Read an Excerpt
A Beginner's Guide to Snowboarding
By Doug Werner, Jim Waide
Tracks PublishingCopyright © 1998 Doug Werner
All rights reserved.
Isn't Snowboarding Like ...
I can understand why some people call snowboarding snow surfing. At a glance, you see a surfer-type guy or gal standing surfer-like on a board, whizzing and twirling and jumping through the snow. Like a surfer whizzes and twirls and jumps(well, sometimes) on the face of a wave.
They certainly seem to belong to the same genre and there is a lot of crossover. In most surf shops within a half day's drive of the slopes you'll find snowboarding equipment for sale. There are contests that feature participants competing in both sports and they're held the same day (there's a long drive in between events). Both sports are naturalistic, individualistic, thrilling, young (thinking) and daring. Both require balance, flexibility, quick reflexes and a strong pair of legs.
But the physics of the sports are very different. A surfer rides a moving mass of water on a strapless (usually) surfboard. A snowboarder slides down a snow covered slope due to gravity and the planing surface of a board secured to his or her feet. Surfers intuitively turn off their back foot which is planted on the tail of a surfboard. Snowboarders on the other hand must learn to act counter-intuitively as they maneuver with their weight somewhat forward.
Skiing is not a dissimilar pursuit. Both skiing and snowboarding take advantage of the same physics at the same places. Both involve sliding, snow and mountains. Riders in both sports turn in and out of the fall line using the edges of their planing surfaces. The obvious difference is that skiers wear two slats and snowboarders wear one. So the two camps suffer different injuries, and depending whom you talk to, one sport is easier to learn than the other. Skiers also utilize bindings that release when you fall whereas snowboarders do not.
If you already know how to ski you probably have an advantage. Unlike blank slate novices, you have a feel for sliding on snow, edging on the slopes and soaking wet gloves.
Skateboarding has had a tremendous influence on snowboarding. So many of the acrobatics are inspired by the sport on wheels, especially those performed in the halfpipe. The ranks of snowboarders are replete with sidewalk shredders, including the guy who just may have started it all, Tom Sims. Of course, the stance is similar and the act of skating downhill shares the gravity feed aspect of downhill snowboarding. That is, gravity provides the pull, hence the sliding on an inclined surface.
But skateboarders don't dig the edges of their boards into the asphalt to make a turn. They shift their weight and work with the special trucking devices that the wheels are attached to. Skateboards roll. They do not slide. The demands of edge control aren't involved in the physics of this sport.
Snowboarding is somewhat like skiing and not so much like surfing or skateboarding. As a student it's best to approach the learning of snowboarding without the baggage of similarities. Snowboarding is definitely its own thing.CHAPTER 2
Anatomy of a Snowboarder on a Board
The novice snowboarder must decide which foot to strap in ahead of the other. Usually a right-hander will opt for left foot forward and a lefty the right foot forward. Try sliding in your stocking feet on the kitchen floor to see which foot you naturally place ahead of the other.
When you know which foot leads, you'll know your toe-side, your heel-side, your front shoulder and arm, and your rear shoulder and arm. The front of your snowboard is the tip and the back end is the tail. Your heel rests over the heel-side edge and your toes rest over the toe-side edge. There. Now you've got simple labels for everything.
Anatomy of a Snowboard
Besides the tip and tail, a snowboard has a deck on top and a base on the bottom. Along the sides of the board are the steel edges as well as the board's sidecut. On the deck are bindings or places to secure each foot and in between is the stomp pad.
Snowboards have a number of characteristics but here are some important ones to remember for now.
The front of the board is curved up like a ski in order to slide over snow.
The tail may also be curved up in order to go backward (called fakie). The board you learn on should have some curve to the tail. Boards that have no tail lift are designed for advanced snowboarders who want to carve high speed turns or race.
The steel edges cut through and grip the snow during turns.
The sidecut enhances the effect of a turn. A turn occurs when the rider has weighted the board and flexed it so that the sidecut meets the snow.
Flex is the bendability of a snowboard and comes into play during a turn.
Camber refers to the bend built into a snowboard. Camber helps to distribute a rider's weight evenly over the board.
The stomp pad is a secure, non-slippery place to rest your rear foot when not bound. Riders use it when exiting ski lifts or skating.
The leash attaches to your front leg. Although your bindings are designed not to release when you fall, you are always required to wear a leash. Runaway snowboards are very dangerous.
This can get really involved, so we'll keep it simple. You're going to learn how to slide down a hill on a snowboard. Gravity will pull you down on the plane of your snowboard. If you point yourself directly downhill you will naturally hurtle straight down the path of least resistance. This is called the fall line. If you let a ball roll down the face of the hill, it would take this path.
Since shooting the fall line at this point in your snowboarding career is like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, it's important to learn how to turn back and forth across the fall line. This is how you control your speed and descent. Making a move to cross the fall line and slow down is called traversing.
Turning involves you and your body working in concert with the edges of your board. As stated earlier, the edges are the sides of the snowboard. Turns happen when one of the edges digs into the snow, creating resistance.
Here are the ingredients that make up a simple turn:
A combination of rotation, pressuring and edging will effect a direction change.
Rotation refers to the full body rotation a rider executes about halfway through a turn.
Pressuring is a combination of unweighting the snowboard immediately before a new turn and then weighting it as the turn begins and develops. Unweighting involves extending the legs and lifting up from the board. Weighting involves flexing the knees and sinking your weight down upon the board.
Edging occurs as a rider rolls the board from one edge to the other.
Developing and mastering these different skills and knowing when and how to apply them is key to controlling your downhill flight.
But This Ain't Natural!
Snowboarding (as well as skiing) are counter-intuitive pursuits. It is not natural to lean forward as gravity pulls you downhill. Instinct tells you to pull back. However, in order to successfully navigate your snowboard downhill, a majority of your weight must rest over the front foot. Weighting your rear foot will result in mishap. The board will simply shoot out from under you.
The desire to lean back is one of the major mental obstacles a rider must overcome. Everyone does it at first. But once you get the hang of it you'll feel the logic and embrace the "wrongness" of leaning forward in order to crank those turns.
The other mental obstacle is fear. Looking down even a beginner's slope for the first time is absolutely terrifying for some. You've got this clunky slat strapped to your feet, it's slippery as heck just standing in one spot for heaven's sake and you're being asked to slide off what appears to be the edge of the world! It's strange, uncomfortable and (oh yeah) unnatural. It's important to understand and to believe that there is a way to do this. You are not courting disaster.
Fear is so insidious. It'll make you anticipate mishap after mishap until that's all you'll have. Learn where you're comfy and have faith in your instructor and yourself. You can do this!
In the first edition I had this to say:
The kind of shape you're in will be evident in the first 45 minutes on the slopes. If you're in lousy shape, you'll die. If you're in OK shape, you'll die. If you're in good shape, you'll be exhausted. Don't be stupid. Be in shape. This snowboarding stuff is a lot work at first. And get a good night's sleep the night before.
Blunt and woefully short on particulars, but the point was made.
The reality of your first day involves a complex and trying physical challenge. High altitude cuts stamina and may even make you feel faint until you become more acclimated. Cold weather makes the body work double-time just standing still. Layers of clothing can be cumbersome. Coming to even the simplest terms (strapping in, walking around) with your snowboard is very awkward. Your initial movements on snow will be tense and erratic. Muscles will be asked to do things they have never done before. Falling down is tiresome. Being nervous is tiresome. Getting annoyed with a perceived lack of progress is tiresome.
All this adds up, and before you know it, you're really beat. So it's a good idea to prepare and plan a little for your snowboarding trip.
Follow an exercise program for an ample length of time. Something aerobic that works legs and torso. Build stamina, lower body strength and flexibility. And stretch it out. You'll need it.
Take a day or two to get used to the higher altitude before you go all out. Take it slow and expect to be slow for a while.
Practice basic movements at home before you hit the slopes. This is good exercise for snowboarding and develops muscle memory. When you're finally up there, you'll be that much further along.
Purchase or borrow lightweight, modern outdoor garb.
Create reasonable goals for yourself. You want to measure your successes by how you feel and by how much fun you're having.
Think about taking one step at a time in your learning and build a faith in the process. Look at your fears as simply small obstacles that will melt with time and experience. This is true: Behind the fear is the excitement and joy of downhill flight.
A Story About Desire
Make no bones about it. Snowboarding is a challenging sport to learn. You'll need patience, practice and concentration. But above all, you'll need desire. You gotta want it.
There was once a very determined young man who was seriously bitten by the snowboarding bug. However, he had a problem. No car. And he lived a long, long way from the snow.
It took some doing, but he managed to turn on a friend of his who had wheels to the thrill and glory of his new found sport. Soon thereafter they headed out to the mountains. Unfortunately, the driver did not have a good day. Without instruction and little help from his friend, he pretty much ate snow all morning. After about three hours of that slamming sensation, he'd had enough. He was going home.
But the hero of our story was having none of that. He'd stay, by golly, shred all day and worry about getting home later! So he stayed and his ride left.
The ski area closed at 4:30p.m. Our guy stuck out his thumb and began what turned out to be his own little Battan Death March. All this happened in early February of 1993 in Southern California. The time is important because that is when the biggest storms in ten years rattled through our state. It turned out to be a National Disaster with the works — flooding, torrential rains, mud slides, and lots and lots and lots of snow. Anyway, this manly man hitchhiked more than 200 miles through the howling weather because he wanted to snowboard a full day's worth. It took him twelve hours. He got home at 4:00a.m. the next day.
There are all kinds of things we have to be dedicated to: making enough money, brushing our teeth, obeying traffic signs, changing the oil filter ... But it's nice to be dedicated to something that essentially frees the spirit and is actually FUN! Although this particular episode is a tad extreme, it illustrates an important point or two about achieving a goal. You've got to want it and sometimes you have to sacrifice. Snowboarding is well worth the effort. Give it all you've got!CHAPTER 3
Yes, it's cold up there. And wet. Here's a checklist for proper clothing from head to toe.
On cold days wear a cap or sock to cover dome and ears. A great deal of body heat can be lost through the head. If it's real cold, you'll want a mask.
Wear sunglasses or goggles to protect the eyes from ultraviolet rays and the intense glare of snow and sun. Goggles also provide protection from the elements.
Wear layers of loose-fitting outdoor clothing. Layering provides versatility and climate control. Add layers to warm up against colder conditions and subtract layers to prevent overheating as the day grows warmer. Overheating causes perspiration (moisture), which robs the rider of heat through evaporation.
Tips for three layers:
Start with a synthetic, moisture wicking body shirt that draws perspiration from the skin to the outer layers where it can evaporate. Do not wear cotton T-shirts. As cotton absorbs moisture it loses its ability to insulate. Suitable synthetic materials include polypropylene, capilene, coolmax, ZeO2 or any similar nylon material that sheds water rather than absorbs it. If you sweat easily, bring an extra wicking layer to change into. Stay dry and you'll stay warm.
This is your insulation layer. Wear layers of wool or suitable synthetic material to trap warm air.
Wear a rugged, waterproof, breathable shell for protection from wind, rain and snow. Suitable shells are made from Gore-Tex or H2No, both which allow moisture to pass through, creating better temperature control.
Wear tough, waterproof mitts with wrist straps or gaiters to keep out snow. Consider wearing the wrist guards that skaters use. You will fall, and it's only natural to try to break your fall with an outstretched hand and arm. Suitable armor provides confidence as well as protection.
Like the upper body, wear synthetic, moisture wicking underwear. Over the long johns wear reinforced, waterproof and roomy snowboarding pants. Consider wearing padded pants for butt planting.
Wear wicking liner socks underneath wool or synthetic wool socks.
Your face will fry without it! You can't beat a water and sweat proof block of 30 SPF (sun protection factor).
Wasting Money, Losing Face
Talk about learning the hard way. The first two times I went snowboarding I forgot my goggles and nearly went blind from the glare. I didn't use sunscreen either. For three days after each trip I looked like I did a head dip into a pail of cranberry juice. I also got ripped for fifty bucks on a lift-lesson-rental package because I didn't shop the ski area twenty minutes down the road. It's easy for bad things to happen if you're unprepared. Poor planning can really cut into the fun and fun is what this is all about. Check into things and have a plan.
Boots, Boards & Bindings: In a Nutshell
If you can, rent boots, board and bindings from a shop in your hometown the day before you go. This may be the least expensive way to rent, and it gives you time to comfortably acquaint yourself with the equipment. Much better to learn how to don all this new gear with a friendly salesperson in a cozy showroom than in a freezing parking lot. Or a crowded rental room at a ski area with a clerk who's too busy to care.
Renting from a local shop will give you the time to make all the adjustments you might need on your bindings and to ask questions. Your local shop will become your first source for gear, information and fellowship anyway. Might as well start there.
No Local Shop?
There should be shops surrounding the ski area you intend to visit. Check them out and call the ski areas. You might be able to get a package deal — lift tickets, gear and lessons. Then you won't have to hassle driving back and forth between places.
In general, there are soft boots and hard boots.
Soft boots are still the overwhelming favorite among snowboarders. Soft boots are comfortable and easy to walk around in. They are heavily padded and have thick rubber soles.
Excerpted from Snowboarder's Start-Up by Doug Werner, Jim Waide. Copyright © 1998 Doug Werner. Excerpted by permission of Tracks Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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