try, then teach them to use a shovel and put things in the ground,” he says. “That’s the fun part, playing around and seeing what the kids grab and make use of.”
Lastly, Don’t Be An Idiot.
If you’re not sure how big something should be, make it smaller. If you’ve spent 3 hours in the snow building something fun for your kid and it starts to rain, remember that rain is going to freeze. “Put your dad hat on and say, ‘You know what? We probably shouldn’t play in the park today because it’s bullet proof,'” says Boliba. Above all else, use common sense. The less banged up your kids are, the easier it will be to talk your wife into your next Colorado vacation.
If you’re planning to get your kid on a snowboard this winter, check out our Gear Guide For Mini Shredders.