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Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Updated: February 9, 3:57 PM ET
The Force is strong at Sierra at Tahoe

By Colin Bane
ESPN.com

Burton Snowboards has been working to expand snowboarding opportunities for young kids over the past few years, manufacturing smaller gear and partnering with resorts to create Learn To Ride programs that break the longstanding 6-year-old barrier for snowboard lessons and rentals at many ski areas. This season the company called in a little help from the Force, enlisting some Jedi knights in the battle: After a late start because of snow conditions, Sierra at Tahoe's Burton Star Wars Experience -- first announced in December -- is now open at the California resort, with programs to introduce snowboarding to kids between the ages of 3 and 6.

"The Burton Star Wars Experience at Sierra gives kids as young as 3 the chance to successfully learn how to snowboard in a fun environment," says Jeff Boliba, Burton's Global Resort Director. "Yoda's Riglet Park will combine Burton's industry-leading Learn To Ride hardgoods, teaching systems and Riglet Park features with Jedi Master Yoda's methods of balance, movement, and control. We are stoked to partner with Lucasfilm and Sierra to create this amazing experience for little groms."

Burton had previously partnered with Lucasfilm to create Red Protection Avid Grom R2-D2 Helmets for kids and a line of 2011/2012 Burton Chopper Star Wars boards as small as 80 centimeters, with graphics featuring battle scenes on the ice planet Hoth from "The Empire Strikes Back" and Star Wars characters including Yoda, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, R2-D2 and C-3PO, Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, and Boba Fett. The boards and helmets are available for purchase or rental at Sierra-at-Tahoe.

"The Burton Star Wars Experience at Sierra provides a terrific way to engage kids in physical activity at an early age in a safe and fun atmosphere," says Meri Mace, licensing director at Lucasfilm. "Burton and Sierra at Tahoe Resort have been great partners and they've done a remarkable job using environmentally-friendly methods and materials to create the Riglet Park."

The park features chainsaw artist Bob King's wood carvings of Yoda, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3P0, a young Anakin Skywalker, Jar Jar Binks, Ewoks, and other Star Wars characters, and Sierra at Tahoe spokesman Steven Hemphill says even the snowboard instruction itself is Jedi-inspired. Students -- Sierra at Tahoe is calling them Padawans, Star Wars-speak for young Jedi apprentices -- make their way from an indoor learning center with balance boards to increasingly advanced features in the park, including a miniature halfpipe.

Sierra at Tahoe will officially mark the grand opening of the Burton Star Wars Experience on Feb. 17, but it's open now with half-day packages starting at $115 and full-day packages starting at $135.