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Q&A: What is the difference between learning to ski vs. snowboard?

By Alyssa Erickson Fri Mar 30 2018 Snowboarding

A few weeks ago I wrote a post addressing some of the basic questions you might have if you are a first time skier or snowboarder. Questions such as: “How old does my child need to be?” "What clothing and gear do I need?” And, “how can I prepare before my lesson?”

The first week of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics held some historic moments in snowboarding. From 17-year-old Chloe Kim’s gold medal to Shaun White’s 3rd Olympic gold in Men’s Halfpipe and the introduction of the snowboarding big air event, it is a popular time to learn to snowboard.  

However, parents or people new to snowboarding often have many questions such as:

Should I learn to ski or snowboard first? How about my young child? How old does a kid need to be to learn to snowboard?

I’ve seen parents and instructors on both sides of the equation.

Some parents, even if they are avid snowboarders themselves, will choose to teach their kids to ski first. Other parents have no problem strapping their two or three-year-old to a board and assisting them down the bunny hill.

But is there a right or wrong way to do it?

To answer this question I connected with one of Snowbasin’s Snowboard Supervisors, Chantry Marble. He helped me break down the differences between learning to snowboard versus learning to ski.

Regarding Snowboarding

The muscles and motor skills used in snowboarding differs from skiing. According to Chantry, “To teach a young kid to be able to turn onto the toe side of the snowboard it involves use of their calf muscle, which most younger kids don’t have that fine muscle control. Kids often tend to  lean uphill to accomplish that type of turn.”

That being said, he didn’t hesitate to introduce his 2-year-old to snowboarding this season. If you are looking for the ideal age to start your child, Chantry would suggest ages 6-8, as in most cases the necessary muscles and motor skills have developed. While every kid is different, in general it will take 2-3 lessons for most children in this ideal age range to feel comfortable getting down the bunny hill. The number of lessons required might be greater for kids ages 4-6 or less for those who are older.

Regarding Skiing

Skiing uses more of the major muscle groups such as the quads and hamstrings, which many children develop at an earlier age. In that regard, if you or your child want to progress quicker, skiing might be a better choice.

Ultimately, the simple answer to this question comes down to desire. What do you want to do? Ski or snowboard? What does your family do? Perhaps that is a good place to start when making this decision.


The Crux

One of the most insightful things I gleaned from Chantry was this: He said, “I know that as a parent we want our kids to progress and get better but kids up to 6 years old don’t care about being a skilled skier/snowboarder. They just want to have fun. If you can involve games and you don’t set an expectation for them they will learn to love the sport and enjoy coming up to the mountain.”

As a parent who has spent hours, days and years on the bunny hill teaching my three kids to ski, I can relate to this. Even now that we’ve moved beyond the Little Cat, I find my kids just want to have fun and often the biggest hold up is my own agenda. I love this reminder to let the kids be kids, to set aside my own expectations and instead of focusing on skills, focus on growing lovers of the sport.

The Snowbasin Learning Center

The Snowbasin Learning Center generally takes kids in group snowboarding lessons as early as age 4. You can opt for a private lesson for your 3-year-old if you wish.

While each lesson may be different based on the individuals in it, most instructors use a common progression that begins with helping establish familiarity with the snowboard first on flat ground. After practicing skating and gliding they may make their way up the chairlift and begin learning to traverse and turn. If snow conditions permit, an instructor may use rollers or banked turns to teach different skills.

For more information visit: The Snowbasin Learning Center


Alyssa Erickson
I am a wife, mom, rock climber, skier, coffee lover and all around adventure lover with a passion for writing. I have my B.A. in English Literature from the University of Colorado and am the founder of KidProject.org. I live and play near the Wasatch Range, partnering with my husband and teaching my kids to make the most of life and the One who gave it to us.