It's all about learning to board on Snö
All snow slopes throughout the UK offer slightly different packages to get started – just select what suits you best, be it distance, money or opinions on the ‘quality of the snow’ that helps. There is no real advantage for beginners its mainly practice you need after you’ve been taught the basics. One thing to note if you are an adult learner without kids, maybe avoid the school holidays, the slopes can be extremely busy and the timetables alter to fit in other activities such as tobogganing.
I chose one of the Snowboard in a day (SIAD) courses, mainly because I really didn’t know if I would enjoy it. It’s a cheap tester option as opposed to getting lying drunk under a table because you’re stuck in a French alpine resort loathing all things snow-related. The best way to approach the day is to have no expectations that you will become the next Jamie Nichol by the end of it, it does however give you a good crack at what its like, teaching you to to get down the slope in one piece and perform some linked curves. It certainly leaves you with no illusions -an immense amount of hard work, regular, frequent practice and a natural ability not to over-think every move are needed to get to Jamie’s standard.
This is where I have to pay tribute to the first instructor of the day for standing outside the coffee shop, chatting to people before erupting into a Wizard of Oz style voice from above bellowing for all SIAD that the lunch sheet was blank, and if you wanted to survive the whole day fuel was essential, so it was time to step forward and make yourself known. As simple as this sounds it was a fantastic ice-breaker between a group of 12 people who had been eye-balling each other across the room in a quest to determine who they would be sharing their day with (or if they were even at the correct snow slope). It actually wasn’t just Dan’s loud voice that the tribute goes too, its for the positive and jovial cavalier attitude that he put on display throughout the whole day – an attitude I’ve since learnt seems to be central and consistent in all those with a passion for snowboarding. Boarders are generally happy people, they like to chat, share experiences and they are confident but not arrogant, humour filled and a little bit nuts without being completely ridiculous.
First things first
After an intro chat about your boots, bindings and board, you take a buzzy and excited, if not a little fearful, first climb up to the lesson area on the slope. At the top your first pearl of wisdom is found – learning how to fall. Yeah right – sounds a little ridiculous doesn’t it, but trust me it will save you some muscle ache and if you’ve bruised your coccyx before you’ll pick it up pretty damn quick – so ultimately its about protecting your butt (ok and the wrists) by falling in adapted ways – don’t let this first lesson put you off – this ain’t no slideshow lecture just a minute of your time, it’s explained and you can choose to listen or not, your coccyx will thank you for it!
Woo hoo some actual snowboarding…
Finally its arrived – the essence of the ride, and the first mission you choose to accept; Learning your toe edge. So basically your instructor is sending you backwards down the slope, on a board with super slippery metal edges – Ha, don’t freak – your instructors aren’t that cruel they’ll be there to hold your hand and guide you all the way.
If there are any ladies reading this, you can be forgiven for thinking this is where it turns sexy, a little dirty dancingesq ‘Don’t look down look right here‘ and well OK maybe at the top of the first run, where the instructor takes both your hands in his and guides you down slowly, face-to-face with a lot of eye contact, is a little suggestive…but have no fear gentlemen, its all in the head. The next few runs where you’re shouted at by your instructor ‘Stop looking at your damn feet’ ‘Stop trying to balance’ and ‘Crikey that was a spectacular fall are you ok’ whilst they pluck you up out of the snow soon eradicates any misconceptions.
Basically you only get eye contact if your instructors height is relatively short, and there is of course a reason behind this first instructor technique – if you look down at your feet your ass is ending up in the snow. Don’t worry about the shouting instructors either, its pretty compulsory mainly due to your hearing being restricted by the helmet you wear and the enclosed atmosphere of the indoor slope. Sometimes even when standing next to the instructor I found it pretty difficult to hear every word.
Admittedly at this initial stage there were brief moments of praying to the fake mountain scenery that I’d been born with eyes in the back of my head, so that I wouldn’t hit anyone or worst still perform a spectacular flip backwards. I developed a kind of ‘hug the mountain’ thought as I made my way down, but you’ll be pleased to know both hitting others and flipping backwards are pretty impossible.
Once you’ve mastered the toe edge (well sort of), along comes the heel edge, more of the same, but this time your facing down the slope with your instructor guiding you from the side. Dumb asses like me start the stage by leaning forward against your boots, with your instructor mentioning jovially that if you want to kill yourself keep doing what your doing (thank you @danoughton1987) Needless to say I corrected my stance and didn’t die!
Food is Fuel
This is the briefest note on the lunch break which followed a pretty hard working morning. Food is Fuel, this is a good mantra – Learn it, Live it. If your expecting a Michelin style 2 course meal, I’ll say it again Food is Fuel and fortunately the power of snowboarding makes you really not care, you want to fill up, hydrate and grab a good rest before you hit the slope again (sorry @Snowdometam it really was utterly tasteless gruel – maybe something to work on!)
Post Fuel Stop
This was definitely the most fun bit of the day, on returning to your board, the heel and toe edges have become slightly more natural and your eagerness to control every millimetre of the board abates. You’re more relaxed and begin to control the board and your instructors teach you curves and linking. It’s also the stage where you throw some of the most spectacular shapes into the snow and probably where your at the most risk of injuring yourself in your determination to succeed.
My second little instructor nod goes to Steve ‘the legend’ Oldham (so far two other instructors have called him that and I am yet to find out why), not only did Steve pick my sorry ass up out of the snow more times than I care to remember, he also took the time to explain when I fell, why I fell and how to correct my movements in terms I understood.
This part of the day was definitely the busiest and our group of 12 was joined in the practice area by 6 more slightly advanced snowboarders and a few recreational skiers (Grrr…). Despite this addition in bodies the atmosphere only improved with the final instructor nod bobbing towards Luke Lightwood who although teaching the advanced group offered helpful tips, helpful hands and quirky comments, whilst the other instructors were concentrating on other members of our group.
Ahhh the ends in sight…
After a final, much needed tea break, our last hour was dedicated free time, for us to have a go on our own and if you were confident and capable enough a few trips up to the very top of the slope from where the recreational boarders and skiers had been passing us from all day.
I have to admit I bottled it and didn’t make the top, not only was I incredibly tired by this stage, I’d also had a dose of ‘The Fear.’ I’d been conducting my curves with relative success, then just lost it and wiped out. On the second attempt I propelled instructor Steve into the skiers at the bottom of the practice slope because I forgot to let go of his hand, thankfully it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, no-one was hurt and Steve was pretty good about it.
After a friendly chat with the instructors, whilst the rest of the group boarded on, exhilarated yet exhausted the day was finally done. I can safely say there wasn’t one member of our group who didn’t enjoy themselves, yes some won’t be back, but others like me were hit badly with the bug and my mission to master the snow had begun.