Ready, set – hit the slopes!

By Harvey Brodkinrec-guide-winter2014

The gear you need to get your kids ready for skiing and snowboarding this winter

With pre-season sales in full swing, and ski centres opening one by one, many parents have called and emailed for advice about preparing for winter. As director of Snowhawks Ski & Snowboard School, here are some of the most common queries that I field about equipment, clothing and pre-season fitness.

How can I tell if equipment fits well?


Start with ski boots, which should be snug but comfy.

Toes may almost touch, but shouldn’t press against the end; rather, they should have a little wiggle room. If you’re not sure, take the inner boots out of the shell at first to check. Then put them back and wear the boots around the shop while trying other items.

Make sure that pressure points don’t appear within 10-15 minutes.

Finally, avoid overly stiff boots. Children should be able to bend the cuff forward by flexing at the ankle.

Fitting ski poles is easy: grasp the underside of the basket with the pole inverted. The forearm should be roughly parallel to the ground. As for skis, a beginner’s should certainly be below body height, about chin to nose.

Intermediates can run about nose to forehead. Advanced can run up to body height, or a few centimetres beyond.

Brand differences are not very noticeable at beginner and intermediate levels, so try for a good fit at the right price.

Bindings are the most important item in terms of safety! Do not skimp here. The salesperson should consider weight, height, ability and level of aggressiveness.

Used bindings (even your own!) should be checked and set by a technician every year. Snowhawks provides this service for free in the pre-season, in collaboration with Tommy & Lefebvre.


The first choices for beginning snowboarders are easy: choose comfortable boots and choose a freestyle or freeride board. These choices will make learning that much easier.

Leave the hard boots and carving boards to the more experienced riders who are into some serious trench carving.

With boots, aim for comfort, but with a nice snug fit.

Toes should have a bit of wiggle room. For boards, take counsel from the salesperson at the shop. Beginners will succeed at turning much more easily on a very short board, but once you reach the intermediate stage (and it does come quickly!) a bit more length will add to stability at higher speeds and on steeper slopes.

Wrist guards are strongly recommended for beginner and novice snowboarders as they considerably reduce the risk of sprains or breaks to the wrist in forward falls, and these will happen! Snowboarding wrist guards are similar to those used for rollerblading, but generally designed to fit over a glove or mitt.


No child should be out on the slopes without a proper ski or snowboard helmet. These should fit very snugly with no hat, although some will wear a helmet beanie, or a thin, silk or micro-fleece balaclava for colder days. Very basic helmets can be found in the $50 range, although more expensive ones will offer ventilation adjustments to suit the weather from the cold of January through to spring skiing in March.

Be wary of second-hand helmets!

Helmets have a life of up to five years, after which time the material designed to cushion the head upon impact loses effectiveness. Further, any helmet that has taken a hard hit should be considered to have done its job, and be replaced; it will not effectively absorb another impact in the same spot.

New or used?

New equipment can be very affordable when you consider several factors. Fall package deals may pleasantly surprise you, and prices do drop in the run-up to holiday season. Many shops, such as Tommy and Lefebvre, run half-back programs,  where new equipment returned in April of the same season nets you a credit toward the following year’s purchase.

Finally, there’s the hand-medown factor in larger families, and an excellent return on your investment at the equipment swaps.

Second-hand equipment stores for kids can certainly save money, provided you follow the advice on fitting above, with special attention to binding safety.

Many of the ski centres and some community centres run equipment swaps prior to the season; check these out, too.  Rentals are widely available, and may be worth considering on a one or two-time tryout basis. However, beyond that, your kids may end up spending too much time in the rental line while their friends are out on the slopes.

What should I know about ski and snowboard clothing?

Go for layers! Long john tops and bottoms are comfortable as they wick moisture away from the body. Zip-neck, sweater or fleece, and a down or fibre-fill jacket with ski/snowboard pants or overalls. Ski gloves allow for dexterity, but mitts are better for warmth and especially for the very young. Stay away from wool. A water-resistant, insulated glove or mitt is the best choice.

When it comes to socks, don’t go for layers! This can cause creasing in the boot; besides, a single, dry pair of dedicated thermal ski/snowboard socks should suffice.

Top off the outfit with a neck tube, and don’t forget the sunscreen as well as goggles to protect the eyes and keep the face warm.

Snowboarders have their own special look, but there really is a function to the style. The loose-fitting jackets and pants allow for much needed movement in the sport, and look for clothing with sufficient padding and reinforcement at the knee and seat — this is essential.

How can we ‘warm up’ for the season?

Kids’ bodies are wonderfully resilient compared to parents, yet a few basics still prevail. General conditioning is very important for skiers. Walking, jogging, swimming or cycling for just 20 minutes, three or four times weekly, will really make a difference. Work on legs by climbing stairs or by trying an L-sit – back against wall; thighs parallel to floor; right angle at knees. Make it a family challenge to see who can L-sit the longest.

With a little preparation, every family can be fit and outfitted for another Ottawa ski and snowboard season. Winter’s coming — might as well enjoy it. I’ll see you on the slopes.

Harvey Brodkin is the director of Snowhawks Ski & Snowboard School.

Photo: © Vladislav Gajic