Snowboarding is worth the falls on the learning curve

Experience is as much mental as it is physical

Outside: sports, activities, events

February 12, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Know this when you start snowboarding: You're going to fall.

Accept this, and you'll be on your way to conquering the biggest obstacle to a successful run down the slopes: fear.

It doesn't matter if you're a former skateboarder or surfer, you're going to wipe out on the way down the mountain. How much you get knocked around depends on not just how well you physically prepare for the moment you face gravity and a couple thousand feet of powder, but how mentally fit you are for the challenge ahead.

Forget about the boards and boots for now. First-timers need only worry about their clothes on their way to the slopes. Go to any ski lodge, and you'll see that snowboarders and skiers are as different as hockey players and figure skaters. Skiers layer jackets that range from puffy coats to waterproof shells over form-fitting overalls, while snowboarders are the fashion plates of the mountain.

Everything's wider and bigger on snowboarders -- jackets, pants and boots. Many of them can be seen shooting down the mountain with hydration packs, iPods and helmets.

If you're not exercising or working out, think about spending a couple of weeks on a stationary bike, doing squats and tightening your abs, because your lower torso is going to do the most work.

Skiers rarely convert to snowboarding, but once they do, they're hooked. When you arrive at the lodge, head to the lift sales and buy a first-timer package, which usually includes a lift ticket for the day, rental equipment and a lesson.

Next, get geared up at the ski shop. There, you have two choices in boots: a pair that clicks into built-in slots on the board or a pair that slides into bindings that you manually tighten. It depends on your preference, but most people find the click-ins easier to get on and off.

Then you have to figure out if you're goofy-foot or not.

It doesn't mean you've got a silly streak; it's about the direction you ride on the board. Most right-handers go onto the board left foot first, but if you're "goofy," you go down the slope right foot forward.

OK, you've got your boots and your board, now start moving toward the ski lifts. Once you're near the lines, put one foot (the foot you're going to lead with) in the slot on the board, and use the other foot to push yourself forward. There is no time to revel in the moment. Move fast. The lift is unlikely to stop for you, and the people behind you want on, too.

So take a deep breath and move. Once you're at the platform, all you have to do is lean back, and in you go. While you're riding on the ski lift, the weight of your foot dangling with a snowboard attached may be unsettling, but hang tight. Enjoy the view.

As you approach the lift station, remember the hardest part for any beginner is getting off the lift. Lean slightly forward with one hand holding onto the back of the lift. The goal is to push off when you get to the landing and glide. It's a lot harder than it sounds. But if you do fall -- which isn't unusual -- just remember to duck and move out of the way.

By taking lessons you'll learn techniques that are at the core of successful boarding. Balancing maneuvers like "falling leaf" are the perfect way to begin a pain-free introduction to the sport.

Getting up is the hardest part, so once both your boots are secured to the board, get upright as soon as you can. Posture is important -- keep yourself balanced over the board, with your knees slightly bent, and feel how the slightest lean one way or the other takes you in that direction. Practice doing this, and you'll start to enjoy it.

Let it go and fly fearlessly, leaning back -- not too far -- on your heels to stop. And if you fall, it's not the end of the world. You'll get up again, even if you might not believe it while you're lying in the snow. Enjoy the sky and the trees.

Sometimes you forget how beautiful they can be.

All aboard

Gear

Things you need before you put one foot on the powder:

A waterproof snowboarding or skiing jacket, preferably with a powder skirt you can pull down around you to keep you from getting wet

Long underwear, top and bottom

Breathable long-sleeve T-shirt

Snowboarding pants (wider with more padding on the back and knees than skiing pants)

Thick, breathable, wicking socks

Goggles

A hat (fleece or something soft, not cumbersome)

Snowboarding gloves -- longer than other gloves. Make sure they're tight and warm

Optional: a helmet

Tips

The worst thing you can do is to get wet. Once snow gets into your boots or gloves, the rest is misery. So make sure to tuck your jacket sleeves into your gloves and make sure your boots are on tight.

If it's hard to stand back up when the board is in front of you, flip around and push up on your knees. You'll be going down backward for a little while, but using your hips and legs, you'll be right side in no time.

Powder is better to land in but not necessarily the easiest to board on for first-timers. Ice isn't any fun, either. If you can find a happy medium, go for that.

Bring some snacks in your pack. Energy bars are compact sources of fuel, although the hot dogs and burgers at the lodge usually hit the spot after a hard run.

Where to go

Some area resorts that offer snowboarding include:

Whitetail Mountain Resort, Mercersburg, Pa. 717-328-9400

Wisp at Deep Creek Mountain Resort, McHenry. 301-387-4911.

Liberty Mountain Resort and Conference Center, Carroll Valley, Pa. 717-642-8282.

Ski Denton, Coudersport, Pa. 814-435-2115.

Tussey Mountain Winter Resort, Boalsburg, Pa. 800-733-2754.

Bryce Resort, Basye, Va. 800-821-1444.

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