A beginners perspective on snowboarding

I love snowboarding. If anyone asks, I usually say I've been snowboarding since 2010. The truth is that I tried learning to snowboard 5 years before that and was so disheartened by the experience that I thought I'd given up. Even in the last few years I've sometimes been very demoralised. Maybe someone (beginner or teacher) can learn from my experiences.

Episode 1 - The edge menace

There seem to be two ways to teach beginners how to turn a snowboard:

  • Turn your upper body (usually by gesturing with your arms.)
  • Directly lean on your board edges.

My first ever teacher tried to get me to do the arm-waving technique. It wasn't a great success. I went shooting off all over the slope making much wider turns at greater speed than my fellow pupils. What I didn't realise was that (probably because I was nervous about how slowly I had been turning) I was leaning hard on my edges. I certainly sped things up, but not in the way I intended!

Edit: I now understand the difficulty I had making skidded turns: http://caloriesperpence.com/boarder-what-do-you-weigh/

That story might have ended happily if I'd been told what I was doing wrong, but as my teacher didn't seem to understand my control problem I ended the week exhausted and feeling like I'd learned nothing. Throwing myself down a hill on a piece of wood was not going to work for me, or so I thought.

Episode 2 - A new hope

Fast forward 5 years and one day my therapist says to me, "Justin, what do you do for fun?"

Well that stumped me, so on a whim I decided to go to Chill Factore in Trafford to learn to snowboard (again).


My teachers at Chill Factore were all about edges and as that was where I was coming from I was very happy indeed. Even better, I found out that I was an ambidextrous snowboarder. Things were looking good!

I put in about 50 hours at Chill Factore practising everything I learnt until I felt completely comfortable on that slope. When the season rolled round, I booked myself a holiday in Andorra. Whoop!

Episode 3 - Revenge of the setup

When I got to Andorra, tourists and reps who found out that "all" my boarding experience was indoors strongly advised me to take a group lesson to "get used to the mountain". For most of my life I'd been an anxious sort of guy and I took their advice to heart.

The first day was pretty awesome. I had a few spills on the disconcerting green slope (a sheet of ice with about 5 degrees of tilt) but as soon as we were out and about I felt great. I seemed to be one of the most confident boarders in this "intermediate" group and when the group was split because of high numbers I was put with the stronger boarders.

On day 2 everything went horribly wrong. The first thing we did was drop down a reasonably steep slope one by one. All we had to do was make a single turn while our teachers watched.

Bang! I totally wiped out.

Worst of all, I had no idea why I'd wiped out. (I'm always keen on understanding cause-effect. Hey, I'm a geek.)

From this point on things got pretty hairy: I dropped down to the less confident group; My ability to negotiate any slope started to feel completely random; I abandoned the idea that I was ambidextrous and stuck to regular as I'd started of a tad more confident on that leg; I hurt pretty badly by the end of the week and my body showed it.

What I discovered as the week went on was that my board setup wasn't great:

  • The nose was shorter than the tail (in regular)
  • The stance was narrow
  • The left highback was angled down and the right was vertical

If I'd understood all these things and their effects early on then I could probably have recovered but my rate of discovery couldn't keep pace with the collapse of my morale. By the end of the week I was a wreck.

Episode 4 - Return of the family

I didn't want my snowboarding to end there. When it was going well, it felt fantastic, and I wanted that back. I didn't have the confidence to do a second holiday on my own so I rounded up my family and a friend.

I'd bought my own board because I wanted total control over my equipment. I was really grateful for that and although I was only a little more confident at the end of the holiday than I was at the beginning, I'd had enough success to make me look forward to the next time.

Episode 5 - Teach strikes back

My next holiday was in ######, which is one of the best kept secrets ever. After a pretty good start, I worked up the courage to get a lesson and, disconcertingly, the teacher took me right back to the beginning with a bit of arm waving.

I can't remember what I was thinking while doing the ol' arm waving. On the one hand I'm pretty humble in the presence of an expert, but on the the other hand I can easily feel patronised. Whatever, it totally worked.

This guy spent as much time watching me as telling me what to do. I think I probably picked up the upper body movement more easily this time round because I knew all about edge use by now and knew that he wasn't asking for that.

Suddenly I had access to low speed turns like I'd never had before. I could control my speed on narrow, steep pistes far, far better than I could before that one lesson. I was so buzzed that I went looking for drops to practice turning slowly on.

The next lesson we went back to faster work and by the end of the week I was as confident as I'd been at the start of my week in Andorra. And significantly more skilled.

Episode 6 - Attack of the gratuitous episode title

Apologies to Star Wars fans for the mashed up episode titles. I didn't have the patience to figure out how to use them in the correct order. Feel free to make suggestions.

Mentally, I'm in a pretty good place with respect to snowboarding. I'm looking forward to my next holiday. I get excited when I think that I'll have an opportunity to attack a new set of slopes with confidence, decent hardware, and a modicum of skill. Wish me luck.

Justin Hellings

I'm a geek in a world that insists on being irrational and a greenie in a society that insists on speeding towards its own destruction. There's some work to be done here. Nah, let's go snowboard. Woo!

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