I started snowboarding in 2008 and would love to give others the same experience I’ve had or something close to it.
Until 2008 I had only been on a snowboard once before in my life and that was in 2006, indoors on manmade snow in Dubai, an experience that both terrified and elated me all at the same time. It wasn’t until 2008 and the epic snow storm that blanketed most of the nation that I decided to give it another go. Of course I had a few friends who were goading me into trying it, as I normally made fun of snowboarding or any other snow sports for that matter.
I used to think it was too expensive, dangerous, and a waste of time. Why would I go out in the cold on purpose? Why would I pay to strap a sled to my feet and do crazy things? All of these questions and more went through my head while I was driving a group of Aussie friends up to Cypress Mountain in Vancouver, BC where I was planning to go snowshoeing and take photos. When we arrived at the mountain the sky started dumping snow, something it wasn’t’ doing when we started off from the city. It would make for a good snowshoeing experience, but would limit the photo opportunities.
So, with that I decided to cave into the peer pressure I was feeling and give snowboarding another try. Keep in mind that only other time I had been strapped to a snowboard was in the United Arab Emirates on fake snow in August in the middle of the desert.
The gear was smelly and sweaty from hundreds of other users, but it seemed solid and didn’t cost that much. It felt like I was carrying a coffee table with some attachment points for my feet. I wasn’t the only one in the group who had to rent equipment and so once we all had our gear sorted out, we trudged up to the beginner slope.
The ski lift loomed ahead of me and my stomach was starting to get that familiar feeling of unease, thinking I was going to hurt myself in some spectacular way.
As I was with a few others, we were able to share in our first few follies as we tried to get on the ski lift without issue. Of course I fell and they had to stop the slow-moving lift. Once I got untangled from the others I had taken down with my ski lift maneuver, we finally loaded without issue.
I was kind of proud it only took two tries to get it right on the upload, but the unload was another story. We managed to not fall from the lift, a dizzying height of maybe 20 feet off the ground, which was a win for our little group. That is until we managed to get to the top of the lift where we needed to get off the contraption from hell. There were only three of us on the chair we were assigned to, and we all managed to crash as soon as we got off the lift, causing them to stop the lift so we wouldn’t get run over by the next chair that was going to unload. Naturally we all got tangled and had to sort ourselves out before we could get on the slope.
Finally after the debacle of the chair lift – a beginner’s lift that was made to teach you to get on and off easily – we shouldn’t have been embarrassed, but we were.
The hill, to my inexperienced eyes, seemed like it was a million miles long and impossible to get down safely. Of course it was only 100 yards and not that bad, but my mind was playing with me and trying to convince me not to do what I was about to do. We all struggled to get up onto our boards, but we did. No one ever told me there were tricks to getting up onto the board that would make it easier for us, but then we also hadn’t signed up for lessons, so who were we to complain?
I want to lie of course and say I stood up on the board and rocketed down the hill with natural skill, but that would be false and not very convincing. Instead I did a side-to-side motion down the hill in what is normally called leafing, where you face down the hill and rack from left to right while doing everything in your power to keep upright while nature is doing everything in its power to bring you crashing down onto your tailbone. Nature managed to injure me a few times on my first go – my tailbone was the first casualty, then my shoulder – but coming away with a only few injuries was a good sign, or so I was told.
It wasn’t until after a lunch of some nachos and beer on that first day that I got the hang of actually riding a snowboard. I think it may have been the beer that relaxed me enough to try to move from the beginners hill and onto the actual slope, or it could have been the others in the group who wanted to try bigger and better things, and some more goading from my Aussie friends that finally got me onto the big lift.
First, the view was spectacular. Second the friends I was with made the day so much more than a painful lesson as to why you don’t do things like this on purpose. Third, the hill we hit after lunch was a million miles long.
The view took my breath away. That first time at the top of a mountain looking out over snowcapped mountaintops breaking through the clouds was amazing. It reminded me of how small we are and while we think our actions have impact, these mountains predate us and they will be here long after we are gone. The majesty of the mountains and the clean slate that fresh snow provides gives you a chance to look on your life in a way that you might not always get a chance to do. Snow makes the world seem clean and full of potential and the mountains seemed to be giving me that.
Friends are a must when you are first starting out – they congratulate, cajole, and carry you down the mountain when you need it. The friends I was with on that first day helped me off the lift, something I needed, and guided me to the easiest slope to give me the best chance to experience something they all described as “epic fun”.
That first run on a real slope seemed to take hours to complete. There was so much stopping and starting that it was hard to figure out how long it was really taking. One of my friends, who was a more experienced snowboarder than I was gave me some tips and also took me under his wing and showed me some tricks to help me stay upright.
The run started smoothly and then immediately went crashing into pain and hilarity. Without pain you don’t have perspective of what you shouldn’t be doing, and of course it’s really hilarious when you rocket down a hill and don’t have the knowledge of how to stop other than falling over. That run I managed to tweak my tailbone back in, after I had tweaked it out on the beginners slope earlier in the day, so that was a plus.
My riding style could be described as pointing the nose of the snowboard down the hill and shouting “BANZAI” and hoping I wasn’t going to hit anyone. I had no skill, style, or fear. One of my friends described me as a rocket with no guidance, or brakes.
By the time I reached the bottom of the hill on that first run, I had fallen fifteen times, run into at least four people, and crashed into a stream that was hidden by some deep snow. But I made it in one piece with minimal injury and I didn’t need ski patrol assistance getting off the mountain!
When you’re learning how to snowboard you can’t be distracted, you have to focus on where your body is in time and space and have to work with your mind to keep it clear and focused on the actions that keep you upright and moving downhill. There is no room for other thoughts, as your body needs your entire focus as you rocket down a hill with only a plank of wood strapped to your feet.
I won’t lie, I was shaken by that first real experience snowboarding. It was like nothing else I had ever experienced before. The reason I was shaken by the experience? I had found a place that allowed me to just let go of all my troubles and just be one with myself.