He said it was his dream of his whole life.
When you’re five, I guess that’s a pretty big dream. I didn’t even know he knew what snowboarding was and I wasn’t thrilled that he revealed said dream by taking off in a busy Sportchek in the midst of post-holiday sales madness, but I was just so relieved to have found him. The fact that we left the store snowboard-less also did not go over well, but it did plant the idea for a long weekend getaway to help us get through winter.
There are a number of excellent ski resorts within a few hours’ drive of Toronto, but Holiday Valley in Ellicottville, NY really caught us by surprise. Their Mountain Adventures Program offers private instruction for skiing and snowboarding with toddlers and little kids as young as three, and group lessons start for little rippers between the ages of 4 – 6.
The Burton Riglet Park and the awesome instructors at Holiday Valley means tots as young as 3 can learn to snowboard. My guys loved it! A photo posted by Corinne McDermott (@havebabywilltravel) on
My nine-year-old daughter and I joined Bub for an introductory snowboard lesson. I have skied exactly twice in my life when I was around 15-years-old, and although that was just 10 years ago (ha!) I needed all the help I could get. Holiday Valley instructors Jill and Larry taught the three of us some key movements and positions, as well as helped us get familiar with our edges, and we practiced our edges in the six inches of fresh powder snow.
About halfway into our lesson, my daughter and I headed off with Larry and Bub went with Jill to Holiday Valley‘s Burton Riglet Park. There are a number of Riglet Parks at snow destinations around the world, and paired with Burton’s specialized snowboard gear for littles, they help to teach and reinforce the skills necessary for snowboarding with toddlers and little kids. Larry explained to me that when kids are Bub’s age and younger, they just want to point their board to the bottom of the hill and go. Obviously this could cause serious injury to either themselves or others on the hill–or both! The Riglet Parks, with their series of obstacles, helps young boarders feel a sense of achievement as they complete the different tasks.
Attached to the the front of their boards are “riglets” which are essentially retractable leashes that the instructors pull the kids along on their boards. Not only does it help reinforce the balance required for snowboarding, but the riglet gives the instructors (and parents!) a heckuva workout!
While Bub was in the Riglet Park, my daughter and I want up the School Haus chairlift to learn more on the School Haus run. Bub was not impressed by this in the least, since obviously the dream of his whole life was to snowboard down a mountain, no matter how fun the Riglet Park is.
Which leads me to a really important learning from this weekend–managing expectations. I have no doubt Bub imagined himself flying down the mountain Ross Rebagliati-styles, but before he could head for the chairlift it was key that the instructors were confident that he had not only mastered his steering and stopping skills, but understood their importance as well.
The next day was equal parts awesome and frustrating. It was unseasonally FREEZING and I was paranoid about frostbite. But sufficiently bundled, the kids headed for their group lessons. And the extreme cold scared many away from the hills, so their group lessons were essentially private. Bub was frustrated from all my fussing with his layers and balaclava, but happily headed off with the lovely Erya–his instructor for the morning. Group lessons are two hours long. Kids start at 10am and you pick them up at noon, but it’s recommended you arrive at least 45 minutes early to get their gear and registration all sorted.
I was pleased to see that Bub was cooperating well with Erya, but he was still annoyed that he was not flying down that hill. And because my kids behave much better for strangers then they ever do for me, he saved all his annoyance for me when his lesson was over. After many dramatic attempts to rip off his lift tickets, telling me his dream was over, and me losing my patience somewhat, we took a break with a hot chocolate and made friends again over a pre-lunch cookie. I was tempted to call it a day, but my husband suggested my daughter and I take off to fall down the hill together (not joking) and he’d take Bub to the tow rope. It took three attempts to get up the Slippery Streets (tow ropes are not ideal with snowboards), but pretty soon Bub was hoisting himself up the lift, strapping his board up himself (he became impatient with needing to wait for us to do it), and sliding down the hill himself. Then he’d crawl over to the tow rope and do it all over again.
We knew he was ready. It was chairlift time.
Just a quick aside, I found the chairlift to be the most stressful part of learning to snowboard, and I’m sure if there was an award handed out for the world’s most inelegant chairlift dismount, I would win it hands-down. Holiday Valley has a unique “practice chairlift” which was immensely helpful and I think I would have actually just ridden the chairlift down the hill if not for the advance practice.
Little Ripper #HolidayValley #latergram A photo posted by Corinne McDermott (@havebabywilltravel) on
Bub went up with my husband. I followed behind with my daughter and watched him effortlessly slide off the lift and hobble over to the top of the hill to strap in. I made him wait until the hill was mostly clear before he began, and then off he went.
Smoothly and effortlessly, he sailed down that slope.
My husband was helping our daughter, so Bub and I went up the lift together. We waved at his sister, and I took out my phone to capture the moment. He grinned at me and said, “My dream of my whole life came true.”
Now, this kind of getaway was totally foreign to me, and it was very helpful that Holiday Valley has such a great set-up for beginners. There was no pressure from other skiers or boarders, and everyone was very respectful and encouraging of everyone else. There were a few key learnings I feel it’s important to highlight…
Tips for Snowboarding with Toddlers and Little Kids:
- It’s tempting to hang out and hover while your kids are doing their lessons. I know I distracted my kids and I kind of wish I’d held back a bit and let Holiday Valley’s awesome and patient instructors do their thing.
- Book lessons, and maybe more than one. Having an expert who’s patient and understanding while still being fun really helps keep kids engaged and encouraged.
- Practice chairlift safety and dismounts if you can. Apparently Holiday Valley‘s practice chairlift is unique but I thought it was one of the most important aspects of our lessons.
- Pick a hill with a dedicated learning area. Not worrying about getting in anyone’s way or being heckled from the chairlift after a particularly spectacular yard-sale fall (tragic teenage memory) was a tremendous relief.
- Quit while you’re ahead. We had a great afternoon after lunch on our second day, but we knew the kids would appreciate a chance to warm up and relax, so we split to the Wingate and the kids had a blast at their really great indoor pool before another excellent dinner in town.
- Realize that just because your kids CAN snowboard, doesn’t necessarily mean they SHOULD. At five, Bub had a bit of trouble grasping the importance of mastering his skills. The fact that he was (is) fearless helped him tackle that hill better than my daughter or I, but my heart was in my throat watching him go. If your three- or four- year-old is ready to rip, I cannot recommend enough the enthusiastic and patient instructors at Holiday Valley.
It’s not likely that we’ll be ripping down the K-12 anytime soon, but we may very well have added a new winter activity to our family travels.
**We were pleased to be guests of Ellicottville, NY and Holiday Valley. All opinions are my own.