Friday, January 18, 2013

A New Year’s switch to snowboarding


The low hum of animosity between skiers and snowboarders is no big secret. They’re radically different sports, even though both activities share terrain and participants of both sports share a love of the mountains.

I’m one of those skiers somewhat uncomfortable around snowboarders for the following four reasons. First, it’s hard to share a lift with a boarder. In addition, the scraping noise the sport generates on Baldy’s steep runs unnerves me. It bothers me that boarders think their laid-back culture is superior to that of skiers. And I don’t like the clothes.

But this year, I find myself on the hill, at least once a week with a snowboarder from my family. In fact, excepting my weekly DIVAS lesson, a snowboarder is my most consistent “ski” buddy. I wait for him to get ready in the parking lot. I wait at the top of each chair for him to find a place to sit, to buckle and adjust. I try to remember not to stop on a cat track between runs, but at the snow gun just above the cat. 

His fondness for the gentle slopes of Seattle Ridge directly opposes my proclivity for steeps. Honestly, it’ s hard to remind myself to be considerate when I have no idea what the hold up is. Why are you sitting down again? What is wrong with tight moguls in the Bowls? Why can’t you just board like a skier?

In an attempt to understand snowboarding and snowboarders better, and in doing so, to find some Zen in regard to my mountain brethren, I decided to literally put myself into a snowboarder’s boots. So I took a lesson last week.

Thanks to Sun Valley’s new SunStart program that runs through the end of January, my two biggest obstacles to trying snowboarding—fear and finances—were removed. Given that, there was absolutely no reason I could think of not to take a snowboard lesson with the indomitable Liz Wallace. Her broad smile and ability to communicate with skiers (she teaches both disciplines) made me really want to like snowboarding—to make her happy if for no other reason.

Liz started my lesson very gently. This is how you put on your boots. This is a snowboard. Here’s how you buckle in your front foot, how you stand up. By the time I got in the Magic Carpet, I was worried, but no longer terrified.

I slid down the Magic Carpet slope, first forward on my back edge then backwards on my front edge. Liz held my hands until I was comfortable enough to let go.

We progressed to Quarter Dollar where I conquered the skill that scared me most—getting off the lift. Riding a chair with snowboarders drives me nuts. The boards swing and bang into my skis, and the boarders are constantly adjusting their positions. Now I know why. It is amazingly uncomfortable to have a big snowboard dangling from one foot into thin air. You have to brace it on something. I used my free foot, wedging it under the board. Having done it, I apologize to any snowboarders I’ve looked at sideways on the lift.

Sliding off at the top wasn’t as hard as I expected, but it wasn’t smooth either. And making it down Quarter Dollar three times during the remainder of my lesson was an exercise in humility, small victories and a lot of laughter. Never has that slope looked so steep and intimidating. Not in a long time have I had absolutely no idea how to approach a run.

But with Liz’s patience and step-by-step instruction, I slowly got a feel for boarding.

I weighted my front foot, letting the board point downhill and straightening it out. I pedaled down on the ball of my front foot, then on my back foot to initiate a turn before again finding center. I tried it on my heels. Once, I missed a turn and went flying under a rope into a pile of powder. I missed another turn and ended up stuck next to a snow gun. Turns finished still standing were an occasion for cheers and high fives.

Needless to say, I completed my lesson with a new appreciation for snowboarding and snowboarders. Let’s say you’re a boarder who doesn’t ski, or a skier who doesn’t board, or a Nordic skier who doesn’t do either, the SunStart program is a chance to switch it up.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a convert to snowboarding but as the ancient idiom says, “You never truly know someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes.” In this case, I’ve now taken a few runs in a snowboarder’s boots. I get it. Riding snow could be really fun once you’ve become good at it. I still, however, don’t like the clothes.

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