Back in 2012, Jeff Boliba — the vice president of global resorts for Burton Snowboards — was approached by his eighth grade son with an interesting request.
“My son’s eighth grade class had challenged their students to try to design something new for the school,” Boliba told GrindTV. “He told me he remembered how — when he was in elementary school — his school wouldn’t let him try snowboarding as part of the after school ski program.”
“He asked me, ‘Is there a way to teach kids at the elementary level how to snowboard in gym class?'” Boliba continued. “And I told him, ‘You know what, I think I can help you with that.”
Boliba began reaching out to schools near Burton’s headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, and was often hit with the same response: There were just too many variables to trying to teach snowboarding outside during a physical education class.
“We said, ‘Well, what if we brought it indoor and made it a part of gym class?'” Boliba said. “And the schools thought that could work.”
So Burton collaborated with the Vermont resorts of Jay Peak and Smugglers’ Notch and over the course of a year developed the Burton Riglet Program, a one-off snowboarding crash course for kids with multiple 30-minute progression stations designed to teach the children snowboarding basics.
In March of 2013, Boliba ran the fist-ever Burton Riglet Program at the Allen Brook elementary school in Williston, Vermont. It was then that Boliba realized he was onto something.
“I was so blown away just seeing how the kids lit up,” Boliba said. “Seeing the kids engaged and wanting more was a lightbulb moment. I thought, ‘We have to find a way to scale this so that individual PE teachers can run it inside during a gym class like they would basketball or kickball.”
In order to make the program scalable and able to be integrated into schools, Boliba and his team knew that they needed to make the materials so they wouldn’t be cumbersome.
Using astroturf or artificial Snowflex materials to allow the Burton Riglet youth boards to glide across flat surfaces would take up too much space and be too heavy for gym teachers to be able to transport around easily. And so, the Hover Cover was developed.
“It took us a while trying to figure out a way to allow the boards to just glide across a gymnasium floor, and what we came up with was the Hover Cover, which is basically a Swiffer cover for the Riglet board,” Boliba said.
“Once we made that, we added a dual-pull handle to the front of the Riglet boards so that two students could team up to pull one of their friends across the gym,” Boliba continued. “This made it so that the gym teachers didn’t have to pull every single kid, and made it feasible to be a part of physical education curriculum.”
Boliba said Burton ran the first pilot of an indoor PE snowboarding class in January 2014 in a school in Vermont, and put out a press release about it. Boliba said he didn’t know what to expect, but the news of indoor snowboarding in gym class somehow reached a teacher in Richmond, Vermont.
Before long the news continued to spread, and Boliba had written a manual on how to run the program while enlisting the help of pros like Kelly Clark and Danny Davis to develop an instructional video on how to integrate it into a school’s curriculum.
“We had Riglet kits we were loaning throughout the state,” Boliba told GrindTV. “But before long it grew well beyond the borders of Vermont.”
In the three years since it was developed, the Riglet school program has allowed snowboarding to be added to the Vermont state curriculum and has been added to curriculums in cities in New York, New Jersey and Colorado.
While Boliba continues to run pop-up versions of the Riglet program at events across the country, he said currently Burton is focused on working with resorts to get more schools near them to add snowboarding to their official school curriculums.
And, as it continues to grow, he wants to see snowboarding added to curriculums outside the U.S.
“The next phase is hopefully taking it international,” said Boliba. “The big thing here is to break down barriers and make snowboarding more accessible and affordable for kids to to get a taste of. It’s amazing that we’ve been able to do that so far.”