“Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…”
— Yul Brynner (?), The King and I
A pair of pants with which to cover your butt.
Personal liability and procedural safety.
The last thing you want is an injury. Nobody wants to fall, but everybody does, and you might as well be instructed in the best way to do so. Fingers and wrists are the most easily damaged parts of the body relative to snowboarding, and they should be kept away from the snow. Some people recommend keeping the fingers balled up into fists as a means of avoiding finger injury. Personally, I’m not crazy about the idea, for several reasons. First of all, it isn’t comfortable, and tends to tense the muscles of the arms which are better dedicated to providing balance. Secondly, a fist won’t slide across the snow as an open palm will. Instead, the knuckles will tend to snag, opening the door to potentially serious injury of the wrist. As far as touching the snow is concerned, a beginner has no business doing so anyway, as a snow touch will not serve to restore balance, but to disrupt it. If you cannot avoid a fall, try to absorb the impact with a large component of the body, such as the hip or buttocks (heelside) or a forearm to stomach transition (toeside). Far better to bruise than to break. Unless you are careening towards something immovable, relax.
When learning to snowboard for the first time, it is advantageous to leave the rear foot out of the binding. This free foot allows for a sense of security, since at any time the foot can be set down, halting the motion in progress. While practicing elementary drills, it is convenient not to have to buckle and unbuckle the rear foot to hike and possibly to stand back up after a fall. With patience, all of the elementary tasks can be successfully completed with the rear foot out. If one foot is free, emphasis is placed on correct position on the board and a compliance with gravity, rather than a frantic manipulation of the board from a position of greater leverage. If the former is correctly learned, the latter will not become habitual.
There is, however, and argument against leaving the rear foot free. The case is presented that the free foot leaves the door wide open for injury to the ankle, or knee of the leg to which the board is attached. While this danger is present, it can be minimized through careful instruction, and by keeping the speed of any maneuvers to a minimum. Since most of the beginning exercises take place in opposition to the fall line, speed should not become a factor. If the exercise line is followed, and enough time is spent on each task, by the time you move into the fall line you should know enough and have enough skill development to avoid twisting falls which would pose a hazard to the joints of the attached leg. The rear foot should be buckled in when you can shape a turn on both the heel and toe edges.1
Having one free foot reduces the feeling of helplessness, which may provide some psychological benefit. Also, catching edges is the usual precursor to a broken wrist, and edges are most usually snagged at the introductory level. If both feet are attached initially, there is nothing available to the student to break a fall other than the hands/ arms. If the rear foot is left free, at least a fall can be slowed somewhat. Lastly, in three seasons of snowboard instruction, with a countless number of entry-level students, only one injury to the ankle was sustained, and that under an unusual combination of student type and snow condition.
One other cautionary note involves anyone with pre-existing conditions of injury. On more than one occasion people have come out for lessons with injuries to the joints of the lower leg or wrist, (often sustained while skiing). Though some of these injuries have been minor, others have been severe, with suspected or known cartilage/ligament damage. Some of the injuries have been recent, within the week. Anyone with this type of injury should learn to snowboard at a later date, to avoid further injury, and to remove liability from the head of the instructor. Even though the customer is always right, the instructor has an obligation to avoid entering into contracts of stupidity.
Ride ’em if you’ve got ’em
Though there are many manufacturers of snowboarding equipment, they all follow the same basic blueprint. The board itself is shaped much like a short, wide ski, and works in much the same way. Though you will see many snowboarders skidding and gyrating in order to turn, they probably haven’t yet learned much about effective edge usage.
Modern snowboards,with respect to the act of turning, are designed to carve, utilizing the same principles as a ski. This is to say that they have longitudinal flex and camber, which make the board resilient and returns the energy put into it by the rider. Boards will also flex torsionally (like a corkscrew), something to be especially aware of if you are learning in ski boots on plate bindings. The board also has sidecut, with steel edges. As is the case with skis, snowboards have a variety of core compositions, but all have some manner of quality grade polyethylene base, to serve as a low friction, waxable interface between board and snow.
It may be hard to believe, but a snowboard in motion will turn most effectively if it is put on edge and decambered. To begin a turn, there is no need to apply any sort of ‘twisting’ motion with the upper body. From what you may have seen out on the snow at your favorite ski area, this may sound like heresy. However, that which is easiest is not always best.
While it is clearly necessary to develop edging, pressure distribution, and balancing skills to become a proficient snowboarder, the role of rotary movements is far more vague and needs to be developed in a sensible, tangible manner.
The beginning snowboarder does not need to edge and decamber the board forcefully, or even visibly, in order to shape a turn. As a rider moves up the ladder of development, it will be necessary to refine and improve the execution of the basic skills. (Balancing, edging, pressure distribution, and rotary movements). The greatest difference between carving a turn on steep versus flat terrain is the speed, efficiency and blending of the skills when employed within the correct movement patterns.
Boots and bindings
Snowboard bindings belong to one of two categories; those designed for use with soft, ‘snowmobile’ type boots, and those for use with rigid plastic snowboarding, mountaineering, or ski boots. Though the specific function of the binding is to secure the foot to the board, there are several essential differences. The soft boot binding provides external support for the foot to make up for the flexible nature of the boot. The combination of a soft boot and supportive frame allows for warm comfortable feet which can articulate themselves into any variety of tweaked positions.
The hard boot/plate binding system is designed primarily for alpine style riding. Here the additional stiffness of the boot provides the precision and leverage necessary to maintain the dramatic edge angle required to drag one’s nose in the snow. The plate binding itself is nothing more than a clamp. Though plate binding systems are becoming more popular, most first time snowboarders will be using the soft boot set-up. The learning process and goals are essentially the same, however.
The Board and You
Les liasons dangereuses
Acquaint yourself with your board and its trappings. Pick it up and shake hands, introduce yourself as a nervous partner in fun.Depending upon the weather, you can familiarize yourself outdoors, or indoors in the comfort of your own home.
There is some terminology which those of us in the know take for granted. Your board has two edges, referred to as either toe and heel, or front and back edges. If you don’t know which is which yet, put down the board, and step into the bindings. Now look down at your feet. Your toes will be on your toe edge, and your heels will be on your heel edge. Yes, this is a simple sport. Your front foot is the one which would lead you down the hill, with the rear foot following. If you have more than two feet you shall have to improvise. The board also has a tip (nose) and tail. As you might imagine, they correspond to your front and rear foot.Most boards have a stomp pad between the bindings to aid in disembarking from lifts.
Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the working mechanisms of the binding buckles, and get a feel for the correct retention pressure. (If you are indoors, you will be glad you did this, as gloves can make the buckles or latches harder to operate for the first time). Once properly buckled in, your heels should not lift off of the board. The ankle buckle is of primary importance here, because if the ankle lifts, toeside maneuvers will be extremely difficult, if not painful. If the board is a rental and not sized correctly, take the time to make the necessary adjustments. If you have small feet and the board is wide, you would be better off exchanging it for one more proportional to your own dimensions If a suitable board is not immediately available, perhaps you should wait until one becomes available. If your foot doesn’t fit the binding, and the board doesn’t fit you, both of you will be wasting your time, as too much energy will be wasted simply trying to overcome the frustrations of working with inappropriate equipment.
How well do you know yourself
“Walk this way.” “No, like this.”
–Marty Feldman Young Frankenstein
Having introduced yourself to the new equipment, ask yourself a few basic questions. What other physical activities do you participate in. Do you ski, skate, surf, slalom waterski etc. The type and level of activity will often give you some idea what kind of physical coordination you possess. Does your chosen activity require dynamic balance, or interaction with a moving object, or a combination of the two? What does your job entail, a lot of sitting, or a lot of standing? Where do you live, and what is the environment like. Is this your first time at a resort?
Most importantly, why is it you have decided to learn how to snowboard. What motivates you?! Perhaps you may discover similarities between your other life activities and snowboarding. These are your strengths, cater to them. This may enhance your level of confidence, since you already have ‘one foot in the door’. Are you adept at manipulating both your body and your mind? Can you walk and chew gum simultaneously? Does your favorite recreational activity include the word Nintendo? Be honest with yourself, and set reasonable expectations for your skill development. Waterproof pants are a good idea.
(1)The rear foot…
In the ensuing years, the goal of the first two hours on a snowboard changed from ‘learning to turn’ to ‘safe autonomous descent on either edge’. It became clear that once a client could safely sideslip from the middle of the learning area to the lift, they would begin to gain more experientially than they would from verbal instruction/ drills. The other advantage, besides mileage, is that the experience is more enjoyable when the lift brings you back up the hill. From the instructors standpoint, sideslipping without talking is much more fun than describing and demonstrating yet another drill.
The only real drawback to buckling in with both feet is the difficulty in standing after buckling in. It is easier to get up facing uphill, but for most people, unless the highbacks are poorly adjusted, it is easier to sideslip facing downhill. Oh well, compromises must sometimes be made…