Walking the plank: Learning to snowboard mixes patience, pain | AspenTimes.com

Walking the plank: Learning to snowboard mixes patience, pain

Chad Abraham
Chad Abraham takes a break from snowboarding on Assay Hill at Snowmass. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

“Security is a kind of death.”- Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)

Patience is the key.I could turn the snowboard to the right but not the left, consistently falling – on my face, on my butt, sometimes sideways if I was headed too fast toward an inanimate metal object. Truth be told, my right turns weren’t a thing of beauty either.Dean Hill, the snowboard instructor guiding me down the imposing Assay Hill at Snowmass, told me to dig in my heels as I headed left across the slope, preparing for a turn. Gaining speed, I dug in quite a bit.”No, maybe a tenth of that effort,” he said, riding behind me. Now I was getting the picture: In snowboarding, a little goes a long way.

But it didn’t really sink in until he said to just let the left turn happen. A slight turning of the hips, shoulders and head was all that it took. I was getting the hang of it, which is no small miracle.The fact that I was out here at all was surprising, at least to me. I have certain on-slope comfort zones, skiing at moderate to fast speeds (at least for short bursts) and usually avoiding moguls and steeps. It’s called species survival.I’m not prone to trying new sports. I have my niche and I stick with it.But when the idea came up in the newsroom about a handful of us trying snow sports for the first time, I leapt at the chance to snowboard. Why? Well, perhaps it’s as Mr. Williams writes above, or maybe it’s the allure of Zen-like states induced by floating through untracked powder on your own personal sled.At any rate, I wanted to try it. A thirst for knowledge demands the occasional new experience.

So amid a steady snowfall, I showed up at Snowmass one morning, ready for my lesson. Taking my shoes off in Aspen Sports, I looked up to see a product called “impact shorts” retailing for $59.99. The shorts offered “removable exo-skeleton armor.” Isn’t that what helps protect certain insects? Was I to be crushed like a bug?I avoided the sturdy shorts (I was later told I should’ve used a pillow to cushion my repeated falls), but I did spend $18.95 on wrist guards. Wrists are to a writer what ankles are to a dancer – very much needed – and the guards proved their value within the first two minutes on Assay Hill.They handed me a 164-centimeter Burton snowboard and I walked in my rented boots to Fanny Hill. The snow had been falling since the previous night, a 2- or 3-inch pillow that would help soften the falls.Our class of six neophytes walked across Fanny Hill to a flat section near the ski school lifts, where we learned to walk with one foot strapped in. One can either step in front of the snowboard or behind it, but I did both, not finding one way better than the other.

In snowboarding, a decision must also be made about which foot will lead. Having skateboarded in junior high, I went with what I remembered: Left foot forward. It was the beginning of a long day for my right leg.The next challenge was a very slight slope, helping us with balance and body positioning. So far so good. We were then taken to the midway point of Assay Hill. Now it was time for an actual green-circle slope. And repeated tumbles.The first sensation of learning to snowboard is uncertainty. I tipped to and fro, landing on my butt one time, my hands the next.One of the hardest aspects to grasp is how far to lean on your inside edge when traversing the slope. The heel-to-toe mechanics take time and I was frustrated that one second I was riding just fine, while the next I’d be on my backside. This sense of helplessness slowly abated throughout the day, thanks in large part to Hill and the other instructor, Tim Stockdale.They provided constant guidance among the group, paying particular attention to the slow learners (like me). About halfway through the day, I finally understood how to turn and manage my speed while looking ahead and not at my snowboard. Consistent I wasn’t, but I did put together several slow turns in a row. My final run was fall-free.

One unresolved problem was disembarking from the lift. By my estimate, I was a dismal 2-for-8 in my landings.Once up, however, I found myself flying to the right across the trail, followed by a left turn in which I slowed down. Decelerating required digging my back-side edge in slightly and keeping the board pointed downhill to keep momentum for the next turn.It’s a tricky dance and there’s a lot to remember. And when you’re just learning, the body doesn’t want to cooperate. As I write this a few hours after the lesson, my butt is sore and it feels as if lobsters are pinching my inner thighs.But that’s a small price to pay to get out of one’s niche and give up a bit of that overrated security.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com

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