Learning to snowboard has been on my list for quite a few years now. Earlier in the year I put it on my list of Goals and Challenges for 2014 to try and make certain that I got around to it after a failed attempt when on my last ski holiday (the “learn to snowboard” session got cancelled due to lack of interest!). Thankfully, Snozone saw that I was keen to give my skis a rest and offered to lend me a board – and an instructor – so I could give this winter sport a try.
I headed down to Snozone MK for my lesson a few weeks back for a one day “crash” course. Having leant to ski at Snozone (Castleford) a few years ago I was confident that I was going to have a really good day. I’m told the indoor snow slope company recently changed the name of their full day lesson from “snowboard in a day” to “beginners day course” because people had too high expectations for the level they would reach by the end of the day. I admit I have indeed imagined myself doing flips and tricks like Jenny Jones, but my only hope was that my instructor would see me slide down the hill with confidence by home time.
Once signed in and changed into my snow gear (no layers needed – just saloupettes, tshirt, ski coat – had some lovely comments about my Honee Snugs Parka, ski socks, helmet) I went to get my boots and board sorted. I’ve always found Snozone good for getting you in the right kit, and I was seen and helped very effectively by the guys behind the counter. I’ve always been green with envy at snowboarders because their boots look so much more comfortable than ski boots – and I was absolutely right – they are still big bulky things but oh my are they soft and easy to walk in! It’s worth learning to snowboard if getting rid of the heavy plastic ski boots as the only reason! To be honest the boots I had were quite worn, but that’s what you get when 100s of people have worn them before. Makes me shudder… I really should invest in my own boots for skiing (and boarding if I get good enough)!
Our instructor was Jo, a lovely young lady who was obviously very knowledgeable and taught with a friendly and informal style. She got to know the group straight away and had so much patience all day. I loved that she was also a trained chef – nice – and spends her summers teaching in Snozone so she can spend her winter boarding in the mountains. Here we are after my lesson (hence me looking red faced and tired!):
The lesson was split into several smaller sessions, each building on the skills we learnt in the previous one. We started, naturally, by learning how to put the board on (those bindings are a pain – skiers have the advantage there), standing up (not as easy as it looks!), sliding around on the flat, and stopping. All good. Next was sliding down the hill on the toe edge, facing the hill, which I was pleased to get the hang of very quickly. Once we could move from side to side on the hill on the toe edge, including some cones to avoid, we turned around and tried the heel edge, both straight down the hill and diagonally across the slope. By lunch time I felt really great – moving my body to the right place to change direction didn’t come easy, but I could tick off all the skills meaning I could get myself down a mountain safely and without falling over.
We had quite a long lunch break – an hour and a half – which gave me plenty of time for a proper break (and meal), before heading back onto the slope to learn how to turn the board from the heel edge to toe edge. It was at this point that we had to choose whether we would lead with the left or right foot, and then stick to that decision so we didn’t confuse our skills. I went with my left, although I still don’t know if that was the right choice. One turn at a time was absolutely no problem at all – I could turn from heel to toe or toe to heel with not much problem at all. But to go from heel to toe and back to heel again, that was a whole different story. It took me so many runs down the slope to get turns linked, and I became more and more frustrated. Eventually I did manage linked turns, but never two runs in a go, although it was enough to be allowed to try the main lift.
I dislike drag lifts on skis as it is, but on a board they’re a whole new evil. Especially the one at Snozone MK which seems to have the most violent pull of any drag lift I’ve ever been on. My first go I felt like my body had to stay so tight and rigid that by the time I got to the top of the lesson slope I was aching like I’d done several crossfit sessions in a row. I really needed to relax, although not quite as much as I did the second time, which resulted in me landing as a heap on the floor when the lift suddenly stopped because someone else fell off at the bottom. Stressful! A few more goes and I think I found the right amount of relaxed vs rigid, but I really didn’t like it and it wore me out. I know, I know, it’s vital I get the hang of it, but it’ll take a few more tries before I’m confident with a board on a drag lift. I hope I’m not the only one!
It was at this point in the middle of the afternoon session that I had a rather massive and painful wipe-out. I see snowboarders wiping out all the time, it seems part of boarding, and I always wince when I see them go down wondering what part of their body they landed on and whether they hit their own head with their board. For me, this time, I went down with a smack on one side my right knee – that’s all my weight, going at some speed (uncontrolled, of course), on one tiny bit of my knee cap. Wow, that smarted. It took a few minutes for me to get up and slide down the hill (after Jo came over to make sure I was ok – she was so lovely). It was such a hard landing that I actually had a look at my knee to see whether it was still in one piece – it was but the bruising and swelling was instant. Oh great. I could still move it, bend it and put weight on it though so I decided the best course of action was to get up and keep trying. Within a couple of days my knee was black and has really only just returned to its normal colour – there is still some pain in the area I landed on, although I am sure there is no lasting injury, it’s just one of those things. Don’t let me put you off!
I was absolutely shattered. Totally and utterly spent. Once I’d had that wipe-out things just started to go to pot and I had loads more falls. I could still manage the basics I’d learnt in the morning, all the sliding, but those turns I thought I’d got to grips with after lunch just weren’t happening. I gave up on the button lift and spent the remainder of the lesson using the much easier magic carpet, trying to get those turns mastered through repetition. I fell over and over again, but got up every time until our time on the slope was up. I was so tired, aching, and ready to stop. I never made it onto the main slope, preferring to stay in the relative comfort of the lesson slope where there were fewer people about to see me practice.
To be honest I think the full day was too much. Two half day lessons on consecutive days or Saturdays would have been much more manageable. The day course is very tempting – it gives you loads of slope time to get the basics and chance for loads of runs down the slope, but my fitness just wasn’t up to it.
I had such a good day at Snozone MK trying out snowboarding and am so grateful to Snozone for giving me the opportunity. I might have not managed to master everything or left feeling like I can snowboard properly (I shan’t be entering the Winter Olympics just yet), but I left with a massive smile on my face knowing I’d given everything to the lesson and had made some decent progress. I am no natural snowboarder (which is so disappointing!), but it is a really great sport to get involved in, and a rather good workout too.
Changing the name to “beginners day course” was a good move, Snowzone. You are a beginner for a long time; I might have had six hours on a board but I am still a novice. I am in definite need of another lesson sometime, but in the mean time I am looking forward to skiing in Obergurgl at the end of January. Don’t worry, I’ll be back on a board and will get the hang of it, just you wait!
Thank you to Snozone for sending me on one of their beginners day courses to learn how to snowboard.