It's all about learning to board on Snö
Ok so I’m writing this from the safety of my comfy sofa with a hot cup of tea and no snow in sight, a little Jake Bugg warbling in the background. But on my third visit to the dome (about a six weeks ago now *weep*) I think I finally struck gold…well technically I struck an instructor, but I promise it wasn’t hard and Luke is not even limping and later in the day he continued slide down a box as a pro.
If you’ve read my other blogs you might be starting to think there’s a recurring theme developing here and plotting your trip so you can avoid sharing the slope with me… honestly I’m making it sound a lot worse than it actually was. The instructors are always looking out for their boarders and pretty much everyone else on the slope…so I will explain it a little more…
Everything starts smoothly (well kind of)
The second lesson did not start well…nothing to do with snowboarding, my cousin managed to mis-judge the turn off on the M42 and we took a nice little trip to the next junction. I’d like to say we ran across the car park and flew into the changing rooms at top speed, but it was more a jog and well as it was cold out the thermals were already on. Whilst I admit it’s not really the best way to begin, and I apologised a lot to our instructor Andy, it did mean there was less time for us to worry and faff about with our kit. I’d also bought a new pair of gloves so I could avoid another 10 minute ‘glovesaga’ scandal.
It would seem Andy is not the luckiest instructor on the slope…he is a lovely relaxed person but managing to land me and my cousin for a second lesson probably made him reach for a stronger coffee that morning. I think he was also a little surprised to see us as he was happy to sign us off as rec level snowboarders the last time. Reading back over my last blog, I’m amazed by the lost of confidence I did experience…and I do remember we did umm and ahh about the second lesson ourselves, but ultimately for both of us it was a confidence thing. I think that’s half my battle, especially as I was starting something new in my 30’s…I’ve kinda lost that fabulous 90’s ‘no fear’ motto I had as a teenager/young adult and gained a new ‘fuck it, what’s the worst that can happen.’ attitude. The only trouble with this new philosophy is that by now, and with my current job, I’m quite aware of what the worst is and I have to push through that wall anyway. Seriously I’m even wondering myself when and how did I become such a wet lettuce!
For our next lesson Andy didn’t just take us up there and chat and coach whilst we practised, his first question whilst he sat swinging his legs on the equipment desk was what did we want to achieve…what did we want from our lesson. He felt confident to let us on the slope without him, but we obviously felt differently. It actually wasn’t too hard to answer and maybe that’s why a good teacher doesn’t make the decisions, but encourages you to set your own goals. My answer was
Reassurance: Needed to prove that what I achieve last time hadn’t disappear
Gain confidence: Not just to keep going from the top of the steep slope, but also with my control as I still had a residual ‘might hurt other people’ fear.
Proving to myself I hadn’t forgotten the skills I gained last time was settled within minutes after I’d finished my first heel and toe warm-up. It really is incredible how the moment you snap your bindings back onto the board that this feeling of excitement and eagerness seems to burst up from the snow and grow up your legs, like a tingling, zingy feeling, and you want to get moving on the snow. It’s certainly a thrill when you begin to connect your curves and body movement to negotiate your way down the slope on your own. From this its easy to understand why surfing and snowboarding has a strong link, back in the day I tried surfing and experienced the same sensation when catching a wave, unfortunately with surfing it was easy to walk away from as the sensation wasn’t frequent enough as I only felt it when I caught a wave. With snowboarding I get it almost every time I put the board on at the top of a slope…maybe its just a beginners thing but the feeling stays with me long after I’ve left the slopes and makes me still hunger for more.
A bit of a bump and bang!
It was all going so well this time… I hadn’t wiped out, I had spent a lot less time on my ass, I had started to manoeuvre myself over the middle stop point and down to the bottom (all on my own!!!), and sharing the slope with skiers weren’t a problem either (though I did get a little grumpy when the recreation ones stood faffing with their little sticks at the top of the snowboard practice area).
To build our confidence further me and my cousin asked Andy to take us to the top slope, for more practice. Now if your at the same level as me this means a cute little trip up the funny bumpy side escalator and a place where some funny conversations with your instructors happen, especially if your hearing is severely altered by your helmet. I still don’t think I got the chicken joke, but I am also sure if the kid it was told to repeated it to his mum… she’d be thinking WTF!
Funnily enough the height of the top slope is not the scary part (and that does come from someone with a mild fear of of heights), its the steepness. Interestingly enough the steeper the slope the easier it is to brake, so taking a precautionary heel slide, guided by your instructor, down to the top of the practice area actually isn’t too bad. I did have a tendency to over-brake, stopping my momentum, but Andy was there to explain and by the second run I was correcting myself. Now you’d think once at the top of area you’ve been snowboarding down for the last 30 minutes you’d be Ok to continue on your own as you had been doing… so I left Andy at the top of this area – thankfully still aware of as all instructors seem to be of their students.
The standard position for all the instructors whilst they’re teaching curves and changes of direction is mid-slope, after a slight camber, where they can direct you and you can form a single good movement. There was instructor Luke minding his own business, mid-slope position working with a group of youngsters… there goes me, knowing he’s there and that I can use him as a marker for my own curve, down I go tra la laa…I can hear Andy vocally in the background, that’s good ignore him move around him, ignore him, and that’s when I made the mistake of looking and actually registering him being there. My head’s instant response was ‘I’m going to hit him’ all day I’d been shouting ‘Brake’ in my head if I get in a flap and it had worked, no near misses with anyone. This time I went to mush, quite literally. I can vaguely remember hearing Andy’s voice in the background, Luke had registered my presence but as I’d already started my curve away he’s turned his concentration back to his own boarders. I still don’t know why I freak so much when people get close to me, maybe I start thinking too much again. The sensible thing to do in this type of situation would be to open one’s mouth and shout at the person to warn them, well I just kind of went arghh and Bang! In fairness to myself, my board only lightly hit his feet, I didn’t full body-check him or anything, I just got brain-freeze and couldn’t finish my change of direction. By the fraction of a second it took to snap myself back it was too late, I had hit poor Luke and I was tumbling down hard onto my butt.
The only thing I can say is Thank you Luke for being so nice about it and Thank you Andy who once again plucked my sorry ass up off the snow. I don’t think I’ve ever met so many people who have this lovely water-off-a-duck attitude, its very refreshing, maybe I’ve been in London too long. Its very professional and Andy shook me out of my trauma by jokingly blaming Luke and told me to hit him harder next time he was in my way. He did however also say to me next time open your mouth and shout if you get too close, he can move pretty fast with advance warning.
My own stupidity hasn’t put me off snowboarding but like previous times, I was shaken, and a little fearful of going down the slope again. I had one final trip down for the end of the lesson. We took a good sensible hot chocolate and banana break…then I made myself return for the recreation session we’d booked. I returned a little happier and stuck to the middle slope, the great thing about doing recreation straight after a lesson is that the instructors are still teaching, so when I say they are always watching you its not sinister, it just means they are there to ask a question or two if you get stuck or worried.
Practice and People
Its amazing how quickly time goes when your practising, its also pretty hard work, I don’t know how the instructor run up and down the slope all day with their students. The tiredness definitely creeps up on you, one moment your Ok, the next your moves definitely aren’t as sharp. By the time we had a second break only an hour later, I was struggling a little, my cousin was well away down the top slope (I don’t know where she had the energy, she’s half my size). I then had a boot/board problem midway down the top half – I’d knocked my boot clip on the escalator and hadn’t realised it was loose, after semi-crawling/half sliding down to the mid section Luke very kindly showed me how to fix it (I need to learn a bit more about bindings and the board!).
These instructors definitely have some sort of sixth sense…by the time I’d made it back to the top, Andy came up to us and said (knowingly) how long have you two been on here today…be careful you’ll be very tired. I just heard that and took a seat on the crash barriers, someone saying it out loud makes you think, in my head I’d been saying just a couple more runs then I’ll stop, but actually I just needed to stop. My cousin still full of energy took up another couple of runs and for once I got to people watch the slopes, a past time that I love and something I’ve never actually done here as I was too busy concentrating on myself.
So I finished the day watching an amazing kid in a white helmet, I say kid I don’t know how old he was but he only came up to my hip, snowboarding all over the place, making jumps and turns like it was second nature… the instructors continued to tirelessly run up and down helping their students, plucking them out of the snow and telling jokes. To the left of the slope where the little kid had been jumping there was also a box to slide along, I think it was set up for the park session the following day, a group of teenagers had started practising their moves, taking it in turns. It was really interesting to watch how as a group they chatted to each other after each go, helping each other to adjust what went wrong and try and improve. They were intermittently gaining success, then over slides Luke and after a brief chat demonstrated to them the action. The difference between him performing the move and the teenagers was so different, noticeably better, but the most interesting thing about it was that he was taking time to show the kids how to do it properly and they were really thrilled.
I think that’s something that has grabbed me so much about snowboarding, whether its on the slope or watching the snowporn videos, the guys and girls that board (whether as groups or individuals) are part of a wider community, they work hard, but then they share their successes and failures with others, there’s an essence of showing off, but they also seem to be very humble about their achievement and keep the top priority of having fun.
It feels like ages since I was on a snowboard, damn sun holidays are getting in the way! Will have to contemplate my next post and I promise I am working on the imagery to improve my whole blog…I’m just slow!