As winter sets in, and the weather forecasters start calling for snow, the
thoughts of many recreational athletes turn to alpine events, especially
skiing. But for some weekend warriors, winter sports means only one thing:
snowboarding. Combining the fluid grace of surfing with the jump and spin
techniques of skateboarding, snowboarding is a rush that has to be experienced.
A few things to know before you go.
First of all, you'll need a board. There are basically two types of boards,
depending on what kind of snowboarding you will be doing. Freeriding is the
more downhill oriented side of the sport, but freestyle is usually what you
see on TV; riding the pipe, doing jumps, and looking styled. Most snowboards
are designed for freeriding or freestyle, which is good because this shape
is perfect for most beginners. It utilizes a twin tip (both ends are the
same) design, as opposed to the freecarving or slalom boards, which are more
directional in shape. Most people start out with a basic model, such as the
Burton A Deck series.
To attach your feet to the board, you need bindings. Most entry level bindings
share the same basic design: a base plate with ratcheting straps. Unlike
ski bindings, snowboard bindings are not meant to release when you crash;
but need to be disconnected in order to "skate," or glide along flat areas.
More advanced bindings replace the base plate with a set of rails, allowing
your boots to rest directly on the board for better response and feel.
You'll also need snowboard boots, and these are usually thick, chunky workhorses.
They come in high and low styles, in hi-tech materials and good old leather,
and have stubby, blunted toes which make your feet look small. They also
run about a size bigger than your normal shoes.
Assembling all the equipment is fairly simple. Most ski areas will rent you
a board and binding set up and a pair of boots for between $20 and $40 per
day. If you want to buy your own stuff, expect to spend at least $450 to
get decent quality equipment. Buying used gear is also an option, and often
a good snowboard shop will have a selection of both pre-owned and previous
model year stock.
No matter if you rent or buy, you'll need to determine your stance on the
board. Most people board with their left foot forward. But some go "goofy,"
leading with their right. How to tell (and you will be asked. It determines
how the bindings are set up): Think of sliding into a base in baseball. Which
foot would you extend forwards during your slide? Usually, that's going to
be your lead foot while boarding. Riding fakie (opposite your normal stance)
is a useful skill, but one to develop down the line.
Strap your front foot onto the board, which will place your toes over one
edge and your heel against the other. In order to get around in the flats,
you push with your free back foot, much like propelling a skateboard. When
you are ready to start your decent, you strap the back foot in and allow
yourself to drift down the mountain. Make sure you are facing forward, keep
your hands in front of you and your weight low (with your knees bent), and
don't try to do too much too soon. Be especially careful not to catch the
front or back edge of your board too sharply in the snow: this will cause
you to crash.
Turns are made by leaning forward or backward and from side to side, using
the toe edge and heel edge of the board for steering and speed control. Stopping
is very similar to braking on hockey skates. You bring both feet perpendicular
to the slope and scrape to a stop, hopefully without falling down. Then you
unbuckle your back binding, skate over to the lift, and head back to the
top for another run.
If you are thinking about trying snowboarding for the first time, go to a
local ski area, rent some basic equipment, and by all means take a lesson.
All told, the day might cost you between $75 and $100, but you will definitely
make progress a lot faster with some professional instruction the first time
out. This will also give you to opportunity to get a better feeling about
the proper board size (based on your weight, not height) and to check out
your compatibility with the sport before you blow a wad on equipment. So
check it out: strap in and ride on!