Just as a remember, these are my thoughts, I am far from being a very good snowboarder, never been an instructor and don’t know much about all the techniques. This post is about what I learned while teaching my two daughters how to snowboard over the years.
I have mixed thoughts about using a harness to teach kids to snowboard, or ski. I have used it for both skiing and snowboarding, but I will focus on snowboarding in this post.
The decision to use one or not is mostly dependent on your kids and family. I taught the girls on my own, because of that I couldn’t have both wearing a harness at the same time. Emma needed to ride on her own and Sophie got to be on the harness.
Even though I did have my children on a harness, it’s my opinion, investing in a snowboard/ski harness might not be necessary and this is why.
If your child is 5y+ you probably won’t need a harness, you might feel that you need one for the first few runs, but I would say that at that age kids have the strength and muscles to figure how to stop quickly on their own. Emma, who was only four at the time, made it on her own. I would send her down the hill, and she would sit down to stop herself, that’s how she slowly figured out how to use her heel edge. Think of the harness as being the like a training wheel; I always make the analogy of bike and snowboard gear. The Riglet Board is like a balance bike; the harness is the training wheel, the size of the board depends on your child stature. Most importantly always have them wear a helmet designed for the sports they are doing.
If your child is under 4, it will be a huge help for you to have them wear a harness like Sophie. They will be able to go a longer runs, follow their older siblings, they might also get less tired because of the support they have to slow down because of you holding them.
Any kid can learn to snowboard, and you as their parents should adjust the purchase depending on age, size, and weight, budget, and needs. I have seen kids starting to bike at 6y with training wheels for only a few days or weeks, and some 18m riding a pedal bike, never having used training wheels. In the end, they all learn to ride a bike. The harness is one of the items that are not required to teach your child to snowboard, it can make you feel better as your child is attached to you, but I don’t think it helps him/her to learn faster.
As I said, Emma never used one and started snowboarding when she was 3. Sophie, on the other hand, used a harness until almost turning 4y. For her age, she was very petite, her board was so long and stiff, and her body wasn’t able to put enough pressure to stop herself. When Burton Riglet got us into the Riglet Ambassador program, Sophie got the “80cm After School Burton Snowboard,” and it made a huge difference. If you have to spend money somewhere first, get your child a good snowboard. She was able to do so much more. Following my bike analogy, it was like she was riding a heavy bike vs. a little more expensive, lighter bike. At that age, as their legs are still developing size, weight and quality make a big difference. Sophie would have probably been out of the harness earlier with a more appropriate board. If only I would have known.
The harness can help your child build his/her confidence. However, it can also make him/her overconfident as they might feel that mom or dad are always there to pull/protect them. Emma who never had a harness fell more, she had to be more aware of her surroundings, and she became a more cautious rider. Sophie who always wore her harness started to love going fast, crashed less and was less careful. What’s interesting is that Emma is more cautious than Sophie in life, so even if that matches with their personalities, I would say that the use of the harness reinforced these traits.
It’s also on you to make sure your kids are on the right slopes; I didn’t move from the magic carpet until Emma was ready for longer, more crowded and steeper terrain, Sophie just followed. The magic carpet doesn’t have to sound negative, giving you the idea that your child is not progressing. Even now, we sometimes hang out at the magic carpet to practice new skills (switch, tail press, linking turns, etc.) You can alternate between longer and shorter runs, also always remember that they have little legs and longs runs are more tiring for them.
I always remind myself that if instructors can manage multiple kids with no leash, I can do the same. I have met instructors that loved the leash concept and have told me that they would use it for very young kids on private lessons. But they also said that kids can learn without it.
Explaining how to use the harness is not very easy, so here are few videos of Sophie when she was 2,5 y old. I started just by following her, without doing any turns, I would go down on my heals as she would do the falling leaf. Being behind her, pulling her was an excellent leg workout. It took me a few times, but then I was able to link turns, and my legs felt so much better.
The two videos are of our second season, 2015-16. It’s also the first season for us to go up to the Resorts, taking a lift, using a harness and trying to figure how we can all have a good time, while me teaching them.
The first video (sorry for the music, I was learning to edit too) was in January and probably the second or third time using the harness. Having to control Sophie also taught me a lot; I suddenly figure out how to spin, ride switch for a little bit and did things that I had never done before. All this by just following her, catching her and helping Emma, at the same time trying not to fall.
The second video is one month later; we are doing so much better. A friend Yoshie, joined us that day, it was awesome to have her with us. Sophie loved it, and I was able to get some videos of us (Emma tried her first and last snowboarding lesson, that day).
Here are two videos of our second season, 2015-16. It’s also the first season for us to go up to Resorts, taking a lift, using a harness and trying to figure how we can all have a good time.
The first video (sorry for the music, learning there too) was in January and probably the second or third time using the harness. It has taught me a lot; I suddenly figure out how to spin around, ride a little bit switch and doing things that I have never done before, just to follow her, catch her up, help Emma and Sophie at the same time and no fall. The second video is one month later; we are doing so much better. A friend Yoshie, joined us that day, it was awesome to have her with us, Sophie loved it, and I was able to get some videos of us (Emma tried her first and last snowboarding lesson, that day).
If you can afford a harness, you should get one, it might make your life a little easier, but if you have a tight budget, that is the first thing that you can cut.
If you decide not to buy one but really want one, you can make your own. Here is my DIY.
My first one was just a strap, it wasn’t the best, but it did the job of stopping Sophie when I needed it, it cost me less than $10.
I wrapped the strap around her chest, as shown in the picture and I held the other end in my hands, very basic.
The problem with having a non-retractable strap was that it became complicated to keep the strap taught as Sophie would come and go closer to me, which made me focus more on the leash than on Sophie.
I then found a few brands that made harnesses, but I couldn’t justify paying so much for them, so I came up with my own. We owned two 60lbs dogs at that time. I figured that if their retractable leash was able to hold them both, it should be plenty strong for a 28lbs kid.
I went to a second-hand shop, where I always shop for the girls and found an old ski harness for $8, it was missing the leash that comes with, but I didn’t need it. Of course, it is not as good or perfect as the ones you can buy, but it did the job.
I then placed the dog leash on the back of the harness, and it worked great.
I won’t lie, at that time I would have loved to have a brand harness rather than my DIY. It didn’t have a place to store the leash, which I ended up storing in Sophie’s hoodie. It didn’t have straps in between her legs, didn’t have a backpack, and lastly, it wasn’t as cute.
But now looking back the handmade harness was enough, it did a great job, and maybe because it wasn’t that great, Sophie couldn’t wait to get it off and ride on her own. Plus remember, if your kids are older, or their legs are strong enough you might only use it for a couple of days.
In Summer of 2017, I came across a bungee cord called “TowWhee,” it’s designed for biking, but it can be used in so many other ways. I love the idea of a versatile product that I can used no matter the sport or the season. I bought it and gave it a try for snowboarding. Sophie wasn’t using the harness anymore when we started the 2017-2018 season, but we still needed to work on her toe edge.
I feel that the toe edge is harder to learn, riding with your back facing the slope is scary, it’s easier to catch an edge, and if you do you don’t have your arms right in front to cushion your fall.
Sophie who is very independent didn’t want the harness anymore, but after couple crashes, she agreed to try the TowWhee attached to the harness. It only took one day of practice to make her feel comfortable on her toe side. The TowWhee was there to make sure she wasn’t going to fall backwards, and because of the way the cord stretches, if she was going to fall, I could still pull her without yanking her, which is what I was doing with the regular leash. It also helped her feel safe; I remember Emma being more hesitant because she was afraid of catching her edge.
The best way I can explain The TowWhee, is that it’s a bungee cord that gives your child more independence, but you have to keep in mind that when you pull the cord it will stretch and it will take a couple of seconds before your child feels the pull. Once you have pulled your child, it shortens on its own, so you don’t need to retract it, this lets you concentrate more on your child.
Sophie who is very independent didn’t want the harness anymore, but after couple crashes, she agreed to try the TowWhee attach to her harness. It only took that day of practice to make her feel comfortable on her toe side, the TowWhee was here to make sure she wasn’t going to fall backward, and because of the stretch of the cord, she was still the one mostly in control of her move. It helped her to feel safer where I remember Emma being more hesitant because she was afraid of catching her edge.
The bungee cord is different from the “dog leash” because you can’t retract it when you want or stop her with one yank. It’s a bungee cord, giving your child more independence and more trust from you, since it comes back to a shorter length on its own you don’t need to retract or let go manually so you can concentrate on your child more.