Snowboarding isn’t a sport reserved for daredevils and skateboarders. It’s fast, it’s fun, and for anyone with a can-do attitude, it’s smooth gliding. This past winter, I found myself on the top of a bunny hill beside my 6-year-old son, snowboards strapped on to our feet, proper starting stance assumed, our instructor reminding us once again how to stop and steer ourselves. I am a klutzy sportsman at best: I tried skiing once but gave up after a tumble that left me with a broken nose. Can an old mom really learn new tricks? I wondered, looking downwards at my final destination, the bottom of the bunny hill. And then there was the question of my son. I said a silent prayer in my head, please God, no broken bones."All right now,” encouraged our instructor,"who needs a push down?”
Before I can even protest, SWOOOSH! There goes my son. He manages to get halfway down the hill and then fall—hard—but with a hearty laugh. The instructor runs to help him up to his feet, and before I can wink, he’s zooming off yet again. Yes, snowboarding is a sport that kids seem to pick up easily.
Then it’s my turn. The instructor gives me a push and … Waaaaoooooohhhhhh!!!!!! I feel like a bicycle going 100 mph with no brakes, but at the same time, I feel so light, so exhilarated. There really are new tricks to be learned after all. The first few attempts, I fall a quarter of the way down. Then I make it halfway down … and then, as if by miracle, I make it all the way down without a hitch. I’m addicted. I’m up and down the hill several times after that and each time it gets easier. Luckily, snowboarder-approved safety gear (helmets, goggles, knee and elbow pads) protect beginners from total wipe-outs.
Inspired by skateboarding and surfing, snowboarding is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. In 1998, it became an official Winter Olympic Sport. As it rises in popularity, it’s no wonder that enthusiasm is growing in the Chicago area. Two Chicagoland stores feature snowboarding gear and boards: Shred Shop in Skokie (3801 W. Oakton St.; 847-679-3060; shredshop.com), and Burton, off Michigan Avenue in Chicago (56 E. Walton St.; 312-202-7900; burton.com).
Several area ski parks now devote ever-expanding space to snowboarders. My son and I learned to snowboard at Four Lakes Alpine Sports in Lisle (5790 Forest View Road; 630-964-2551; skifourlakes.com). Rates for three hours of instruction, including equipment rental, start at $225. Any child weighing at least 60 pounds may participate. Classes have a maximum of eight participants, guaranteeing a more comprehensive learning experience.
Raging Buffalo in Algonquin (Route 1; 847-836-RAGE; ragingbuffalo.com) offers private snowboarding lessons starting at just $40 per hour. Equipment rental is extra. The on-site Snowboard Park contains two rope tows, half pipes, kickers, table tops, staircase and a‘magic carpet’ on the beginner hill.
While Villa Olivia in Bartlett (1401 W. Lake St.; 630-289-1000; villaolivia.com) focuses mainly on ski instruction for even the tiniest of tots (starting at age 4), snowboarding lessons are on the menu as well, starting at $12.50 per hour-long group class. Equipment rental is extra. The hills are open seven days a week; season passes are available.
For larger snow-capped slopes, visit Devil’s Head Ski Resort (S6330 Bluff Road, Merrimac, Wis.; 800-472-6670; devilsheadresort.com), a full-service ski resort in South Central Wisconsin. A three-hour drive from Chicago, boarders will find a good fit among 28 gentle, long, wide and steep runs. The Burton Learn-to-Ride program is specifically designed to accelerate learning by using beginner-specific snowboards, and kids as young as 4 are invited to participate. Ninety minute lessons start at $25 (equipment rental not included). Chestnut Mountain (8700 W. Chestnut Road, Galena, 815-777-1320; chestnutmtn.com) also offers Burton Learn-to-Ride for $100 weekends and $50 weekdays, which includes equipment rental and a two-hour lesson.
Don’t rule out snowboarding this winter: it’s a kid- and parent-tested favorite, and an exhilarating sport for the entire family.