How one baby-boom skier became a snowboarding convert
For most of my life, snow meant one thing: get out the skisand go. Downhill or nordic-style, they were all I needed to take onthe white stuff of winter.
But now I've added new spice to my ski rack ― a snowboard.Egged on by my two preteen kids, and encouraged by the increasingnumber of other "grays on trays" ― snowboarder argot for thesport's, um, more mature participants ― I decided to forgo aweekend of skiing and give snowboarding a try.
Two days later I was hooked. Boarding, or "riding" as it isoften called, already had me gliding down the mountain in wide,arcing turns and skimming down newly groomed intermediate trails.If I had been a beginner skier with so little time on the mountain,I'd still be belly-flopping off the rope tow.
Riding the boarding boom
I'm not alone in my affection for snowboarding. According to DanKasen, the National Sporting Goods Association's manager ofinformation services, "Of the 27 year-round sports we follow, itwas by far the fastest-growing sport last year." At resortsnationwide, roughly one in four people rides boards, not skis. Atsome areas, boarders outnumber skiers ― at Mountain High,near Los Angeles, it's 85 percent snowboarders, notes MichaelBerry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. Only ahandful of resorts ― Taos in New Mexico and Deer Valley andAlta in Utah ― still eschew snowboards completely.
Snowboarding was once the territory of kids with barbed-wiretattoos, but the number of older enthusiasts has inched up: from350,000 35- to 64-year-olds in 1988 (when NSGA first compiledsnowboarding figures) to just more than 500,000baby-boom-and-beyond riders this past year. While some of theseriders may be searching for the rebel within, many now ride becauseit's gentler on their worn-out knees.
Explains Terrence Orr, M.D., an orthopedist based in South LakeTahoe, California, "Because both legs are attached to the sameplatform in the same direction, you don't have the problem of oneleg going in one direction and the other shooting off in another,like you do with skiing. It's much easier on the knees."
That sounded good to me as I took my son, Sam (age 10), anddaughter, Hannah (age 8), to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, south ofLake Tahoe, for our snowboarding debut. We arrived with our ownhelmets and wrist guards. But as novices we opted to rent boardsand boots.
"What foot do you use to kick a ball?" asked the attendant as hefitted us. "If you kick it with your right, you're goofy. If youuse your left, you're regular."
Mock kicking ensued ― Hannah and I were regular, Samgoofy. That "kicking" foot, the dominant one, would go in the frontbinding plate, a disk of metal that clamped the boot onto theboard. The rear boot clicked into a separate binding behind it, ashoulder-width apart.
Fully outfitted, we exchanged bulky hugs and headed out to ourrespective adults' and children's classes. My instructor, Dustin,led my class over to a gentle hillock.
Getting the hang of it
We moved onto our boards. Dustin showed us how to clip in andout of our bindings ― simple enough. "Okay, Harriot," heannounced, "point your board down the hill and go." Without benefitof poles or much of a slope, I waggled my arms back and forth toget going. "Stand up, lean downhill, weight forward, and pointwhere you want to go," he hollered, so I stood up, tucked my hipsunder, leaned, pointed, and inched down at a soundbarrier-shattering 1 mile per hour.
"Great," Dustin said brightly. "Next!" Everyone took turns,trudging up and trying it again. We attempted turning, rocking ourfeet back and forth, controlling direction with gentle pressure onour heels or toes. Dustin coached us on the basics of falling― try to fall backward, he advised, "where there's padding,"and if we did fall forward, cross our arms to protect ourwrists.
A few more runs, and I got the hang of it, linking lazy turns. Ifound getting up the hardest, and understood why boarders spend somuch time on the ground--getting up is tiring. Then it was time fora challenge, so we headed for the bunny-slope lift. At the top,what seemed laughable on skis all of a sudden looked alarminglylike Everest. I forgot everything.
"Okay, Harriot, go!" Dustin called. I waggled, I pointed, Ibudged. Turn right, press into heels, avoid that tree, leanforward, breathe, rock onto the toes, that's it, another turn. Iwasn't Olympics material, but I was boarding.
After lunch, I met up with Sam and Hannah, who were brimmingwith excitement. They'd made it too. We decided to try the slope onour own, the kids sharing the tips they'd learned ("Stand likeyou're a cowboy about to draw your six-shooter"). We crashed, butwe were up more than down.
The next morning we met our private instructor, New Zealand-bornMark Inglis, all white teeth and ski tan. "Let's work on thefineries," he suggested, moving up to an intermediate trail. Thelesson went by astonishingly quickly, followed by more runs on ourown. It was time to head home.
Not long after, we made a family trip to Mount Rose Ski Resort,near Reno, Nevada. We opted for boarding again. Sam disappeared,saying something about halfpipes and tail grabs. Hannah took offinto a fairyland of snowy pines. I stood alone, staring down,having once again forgotten everything. Okay, I thought, judgmentday.
The following items should be available at sporting goodsstores or other outlets specializing in winter sports gear:
Board. Rent first; then, once you're hooked, go for aflexible, beginner-friendly board, with an ample sidecut ―the inward-curving waistline designed to carry you through smoothturns. When stood on end, the board should reach roughly to yournose. A good board should run $400 to $500.
Helmet. Surprisingly lightweight and comfortable,hard-plastic helmets made for snow sports should be on every headon the slopes ― kids' and adults', skiers' and boarders'alike. $150 adult, $50 kid.
Wrist guard. An inexpensive protection against a leadingsnowboard injury: when you fall forward on a snowboard (as oftenhappens to beginners), it can be a quick, hard slam. $15.
Clothing. The 18-year-old boarders still dress like KurtCobain: baggy pants, flapping plaid shirts. But clothingmanufacturers are now catering to adults who want a cleaner look.Go for polypropylene underwear, which insulates and wicks awaymoisture, polypropylene-wool socks, waterproof mittens or gloves, afleece vest or lightweight shirt, and a waterproof parka andwaterproof pants.
Boots. Beginner boots are usually soft (hard-shell boots arefor advanced boarders) and are made of nylon or other synthetics.They should be snug, not allowing a lot of foot movement inside.Again, rent first, then buy: boots should run about $125.