Snowboarding 101

I came to snowboarding nearly 20 years ago, after two lackluster attempts on skis. Having surfed and skateboarded since adolescence, I felt more at home on the single platform, sideways to the mountain and without those awkward poles. Also, snowboarding was way cooler.

Since then, I’ve made annual treks to the Rocky Mountains and ridden dozens of runs. So far, my most serious injury has been chapped lips. This past season, at age 57—and having never been the oldest rider on any mountain—I visited Copper Mountain in Colorado.

At the bottom of a long run, easing through a nearly flat section near the lift line, a grown man fell face-first in front of me and blocked the route. Speed wasn’t a factor, but gravity was. The board caught an edge and spilled me harshly. I landed flat on my backside and it felt as if I’d been hit squarely twixt the cheeks with an axe.

Provided you assess your own skills honestly and take a couple of lessons, that’s about the worst that might happen. Oh, wear a helmet and, for beginners, consider wrist guards because snowboarders who ride without them break a lot of wrists.

The best thing about snowboarding is that anyone who has one full day and a good attitude can learn enough to enjoy snowboarding through whatever’s left of a winter vacation.

“You’re never too old to learn,” says Stephanie Sweeney, public relations coordinator for Copper Mountain Resort and one of my hosts this past season.

“New technology makes beginners’ boards a lot easier to control. You can learn to ride as fast as you can learn to ski.”

Importantly for former—or present—surfers, the techniques for riding waves and mountains are nearly opposite. In surfing terms, everything you do on the way down a mountain is like trying to make a long, steep section before it closes out. Leaning forward also happens to generate speed.

Pay strict attention during your lessons to the “how to stop” part—and how to get back up, because you will fall on those first few runs. Go with the tumble, rake the ice from your pants, and do it again.

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