Learning How to Snowboard

No more excuses — this year, you're shredding some gnar. Here are five tips for getting off the chairlift and down the slopes
Words by Whitney James

Something must’ve happened to me as a child. Whenever I’m at the top of something steep, whether it’s a wall in the climbing gym or a water slide, I want to get down. Immediately. Without experiencing the whole going down thing. This wasn’t really a problem until I began dating a South African. You see, he came to the U-S-of-A in search of one thing — snow. He fell in love with the white stuff that falls in Colorado in heaps each season and riding down it on a snowboard. It must’ve reminded him of surfing his local beach break, except without all those pesky sharks. Unfortunately for him, he started dating me.

When I asked friends for tips on riding a piece of fiberglass-coated wood down a mountain, the response was heated. Facebook was a big unanimous wall of wrath. Friends said that I should ski instead, end of story. That I would need to lower my IQ if I wanted to ride a snowboard. Most importantly, that I should never go with my significant other.

The thing is, I already know how to alpine ski, and don’t really like it. And I was hiding a secret weapon. My boyfriend wasn’t just any old significant other — he taught snowboarding for seven seasons at one of Colorado’s most posh resorts. Armed with borrowed gear and the confidence that I could always throw a tantrum if I was over it, I was ready to ride. Below are the five most important things I learned, and why I recommend you stick to them the first time you try to "shred the gnar," which I think is what the cool kids say. 

The most empowering part of my snowboarding experience was going in with a veteran instructor. While it might be tempting to have a friend teach you, chances are that no matter how patient your friend is, he or she is not a great snowboard instructor. Fork over the cash for the one-on-one lesson to ensure a much more enjoyable day on the mountain. You’ll spend the afternoon feeling confident about the skills you honed while sipping an après cocktail, instead of in urgent care nursing a wrist injury.

And wear a helmet. We started at the bunny hill, and I was not stoked. There were kids half my height charging down the mini-slope, no instructors, rebounding after every fall like nothing had happened. But humility is everything when you’re trying a new activity. Start at the bottom of the mountain and embrace it. Learn your technique here: heel-side, toe-side, falling leaf (riding your board in either direction). Pay special attention to “skating” your board to the magic carpet and stepping on your stomp pad. This builds valuable muscle memory that will come in handy later.

This depends entirely on your fear factor and how much energy you have left over from the bunny slope. Once you’ve mastered falling leaf, the next step is turning — switching from your toe-side to heel-side and back again. Real live snow surfing! Surprisingly, I was ready to try some assisted turns on day one, and loved them. Just know that turning is when people go down hard, normally breaking the fall with their wrists. Master your turns and you’re ready to hit the slopes…almost.

This is a joke, because you cannot avoid chairlifts (unless you’re a cross-country snowboarder). This will obviously not always be possible, but on your first and probably second day it’s advice you should take to heart. If you can, get your feet beneath you (literally) on the magic carpet and then graduate directly to the gondola. Once you’re more comfortable with controlling your board, getting off a chairlift should become much easier. I wouldn’t know, since I biffed it both times I tried. 

I received wonderful advice from people who love to snowboard, but learned that it’s wise to use caution when asking your non-riding friends what they think about the sport. Snowboarding versus skiing can be as polarizing as politics, and chances are you’re going to get an earful. Don’t let anyone scare you off from a sport you haven’t yet tried for yourself.

Conditions were perfect for my first day of snowboarding. I didn’t break my wrist. I didn’t even get angry with my significant other, and I don’t think he did with me. Dare I say it, Facebook friends? Snowboarding was more fun than skiing. But I secretly hope I don’t have to do it again anytime soon. At least, not until they put gondolas on all the local mountains. [H]

Whitney does marketing at Outside GO, loves donuts, and is a total endorphin junkie based in Boulder, Colorado.

Images ©: 1, 4, 6-9; Bryan Rowe and Whitney James. 2, 3, 5; Bryson Malone. 10; Alex Souza

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