My snowboarding journey

I’ve never really been one of those sporty or athletic people. Growing up, I dabbled in gymnastics, and played a bit of tee-ball and cricket, but netball was the only sporty thing that I really enjoyed, playing pretty much right throughout my school years.

Needless to say, snow sports weren’t high on my agenda. My step-dad used to be an avid skier, so we would sometimes spend weekends away at Coronet Peak with my cousins – I vaguely remember attending some ski lessons, but us kids mostly spent our time sledding and tubing down short slopes.

And then I met my partner, a keen snowboarder. Now although I skied a couple times as a kid, I had never mastered the skill, let alone strapped myself into a snowboard. The whole idea of it was way out of my comfort zone!

But, as you do for the ones you love, I wanted to learn so that one day we could go up a mountain together just to board straight back down again.

After 13 years, that day finally came early last year.

In the Beginning

I’ve written a little bit in the past about being a learner snowboarder here. But I haven’t really gone into my personal experience as a beginner. And 10+ years after the first time I ever strapped a snowboard to my feet, I still feel very much like a beginner.

Until you start to get the hang of it, snowboarding is basically a constant cycle of falling down and getting back up again. I won’t lie: snowboarding is hard, you guys. To me, it feels unnatural and scary, and I’ve found it really difficult to master (not that I’ve actually mastered it… yet).

But, it looks cool and is a great leg and butt workout, so there’s that.

I think if I had started learning to snowboard as a kid, I would have found the whole experience that much easier. As it was, I was well into my 20’s before deciding to give it a go, and I’m not an overly sporty or confident human, as we know. So, putting those facts together, it’s no surprise I didn’t instantly take to the sport like a pro.

Lessons are Key

I started off with a lesson, as you do. And although, in that first lesson, I felt like I was picking it up relatively easily, I found the stance hard to get used to. And my legs got tired rather quickly. In fact, my whole body did. I wasn’t afraid of falling over – quite the contrary. I was expecting to fall. A lot. And to be fair, I didn’t actually fall all that much. That first lesson felt like a great success. I learned how to strap myself into a snowboard properly and was able to get up and go with nary an issue.

Since then, I’ve taken part in a handful of professional lessons, both in a group setting and one-on-one. But because we don’t hit the snow very often, I felt like every time I strapped on that snowboard, I had to start from the beginning again. It never felt like I was making much progress.

You would think that my confidence would grow, but instead I found that it waned. At first I wasn’t scared of falling… until I was. Perhaps it was due to a couple of hard falls, or perhaps just my getting older. But either way, my ability to be able to get on the board with any confidence seemed to shrink as the years went on.

I’ve certainly lost my head a couple of times. Mostly due to tiredness and frustration. One time in Whistler I signed up for a full-day group lesson, and gave up not long after lunch. I was exhausted, and felt like I was taking steps backward rather than forward. Once my legs get tired, it’s near impossible for me to get up from the ground, let alone take control of a snowboard wanting to head downhill.

Sometimes you have to know when to walk away and re-group, ya know?

Getting back up Again

Aside from the many lessons I’ve taken, my partner has been so wonderful in helping me learn. Ever so patient, he would take me to the learner slopes and guide me down, giving me pointers along the way. But still, I never felt like I was getting any better.

It wasn’t until I had an unintended personal lesson with a fantastic instructor in Utah that things started to click for me. I had actually signed up for a group lesson that day, but my nerves had gotten the better of me and I ended up running late. My group had already gone up the mountain by the time I arrived, but luckily an instructor was available and willing to help.

He was super patient and kind. And the way he instructed me, it was like everything fell into place. Suddenly, I got it. Snowboarding finally made sense, and I felt in control of the board. For perhaps the first time ever.

I was so excited to show my partner how far I had come! And he was sufficiently impressed with my efforts. But, with tired legs and the fear of ruining any progress I had made, I decided to call it a day.

Return to the Snow

After that lesson, I started to feel better about snowboarding, and my ability to do it. That was a couple of years ago now, and since then I do still take a little while to get the hang of things whenever we hit the snow. I think now, I’m more scared of losing control. I find it hard to stop the board, and I’m constantly worried I’m going to crash into someone, regardless of how far off in the distance they are. It’s funny, when I’m on the board I feel like I’m going really fast. My partner sometimes films me, and when I watch the videos back I’m shocked at how slow I’m actually moving!

During our most recent trip to the US and Canada, I felt like my boarding was really improving. Yes, it took a couple of hours to gain a bit of confidence and get in the groove, but I felt like I was getting there. I decided to forgo the lessons this time, and give it a crack by myself, my partner there to guide me.

I spent a fair bit of time on the learner slopes, both in Whistler and Park City. Park City still has to be my favourite snowboarding destination, though. The learner area is amazing! There is so much space, they have a beginner chairlift, and the slopes themselves are gentle and easy to navigate. I always seem to do my best boarding there.

Those Darned Chairlifts

Once you get the hang of snowboarding itself, the next challenge is most certainly the chairlift. If you can, I definitely recommend starting off with a beginner chairlift. Some snow parks have them, and it’s so great because they’re nice and slow, making it really easy to learn how to get on and off.

A regular person chairlift though? Not so much. I decided to be brave and finally tackle one during our recent trip to Park City (after having gone on the learner one 10 times!). We were on a chair with two skiers, so we mentioned to them that I was learning, in the hopes they’d give me a wide berth, which they did.

I fell down getting off. I knew I would. But I got up and out of the way quickly, so no harm done. That embarrassment sorted, I wasn’t as worried the next time we took a chairlift. You fall down, so what? It happens. No-one really cares. And it teaches you what not to do for next time.

My First Green Run

The chairlift out of the way, it was time. Time for me to tackle my first proper run on a mountain. The first time my partner and I would go down a run together. Yes, I was nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect. It probably took me an hour to get down, as we stopped and started a fair bit. I asked my partner afterward, how long it would normally take him to do that run. He said 5 minutes, ha!

But I loved every minute of it. The funny part is, the run was actually easier than some of the learner slopes I’d been on. There was so much room and I never felt like I was in anyone’s way. I also wasn’t the only learner up there, either.

I had such a blast that I wanted to go straight back up and do it again, chairlift be damned.

My Snowboarding Tips for Beginners

Invest in Lessons

I know snowboarding lessons don’t come cheap, but they are so worth it. All of the instructors I’ve ever had have been patient, kind, and willing to help. They’re professional, and although their styles of teaching have all been quite different, they’ve all been able to break snowboarding down into easy to digest pieces for us learners.

Don’t push yourself too hard

Unless you’re a super freak, you’re going to get tired. Your legs will ache, your butt will hurt, you’ll get cold. It’s inevitable. So, my biggest tip is, once you start feeling tired, do yourself a favour and take a break. Take a break! Whether it’s for an hour or day, let your body recover for a bit. Then you’ll be able to come back refreshed and ready to go again.

Make sure you have enough layers on

There is nothing worse than being cold to the bone when you’re trying to learn something new. It’s always better to have too many layers on than not enough. You can always strip off if you start feeling warm, but when you’re cold, there’s not much you can do out in the elements.

When I’m snowboarding I wear (at least) thermal top and bottoms, a warm hoodie, snow pants and jacket, thick snowboard socks, a neck warmer, a beanie, helmet and snowboard gloves with liners.

Stick to the learner slopes until you’re ready

Take your time. Don’t feel rushed to move on. Yes it can be tedious going up and down the same slope all day, but it’s a great way to learn. When you feel like you’ve outgrown the learner slopes, try some bigger ones nearby before going up the mountain.

Don’t give up!

You will fall down. You will have bad days. You will feel exhausted, at times. But you’ll get there. Eventually it will fall into place and you’ll feel like a badass snowboarder before you know it. Just keep practicing. Keep getting back up again.

Heck, if I can do it, anyone can.

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Author: Michelle

Michelle Harvey is a kiwi traveller, writer, photographer, list-maker, coffee drinker, and wanderer. Winter holidays are her favourite kind.

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