I put a snowboard on my feet for the first time in 2017 when I was 36. You are looking at a selfie I took while waiting in line for my rental gear. My first day, hell, my first 12 days (over 3 years) on a snowboard, were memorable. Probably memorable because they were painful in different ways, emotionally and physically, and pain always causes us to remember, right? Ok, it wasn’t that bad. I typically manage to stop doing something before it makes me cry. Lol. Memorable.
One of these things is not like the other. The first time I put a snowboard on my feet is memorable because it was pitifully embarrassing and just funny. I like the funny version. Picture this, you are in the Poconos, ski slopes with a maximum vertical drop of 900 surround you. Eleven young boys ages ranging from 7 to 10, filled with youthful fearlessness and skateboarding experience, a small gaggle of neon green, orange, and electric blue boys crowned with helmets adorned with fake mohawks and lizard spikes gather. Now picture me, a grown-ass woman in fuschia snow pants, turquoise shell, and a purple helmet towering among them. And of course the instructors, half of whom are half my age. Are you picturing it? Anything look out of place? You got it. Moi!
Day 1. So the group lesson commences, we learn some terminology, we learn how to put on the snowboard, we ‘skate’ in circles with one foot in the bindings and one foot out, we plow down a tiny hill, we learn how to to leaf down a tiny hill, and we learn something about something called toe side and heel side. I spent the rest of the day exploring the toe side turn on the bunny slope, and my classmates were most likely shredding pow pow bouncing down the blues. Without exaggeration, I spent the next 4 snowboarding days, spread out over 2 years, exploring the heel side turn.
Earn your Irish Coffee. Learning to snowboard when you are older is hard. It is harder than sipping Irish Coffee by the fire in the lodge. It is physically hard and it is mentally hard. For me, physical difficulty is more of a hurdle than mental difficulty. The mental difficulty is just the process, and we should embrace and love the process, never quit the process, and be grateful that we are out there learning and doing something new and a little scary. And don’t sweat or be intimidated by the kids out there with you, a third or a quarter of your age who are better than you. Many young kids in extreme sports today are truly marvels, and we can be grateful that there is a new generation getting out there. (Hopefully you see some girls, as amateur extreme sports are truly still dominated by boys and men.) So, it might take you 5 or 6 days and dozens of runs to master the heel side turn on a snowboard, but you will. You might endure some pain while learning the heel side turn, or have to stop for the day because if you fall on your butt in the same spot again you will burst into tears of pain. There will be people who are faster than you and there will be people who have snowboarded since they were 7; learn a little by watching them. Enjoy the snow covered trees, the mountains, the small triumphs, and when your sore butt can’t take anymore, enjoy the Irish Coffee.
Physical pain #1: Pain from impact. Let’s talk about the physical difficulty and that sore butt. Learning to snowboard required overcoming a good bit of pain and soreness. First, the pain, pain caused by repeated impact. Specifically my left butt cheek (I ride regular) and my knees. For me the toe side turn wasn’t too tough to learn; heel side turn was more of a challenge. Time to get a wee bit technical. Picture this. You are standing at the bottom of the slope looking up. A snowboarder is gliding from the right to the left side of the trail and their body is facing up the mountain and their head is looking over their left shoulder. This rider is on their toe side, leaning slightly into the mountain face, and must do a heel side turn to transition to the heel side to ride back to the right side of the run. Ultimately, making an S shaped path as they come down the run. So, the rider is facing up the mountain, gliding right to left, on the toe side. To make the heel side turn, they must squat like they are sitting, place their weight more over their heel, lean backwards, turn their head over their left shoulder looking where they want to go, and thus lean and curve into the turn. I fell a lot on the lean backwards part. I fell here so often, that there were days on the mountain that I had to call it quits because I knew that if I fell on the left side of my butt one more time I would burst out in tears. Yes, I tried crash pants, they didn’t work for me. While learning my toe side turn, my knees took a beating one day, then I got knee pads, problem solved.
Physical pain #2: Soreness. When you are first learning to do something really physical and athletic, a lot of times you are using muscles you have never really used before. On top of that, because you are just learning to have the right form, you are probably using muscles very inefficiently, so you are overusing muscles you didn’t know you had. When I was learning to snowboard, I thought my legs would be the most physically taxed part of my body. Seems logical, right? Not the case. It was my torso and forearms.
I had never thought about the role your forearm muscles have in picking yourself up off the ground after falling before snowboarding. Lol. However, falling a lot was just part of learning to snowboard! (Falling: The falls themselves are not bad at all. While learning, I might fall 15-20 times in a day and only 3 or 4 of those falls would hurt. Now that I am much better, I can snowboard black diamonds, still can’t do moguls, I still fall sometimes for sure, but they don’t hurt.) Using my forearm muscles to push my body up out of the snow and back onto my snowboard, whether I had fallen or whether I was just standing up from putting on the board, taxed those muscles a lot, and my forearms were always quite sore after a day of learning. Next, your torso, your entire torso. So, ultimately in snowboarding, the turning is supposed to be done by moving weight from the toe edge of the board to the heel edge. If you are riding regular (left foot forward) weight on the heel side makes you go left and weight on the toe side makes you go right. However, when learning, these movements were really exaggerated. I didn’t just shift my weight, I turned my head to look where I was going (which is always good, actually) and in turning my head I turned my entire torso. With every laborious, careful, and exaggerated, turn I was twisting my entire body and, of course, overusing every muscle in my core, shoulders, and back involved in providing that torque. Ultimately the soreness I felt on some days was comical! I hadn’t felt that sore since my days of high school track.
Just Do It. So, you should learn to snowboard. It is way more fun than skiing. Cough up the money to take a private lesson or 2. Know that it will take several days on the mountain to gain basic skills, but you WILL get better and it WILL be awesome. Buy knee pads. Know that your butt will hurt some days; try to stop before it makes you cry. Lol. Know that you will be sore, and nurse that soreness with hot tub sessions, a lot of protein, and Irish Coffee or beer, depending on the time of day. I promise you that the view from the top of the mountain and midway down the run is way more beautiful than the view from the lodge.