05 The First ‘Hurrah’


The Basic Learning Progression and its Explication


The way it is9

Find snow.  Preferably on gently sloped hill.

Gravity is your friend.


I. One foot in, learn to walk. (Basic balance)

II. Sideslip, toeside.

Sideslip, heelside.(Introduction to controlled edging movements)

III. Yaw,(“see-saw”) toeside.*

Yaw, heelside.(board movement affected by pressure applied to tip and tail of the board sequentially.  Upper/ lower body separation introduced at the most basic level.)

IV. Sideslip to yaw to traverse to stop, toeside.

Sideslip to yaw to traverse to stop, heelside.(The first successful blending of the skills)

V. Balance check #1.

VI. Yaw to fall line to traverse, toeside.

Yaw to fall line to traverse, heelside. (Introduction to and elimination of fear associated with sliding downhill.)

VII. Balance check #2.

VIII. Heelside edge, to flat, to fall line, to toe edge traverse.

Toeside edge, to flat, to fall line, to heelside edge traverse.

IX. Heelside traverse to fall line to toeside traverse.

Toeside traverse to fall line to heelside traverse.

X.  Heelside to toeside to heelside to toeside ad infinitum.

Get on lift.

Put rear foot in binding.


Go home and sleep.

Wake up, eat good breakfast, buy board, quit job, ride until snow melts.

Repeat seasonally, or as necessary.



The Rest of The Story

The Edge, Bono, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.

II. Sideslip, toeside.

Sideslip, heelside.(Introduction to controlled edging movements)


“Give a man corn; feed him for a day.  Teach him how to plant corn, feed him for a lifetime.”–Doug


Most often when I see beginning snowboarders lose control and hit the snow, it is not simply because they lost their balance.  Rather, their loss of balance is a direct result of something they have unwittingly done with the edge(s) of their board.  It seems logical then, to begin to learn to snowboarding with a session in edge awareness.  If you are aware of where you are standing on your edges, and how much edge angle you have created, you can, with a little practice, successfully avoid catching edges and enhance further learning.


The best way to begin learning to snowboard is to learn how to walk with this large clunky object attached like a ball and chain to one leg.  Stand with the board across the fall line10 (the line of least resistance down the hill).  Face uphill, with the toe side edge of the board pushed into the snow. Take a step forward with your free foot, then bring your attached foot up the hill.  As you prepare to take another step, push down with the toes of your attached foot, securing the board across the fall line.  If you try to walk without edging, you will resemble the cliche of two steps forward and one step back.  In other words, it will be difficult to move up the hill as one step will be made on a slippery surface.  As you walk uphill, you should quickly become aware of the relationship between the edge of the board and your relative stability.


With your rear foot still out of the binding, attempt a toe edge sideslip, starting from a balanced, relaxed stance, board on edge across the fall line, looking at a point up the hill, somewhere in front of you.  Take a deep breath, step back onto the stomp pad between the bindings, regaining your balance before gradually decreasing edge angle until the board begins to slip.  By feathering the edge you will discover the medium between stopping, and catching the back edge.


Be aware of the snow that piles up behind the board, impeding progress, and notice if, just before you stopped, you felt pressure under your heels, or an absence of pressure under the toes.  Experiment with stances, ranging from straight across, to a more forward facing, flexed position.  Once you have become accustomed to the toe edge sideslip, try the heel edge sideslip.


If you are using freestyle bindings, the heelside sideslip may be easier than the toeside.  The reason for this is fairly straightforward; the high back of the binding furnishes the leverage that the average foot is too weak to supply for any length of time.  Until you have tried riding a snowboard with soft boots, you will take for granted just how much a ski boot supports the foot and transmits leverage while we ski.   Once the heelside sideslip has become relatively easy, add another dimension to the task.


III. Yaw,(“see-saw”) toeside.

Yaw, heelside.(board movement affected by pressure applied to tip and tail of the board sequentially.  Upper/ lower body separation introduced.)


Allow the board to ‘see-saw’ back and forth a few degrees off the horizontal.  This is accomplished by shifting weight from foot to foot while sideslipping.  The idea here is to become acquainted with the effect of weight placement, and how you can shift your body mass to affect the movement of the board.  If one end of the board moves further downhill than desired (closer to the fall line) the trailing end of the board must be brought downhill to even things out, rather than trying to bring the errant end of the board back up the hill.  Notice that before the board’s orientation may be corrected, it will be necessary to shift your weight to the end of the board which is leading downhill.  Once that end of the board has been weighted, the unweighted end can effectively be ‘pulled’ downhill by the respective foot.


This is not a movement which will later be used to initiate or complete turns; rather it is simply used to familiarize yourself with the idea of working with, rather than against gravity. Excessive twisting motions should be avoided, as they will only serve to upset your balance later on.


Once again, this ‘see-saw’ task should be practiced to both the toe and heel sides.  Bear in mind while practicing these low level movements that they are somewhat tedious, and that you should mix up the tasks to keep the activity interesting.  Also, the amount of time spent on each exercise should be proportional to the amount of time alloted for your first practice session.


Wo ist das wedge? I.e, where are the brakes?

(Moving out of and into the fall line without trauma).


IV. Sideslip to yaw to traverse to stop, toeside.

Sideslip to yaw to traverse to stop, heelside. (The first successful blending of the skills).




“Speed on a snowboard is a lot like toxic waste; you can’t just dump it, you have to take it somewhere safe.”– The Guru of the mountain.


Beginning skiers can use the wedge position to move slowly forward down the hill.  Beginning snowboarders have no such contrivance to transport them safely and securely down the fall line.  Having both feet attached to the same capricious object pointing straight downhill can be a terrifying experience.  My teaching method thus far has been to teach the end of the turn before teaching the beginning.  Once you know how to safely navigate out of the fall line, steering in should be much less traumatic.  The thought process shifts from “How do I stop this thing,” to “How do I get this thing moving.”


Once you have gotten a handle on the ‘see-saw’ sideslip, begin to traverse.  Start with a toeside sideslip, gradually allowing the nose of the board to drift downhill.  Once the board has begun to move downhill and forward, apply toe pressure with both feet until the edge engages, inducing a skidded ‘turn’.  Try to maintain your balance until the board stops moving, which it will, so long as the line of the ‘turn’ is maintained (the board will proceed uphill).  It is somewhat important that the speed be kept low in order that your balance not be upset, and to prevent yourself from becoming fearful and defensive.  Additionally, once the board has begun to skid through a turn at speed, it is difficult to put the board on edge without generating uncontrollable chatter.


Hopefully you have learned enough at this point to ride the board down, across, and back up the hill to a stop, in one smooth stroke.  There are those of you who will insist on reaching the apex of the turn, and then promptly spinning out, invariably landing on your collective face, at least once.  Moving past this frustrating point can often make or break your practice session.


V. Balance check #1.

Fore-aft balance check  A table for two


A good means of demonstrating the need to move the body downhill is what I refer to as balance check #1.  With the rear foot out of the binding, stand in a flexed stance on the board. Ask your close and trusted friend to physically turn the board into the fall line,(you need to flatten it, ie take it off edge), without letting the board slide away from his/her grasp.  Your friends role here is to take the part of gravity, which is to say, to move the board fore and aft, attempting to disrupt your balance through motion.


When you are ready, and have taken the compulsory deep breath, ask your friend to push the board slowly uphill six inches or so.  Where did you put your weight to stay in balance?  Fully 95% of you will give the incorrect answer, and say you stood balanced on the front foot.  Wrong.  Put all of your weight on the front foot, and prepare yourself for a sudden movement.  Have your friend randomly shove the board uphill (at a moment when you least suspect it), just enough to upset the apple cart, but not enough to dash your brains upon the snow.  (Remember, if you fall, you will fall on top of them).  Also, if you are not careful, it is conceivable that you could injure the ankle of your front foot.


After this experiment, your answer should change to “I balance on my rear foot.”  Drive the point home by asking your friend to pull the board downhill, whereupon you should shift your weight more to the front foot in order to stay balanced.  Your friend may then release the board, moving out of the way in the process, and let you move from the fall line, into a traverse, and then to a stop.  If you were paying attention throughout, you will likely have a better time of standing up while moving.


VI. Yaw to fall line to traverse, toeside.

Yaw to fall line to traverse, heelside.


Thou shalt not touch, for thou art weak Get them hands off the snow.

Another balance related problem is the tendency for a toppling rider to reach for the snow in search of security.  As mentioned before, this is not a great idea, and will have little ameliorative effect.  Stand up with both feet on the board, in a comfortable, flexed stance (on flat terrain).   Are you in a ‘strong’ position?11   Have a friend stand next to you, though not on the board, and give you a slight hip check and see if you lose your balance.  Now lean over and touch the snow one foot in front of your toes, again with both feet on board.  Are you in a ‘strong’ position? You probably think so.  Repeat hip check.  Observe result.  Now what do you think.  Hopefully the point will have been made, and you will have figured out the correct answer.  When balance is in question, the best idea is to stand up and regain your stance.  (In general, the more ‘real’ you can make a given point, the more apt you are to retain the information).




VII.  Balance check #2.

Lateral balance check12 A table for two with a different view


A nice way to introduce a balanced stance is to consider the two possible extremes; a flexed, forward facing ‘water skiing’ stance, and the sidesways ‘surfer’ stance, with minimum flexion of the joints.  You should balance on the heel edge, with the board positioned across the fall line.  For good measure, and to gain a sense of security, have a friend put their boot toe under your front edge.  With your free foot on the stomp pad, ask your friend to give you   a slight push backwards, just enough to disturb your balance (hopefully your friend will be providing a hand to grab when your balance fails).  It doesn’t really matter which stance you try first, so long as you try both.  Once you have resisted the efforts to topple you by adjusting your stance with knees and ankles, try to balance entirely on your heel edge.  Make sure you are relatively secure, and then ask your friend to slowly pull their boot out from under your board.  Hopefully you will be able to balance out a visible degree of edge angle, at least for a few moments.


Edge, flat, edge…Ad Infinitum You can get there from here.

VIII. Heelside edge, to flat, to fall line, to toe edge traverse.

Toeside edge, to flat, to fall line, to heelside edge traverse.

IX. Heelside traverse to fall line to toeside traverse.

Toeside traverse to fall line to heelside traverse.

X.  Heelside to toeside to heelside to toeside ad infinitum.


At this point, you have most likely prepared yourself for the basic requirements of moving down the hill on a snowboard.  You have acquainted yourself with balance, stance, edge awareness.  You have discovered the ability to move the lower body partially independently of the upper body, and in doing so  induce a minor yaw of the board through foot to foot pressure distribution. Through a combination of newly discovered skills and body postures, you have flirted with the fall line without catastrophe.


You are probably wondering why nothing has been said about buckling in the rear foot.  It is not yet time to remove the security and mobility of the free rear foot, nor is it time to make everything much easier.  Struggle on for ten more minutes.


Sideslip heelside, yaw into a heelside traverse, let the board flatten so that it will enter the fall line, and then pull off a toeside traverse with the resulting momentum.  If you have exercised enough patience with the exercises and with yourself up to this point, you will succeed with nothing other than a fluttering of the hands to adjust balance.  If you fail, determine why, remind yourself that you didn’t really fail as long as you were standing up and moving, and then get remedial.


When you have succeeded starting on the heel side, try the same task starting with the toe side.  If this works, try to link two turns together.  Perhaps this will have already happened spontaneously.  You know where to go from here.  Buckle in your rear foot,  and then take a slow run to the nearest short lift, emphasizing the rounded turn shape, speed control, and patience.  Revel in a job well done, then board the lift.  If you begin to fall on your way down the hill, try not to fall on easily damaged body parts like fingers and wrists.  These can break.  Try to land on something that will bruise instead.


Getting on a lift is easy, getting off might be difficult.  If you fall, try not to clutter the exit ramp.  The rest of the world continues to move, even though your motion has stopped,  Getting off the lift is as simple as pointing the board straight ahead, letting the leading edge of the ramp level the board, and standing up on the flat of the ramp with the free foot on the stomp pad.


Once standing, you should lead slightly with the shoulders, so that as the board starts down the ramp, the upper body goes along for the ride.  Standing in balance, you should glide straight ahead, perhaps pressuring your toe/heel edge in the appropriate direction if the runout has a curve to it. If you are learning to ride with a friend, it might be a good idea to take the first ride alone.  If you want to ride up together, regulars and goofies should sit so that your toe edges are to the outside.


Once you have disembarked from the lift, the most important thing you can do at this point is practice the basics on flat terrain, so that you don’t lapse into bad habits.  Make sure that the terrain is not so steep that you will become apprehensive and pivot the board into and across the fall line.  This is one of the hardest habits to break, and should be avoided if possible.


Advice for the instructor


2/13/94 On speaking and demonstrating.**

When you teach, few people really listen to what you say, they would much rather watch what you do and then try to emulate your movements and affectations.  This is why reading has fallen out of favor as a recreational activity. Many people would prefer to go to the movies where they don’t need to employ their imaginations in order to set the stage and flesh out the characters.  Everything is made easy through sight.  Therefore, whenever you do something, make sure that your subjects understand why they are moving in a given way, and what effect that may have on their riding.  All too often, in ski racing and in snowboarding, aspiring racers copy the obvious physical movements made in each turn, without knowing why they are doing it, and not realizing that they are only developing bad habits which contribute nothing to their turning ability.

(9) The way it is…  More like the way it was.  While this sequence definitely works, it is overly pedantic and boring.  I apologize to all those who suffered through the whole sequence.   At present it goes more like this:

  1. Skate back and forth to get used to balancing on a slippery object.
  2. Glide back and forth.
  3. Sidestep up and down an incline, practicing on both toe and heel edge.
  4. Sideslip on both toe and heel edge.  Determine which feels easier for later reference.
  5. Present standard caution about landing on the hands when both feet are buckled in.
  6. Sideslip, both feet in, usually heelside.  Proceed to the lift, letting gravity pull you down the fall-line.  (Define, at some point, the term ‘fall-line’).
  7. Demonstrate the essentials of unloading a lift.
  8. Ride up lift and cross fingers to ensure that nobody sprains an ankle or pops a wrist.
  9. One run heelside sideslip, varying speed by varying edge angle.
  10. One run ‘falling leaf’ maneuver.  Alter line of descent by changing pressure distribution at a given edge angle.
  11.  Repeat #s 9&10 on the toeside, or heelside if you began the other way around.
  12. Increase the depth of traverse in the falling leaf until the board almost points into the fall line at the end of each traverse.
  13. When it is possible to stall out with the board pointing down the fall line, introduce the possibility of changing edges, and ride out of the stall on the edge you didn’t come in on.
  14.   Use the recently acquired movements to shape a skidded turn, and then a series of skidded turns.  Mileage is key.
  15. Additional description of current practice here.

* Yaw is more or less like a falling leaf maneuver.

(10) Fall line…  Insert the standard definition here.


(11) Are you in…  Posture should be upright and relaxed.  A ‘strong’ or ‘athletic’ position requires too much muscular activity.  If the gear is set up right, the rider should be able to remain upright and relaxed throughout.  Flexion of the joints should be slight.


(12) Lateral balance check De-emphasize the flexed stance.  There is also a typo in here somewhere.  One point of riding with a forward angle on both feet is the ability to articulate the joints more effectively from one edge to the other.  The other point is that lateral movements of the ankle joint (inversion and eversion) are intuitive balancing movements, whereas balancing from toe to heel is not intuitive and must be learned.  What is the point in rewiring the systems we use to balance when we don’t have to?  Over time, it has become obvious that even a little forward angle on the feet presents a large advantage for the learning rider, unless the board is way too wide for the foot size, and/or the boots are too big.

3/22/2012**Yeah… well; I think the point I was trying to make, was that learning is more effective when it is an experience in motion, rather than a lecture series.  At this time, I think I can say with a good degree of certainty that visual learning, per se, is vastly overrated.  The movements that really matter are very hard to see, especially for the neophyte.  Far better to provide accurate information regarding cause and effect for the client, in the moment, at their current stage of development.