Two feet strapped to one board riding sideways; errr, learning how to snowboard can feel, at best, a bit unnatural and at worst damn right terrifying. But it looks so fun (and infinitely cooler than skiing no matter what the skiers say). So, how do we move beyond the initial fear and become cool riders with serious skills?
One way to progress in any sport is by practicing. There aren’t that many people that are great at something straight away. Kids maybe. They tend to find it easier for a number of reasons. One, they just generally have less fear, but a second reason is actually physiological. One snowboarding instructor told me that because children’s bones aren’t fully formed they actually mould to their boots and consequently they find the movements more natural. Interesting. Bad news for those of us with immovable bones.
For everyone, mindset and confidence is a big factor. And you develop that by familiarizing yourself with the environment, trying the kit on, and riding the terrain. So where can you do that? Well, some do a season – lucky buggers. But if you’re not old enough to do a season (i.e. you’re still at school), you don’t live in the mountains or you’ve already taken too many gap years, you can familiarize yourself with the environment and practice at one of the many UK ski slopes.
You can tell the difference when you’re on the slopes between those friends who have spent a few hours at an indoor snow centre and those who haven’t. Confidence will improve, technique will improve and you’ll have less of those first-run nerves.
Other things that you can do include the following:
Have a good sense of humour: You’re likely going to spend a large proportion of your first day, first few lessons, on your bum. You’re going to fall. So did the guys that are ripping through the powder. Laugh about it. Don’t stick your hands out to catch your fall, you could end up with broken wrists. This is easier said than done so one way to protect your wrists is by wearing wrist guards. With them on, it takes more energy or force in your fall for your wrist to break.
Sitting down while you strap in: Make sure that your bindings are tight enough, by strapping in while sitting. Sounds obvious but many inexperienced (and experienced) riders have fallen down the slope because they thought that they could fasten their bindings while standing.
Wearing loose clothing: Make sure that your snowboard pants are comfortable and loose enough for you to be able to bend your knees properly. That brings us to another point. BEND YOUR KNEES. At the beginning, no matter how much you think you’re bending, it won’t be enough. Maybe practice bending. And also..
Standing on one leg: So simple but it helps with balance. Alternate between squatting and standing on one leg. Perhaps in private.
Hitting the gym: Skiing and snowboarding are physically demanding sports. At the beginning you’re falling over a lot. Having to continually stand up is exhausting. Cut out the sugar, do some sit ups. Practice sitting up and standing up.
Cycle: For those of you with weak knees, a week of snowboarding may hurt. Cycling can help as it strengthens the surrounding muscles and takes the pressure off knees.
We asked Ross Griffiths, a snowboarding instructor at The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead to share his snowboarding experience with us and some of the other pitfalls to avoid when learning to snowboard.
Do you snowboard and ski? If so, which do you prefer?
I've been snowboarding for 7 years because my mum bought me a membership to The Snow Centre and I haven't looked back since! I have attempted to ski in the past, but I much prefer snowboarding, and I'm better at it, so I'll stick with that!
People often say that they get frustrated with snowboarding, particularly if they’re good skiers. Do you have any tips for experienced skiers who are first time snowboarders?
It's always difficult to change discipline. Get some lessons at an indoor centre before you go on the mountain as you don't want to waste time on the nursery slopes on your holiday. Put in the effort in advance and you'll have a much better trip.
What are the most common mistakes people make when they first learn to snowboard?
Some people have an expectation that it's going to be really easy and that they'll be a pro within an hour, others think they'll never be able to do it. Have no expectations, relax and have fun!
What do you think hampers progress?
Snowboarding is a sport, it helps to have a base level of fitness, particularly in the beginner stages. That said, at The Snow Centre we teach people of all ages and all fitness abilities with great success.
Is there anything that people can do, such as certain exercises in the gym, to improve performance?
Snowboarding is an all over body workout, so any exercise you do will help, but specifically, the legs and core are good areas to work on. Squats and planks are some quick and easy exercises you can do. If you have a facility near you like The Snow Centre, then the best way to prepare for a snowboarding trip is to keep snowboarding!
How else can people improve their balance?
If you've got access to a wobble board, this is a great way to improve balance and strengthen your core. If you haven't got a wobble board then standing on one leg will definitely help to improve your balance.
What sort of terrain do snowboarders want to avoid?
Snowboarders generally love the powder, and ideally want to avoid ice, but if you really love snowboarding, you'll be out riding whatever the weather!
If someone can surf or skateboard will they take to snowboarding more easily?
Yes, it may help. You'll still need to start as a beginner, but you may find yourself progressing quicker than your friends who've never tried any board sports before.
What do snowboarders struggle with psychologically that skiers might not struggle with and how might they overcome this?
Having your feet strapped together may feel a little weird to start with, as well as riding sideways, but once you've got used to that it actually feels pretty natural.
What are the biggest/most common/most frustrating problems that you encounter when teaching people how to snowboard?
I love teaching people to snowboard, it's what I'm passionate about and I want to share it with others. Of course there'll always be people who want to run before they can walk, and those that think they know it all from the outset, but they're few and far between. Get some lessons and take in as much advice as the snowboard instructor can give.
What’s your favourite snowboarding resort?
My favourite resort is Mayrhofen, Austria.