For women stoked on learning how to ride, first off let me say, it's the
only sport that has accepted women into its culture as quickly as, say, kids
into skateboarding. Of course, it's unfortunate that as outdoor women we
even need to be compared with a kids market, but the truth is, women don't
usually have their own equipment, clothes, or respect when it comes to sports.
That is, until someone "discovers" that there's actually a market out there
for us. Snowboarding as an industry has discovered this.
Getting started though, isn't as difficult as skiing. First off, the boots
are more comfortable and there's only two edges to deal with rather than
four. Other advantages include the clothes and gloves: They're big and roomy
(no stretch pants) and snowboard gloves really do keep your hands warm because
of the Kevlar on the outside and the major padding on the inside. As a
snowboarder, your hands touch the ground often, so manufacturers have made
gloves with extra protection in mind. (Sounds like a Playtex commercial,
but it's true.)
As for respect, you'll notice it right away. As a beginner female snowboarder
waiting in a lift line, you'll quickly notice that people give you the thumbs
up/approval nod, like, "yea, right on, you can do it" sort of thing. Even
other skiers will check you out. You can practically see other women skiers'
minds' thinking, "Maybe I should try that; she can do it."
And you can. But it hurts at first. My advice: Take a lesson from a professional
rather than learning from a buddy or boyfriend. Learning from a friend may
just ruin that friendship after you've done a few head slams because you'll
blame the friend that's teaching you for teaching you the wrong way. It takes
about three lessons to really discover how to link turns. But once you have
it, the "feeling" never goes away--it's like never forgetting how to ride
a bike. Many resorts offer women's only classes and women instructors. There
are also a variety of women's snowboard camps being offered every season
around the country. I think the best camp for women is the Wild Women's Snowboard
Camp, launched by women's 1992 World Extreme Champ, Greta Gaines, and co-directed
by Mary Seibert. It follows a philosophy by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author
of "Women Who Run with the Wolves," in that women need to break free; that
there is a need and obligation for each woman to reach this level and let
go. Snowboarding's a fluid sport that allows you to do just this. Like rock
climbing, it's more about balance and grace than strength and ego. Therefore,
As for finding the right equipment, here's a strategy to follow: Don't let
retailers steer you in the wrong direction. Remember what you want even if
you only think you know what you want. Even as a beginner, you are your own
best judge as to what fits, feels good, and works for your body and style.
HOW TO SHOP
Snowboards: Ask if the length and weight of the board fits your ability level
and your own weight and size. If you can pick up the board from the tip when
it's standing on end, it's probably a good weight. If you can't, shelf it.
Check the pre-drilled holes for binding width and put your feet on them to
determine if the board stance has the capability of going narrow enough for
you. So many don't, so check this. Also while you're standing there, do your
feet come close to the edge? If they go over, it's too narrow--although just
the opposite is usually the case for women. My motto: FatBobs aren't for
girls. (Ask K2 if you don't understand.) Women's pro-model boards aren't
as rare as they use to be and if you have your choice, why wouldn't you buy
Boots: This gets tricky because feet are gnarly. Take a look at your own
bone spurs and you'll agree. First and foremost, ask the salesperson if the
boot manufacturer you're interested in made the "woman's model" from a woman's
last. Many won't know; some will ask what a "last" actually is. A last is
the basic mold that is formed around a foot onto which the rest of the boots
are modeled and formed. Since women's calves start lower, and women have
narrower heels and wider balls of their feet, a woman's-lasted boot is a
must. Otherwise, you'll be buying a scaled-down version of a men's boot and
we all hate scaled-down-versions, now don't we?
Bindings: Try them on in the store with your snowboard boots on. So many
soft bindings are too wide and you'll have to cut the plastic, re-screw,
and duct tape them into the appropriate place for your feet. Also, check
the width of the binding when buckled in. For two years I had to fill up
the excess width of my bindings with twigs so my foot wouldn't move around.
Fortunately, my Original Sin bindings (plug) changed that.
Clothes: Of course, individual style is a big factor. But when it comes to
comfort, look for pants that come-up high enough so you don't get snow down
the back when you bend over to clip in your binding. Suspender pants are
great--especially with ones that go up the sides of your boobs or in the
middle; and look that they don't constrict movement. Practice a tail-grab
in the store (even if you're a beginner) to see that they don't bind. The
other key aspect for pants are drop-seats (to allow for a quick pee in the
woods). As for jackets, if the zipper or buttons go up the "wrong" side,
guess what, a guy probably designed the thing. Avoid Velcro up by the hood
or collar--your hair will get stuck in it.
Kathleen Gasperini (wigmag) has
worked as a writer for Powder, Snowboarder, Snowboarding, Women's Sports
and Fitness, and Stick magazines. Last year she founded her own magazine
titled W.I.G. (Women In General). She lives in Park City, Utah and snowboards
much more than she should.