Snowboarding Can't be That Hard, Part 2 (Old Man Snowboarding Part 2)

Or Call it Snowboarding Explained by an Engineer Who's Done It... An old engineer too...  :)  Snowboarding for Dummies...

First, like I said I learned by watching this video on YouTube ; How to Snowboard, the Definitive Guide.  And I'm going to take that video apart and explain it on this page. Watch it as I explain it.   Also, I highly recommend the SnowProfessor.com . They have a series of video lessons.  Very good.

Ok, so as I had indicated in my previous writeup, at 52, I started snowboarding (now that I think of it, guess I was 51).  I'm now in my second season and hitting things pretty good as evidenced by this video of me going down Cyclops at Devil's Head.


I'm not in the terrain park doing 360's and backflips, but I'm being challenged and having a blast.

But how did I go from bunny hill to cruising down Cyclops?  Here's my view of things.  

First, I had to decide if I was Normal or Goofy.  Yes, would have been easier to say Left or Right foot first... Anyway, your front leg should be your strong leg, and it will generally be the leg you lead with.  There were a couple different clues about what I was. When I was a kid I use to take running starts at ice on the ground and then slide.  When ever I did that it was always my right foot first.  So, that is one way to figure out what you are; put some socks on, go on your kitchen floor, run and slide... which foot goes first?  HEY, IF YOU FALL WHILE SLIDING AROUND IN THE KITCHEN YOU CAN'T BLAME ME... :)  The other thing I read was to stand in front of  your stairs, count backwards from ten (or was that count up?) and then take a step.  Again, the leg you lead with will be the one you want on the front of your board.  I was Goofy (right leg first)... no surprise there... Hah!  What else would you call a 51 year old guy that wants to board, but goofy...?

I'm going to do a whole different section on getting a board, setting it up, etc.. At this point we'll assume you have a board. Now you know which foot you will lead with, and we'll talk about the video.  The steps to learning are below, and the point is you practice and get one down before you move on to the next one.  You have to pay attention, she covers MOST of the important points in the video.  I'm just going to emphasize some and add my own thoughts where I think her comments are inadequate.  ONE STEP AT A TIME.  It may take you one day, it may take 5, each person is different.  

1. Skating
2. Gliding
3. Toe and Heel Side Rolls
6. Falling Slideslip (Yes, I recommend you do 6 before 4, but read both so you get it.)
4. Skidded Traverse
7. Falling Leaf
8. Making and Linking Turns
5. The Chairlift  (Yes, there's a reason I put this at the back.)

1. Skating
Why do you need to skate?  Cause that's how you get around on a board.  No poles.  You can't walk it.  It sucks to take it off every time you want to get somewhere.  Key point... CENTER YOUR WEIGHT OVER YOUR FRONT FOOT. She's right, listen to the girl!  Let's face it, pushing yourself around sucks as it is, you don't want to make it worse by not doing it right.  Start just by pushing your self lightly.  As you get comfortable then push harder.

2. Straight Gliding
First thing is you don't want to glide down a steep hill. When you're just starting most hills, including the bunny hill, can be steep. You don't want to be going fast at the bottom; just enough hill to get to the bottom and come to a natural stop without panicking and going off into some ditch or a parking lot.  I made that mistake (no, not the parking lot, just starting at the top of the hill and getting to much speed). I see new boarders do it all the time.  They go to the top of the hill, have no clue what they are doing, and go down at stupid speeds, crashing into people.  Don't do it.

Actually, best thing to do is have a friend; both of you just walk partially up the bunny hill, face your board downhill with your friend blocking it with his/her feet, get in your stance...  Pay attention to your posture!  See the girl... do like the girl!  You bend at the knees, NOT the waist. When you're ready, your friend lets go and you glide down slowly and stop... If you don't have a friend, hopefully you have a relatively flat area where you can get started yourself.  Soon as you step on the board it's going to start going down, you don't want that to happen fast.  Once you get comfortable at one point, you move further up the hill five or six feet.  NO RUSH!  At some point you're going to go high enough that you may run out of glide room, or go too fast for your comfort.  You've gone too far.

Why?!  Why glide?  Because you need to know how to glide to get off a chairlift.  And in that case, you have limited time to get your board down on the snow, get your foot in place, and glide away.  So, this is important.  Get comfortable with gliding before you move on to the next step.

3. Toe and Heel Side Rolls
It all looks simple right?  Here's the thing.  You roll on your toe side by bending your knees, and keep bending your knees until the heel edge starts to come up.  The other way to do it is to actually rise up on your toes.  DON'T DO THAT.  Yeah, it's all fine and dandy while you're on flat ground, you could do whatever.  But when it comes to controlling the board at speed, bend at the knees... put pressure on your shins... the boots will bend, then they will stop bending, and further pressure will raise the heel side.  That's what you want.  

Rolling to the heel side is done by moving your butt back.  Don't' think of it as lifting your toes.  You can lift your toes all day without moving your butt, but if you're not leading with your butt, you will not be able to stay on your edge.  So, again, move your butt back. It won't take much, as you move your but back your heels will dig in and your toes will rise.

THAT IS IMPORTANT.  THAT IS IT.  IT'S WHAT SEPARATES THE GIRLS FROM THE WOMEN, THE MEN FROM THE BOYS, THE SLOW LEARNERS FROM THE ONE'S THAT PICK IT UP FAST...practice this until you get it.  Cause the second part of this is to do it while you're moving!  If you don't get it while you're standing still, you're not going to do it when you're moving.

Snowboarding is about living on the edge.  Most of the time you're on one edge or the other.  Even when just going straight, you will find that you have control if you're slightly on one edge. BEING ABLE TO STAY ON AN EDGE, AND ONLY CHANGE WHEN YOU WANT, IS KEY... Getting flat on a board gives you no control.  Yes, there are times when your board is flat, like coming off a chairlift or transitions between turns, but not for long.  Even getting off a chairlift you have to turn to your edge to get off to the side.

One more thing.  So in the video she says glide, then gently roll on your heel or toes and come to a stop.  Right.  But keep this in mind.  If you roll to an edge, and you start turning, stay on that edge until you stop (that's your uphill edge), because if you're still moving down hill, and you don't stay on your uphill edge until you stop, soon as you let the other edge touches the snow, chances are high it will dig in and you're going to trip over that edge.  So, if you were doing a toe side roll and you roll back on your heel, you'll fall on your butt, and if you were doing a heel side roll and you let yourself roll on your toes, you will fall on your face.  That's why everyone falls... Read that again if you have to.  It's called catching an edge.

But, again, you can't stay on your edge just by lifting your toes and heels.  You have to put your body weight into it;  bend at the knees and put pressure on the front of your boots to get your heels up, move your butt back to get your toes up.

4. Skidded Traverse (Remember, probably better to do 6 first)
She presents this at this point because she's saying you need to know this for the next step, which is getting on the chairlift.  That's not really true.  You definitely need to know your heel side and toe side rolls.  That gives you the ability to get off the chairlift and turn out of the way of others.  And you know what? YOU'RE NOT READY FOR THE CHAIRLIFT YET.  The only thing the chairlift is going to get you is a steeper hill, and you'll be more worried about the steepness instead of focusing on developing your skills.  Now, if you can take a chairlift to a hill that's no steeper than the bunny hill, well then do it.  That will give you more practice time without having to go up a tow rope or magic carpet (conveyor belt).

Ok, she has you do the skidded traverse with one foot buckled in.  You know what, just skip the first part and just do it with both feet buckled in.  I mean, if you want to do it with one foot out, great.  But for me, the board was easier to control with both my feet in the binding.  Once you get it with both feet in the binding, then you can go back and do it with one foot out.

I love this part. She says when you traverse across the hill "steer the board to a stop".  Really? No! What?  I mean, if you knew how to steer the board wouldn't you be a snowboarder already?   Right, so what does she mean? How do you steer the board... Pay attention, there's some meat in this.  

WEIGHT SHIFTING.   Yes, that's how you steer the snowboard, by adding weight shifting to your edge rolls.

A huge mistake I see beginners making all the time is soon as they point their board down hill, most of their weight shifts to the back leg, the uphill leg.  This is a natural reaction, but what you need to do, is keep most of your weight on your downhill leg... your lead leg... your strong leg...  Just like when you were skating on the flats and your front leg had all the weight on it cause you were pushing and flopping your back leg around.  It's not natural to put your weigh on the lead leg, because as you do that you lean down hill.  Your brain doesn't want to lean down hill when you're going down hill!  But that is where your weight needs to be, and when it's not there it's because you make a conscious decision to shift it to the back leg.

Ok, so how is she making the board turn?  She's on her edge, and she is shifting more weight to the lead leg and less weight to the back leg.  In fact, the more weight you put on the lead leg, and less on the back, the sharper your turn will be.  Two things are happening; 1. as you put more weight on your front leg the board carves harder into the snow, making the front turn.  2. Your back is not really digging in and will start to drift down hill.  You can help this process by sweeping your back leg around a little bit (around meaning down hill).

That brings up another point.  How is she just going across the hill at the same angle until she's ready to stop?  Again, weight shift... or maybe it's more correct to say weight balance.  You need to be rolled on your edge, but if you put more weight on your front the board will turn up hill (your front will go uphill).  If you put more weight on your back, the front of the board will start to drift downhill.   So, to maintain a set angle across the hill you are balancing your edge roll with the amount of weight you put on each foot...  YES, IT'S GOING TO TAKE TIME TO GET A FEEL FOR THIS.  At this point you have to think about it hard, like with anything else when you first do it.   

6. Falling Slideslip
You know what?  I would actually recommend that you do this before you do the skidded traverse.  The issue here is edge control and it's easier to do than a traverse.  In fact, if you get your edge control down, the skidded traverses will be easier.

Ok, she says "we will try to keep our board directly across the hill at all times".  Great.  But how do you do that?  Fear not, I will explain.

First, you see that she's rolling on her edge.  What I want you to see is that she stays on the uphill edge, she leans the board more or less, but she never gets off the uphill edge.  You always stay on your uphill edge, just more pressure pressure and roll to stop, a little less pressure and roll to start sliding again.  It's not an on off switch.  It's small changes.

Ok, so what about staying "directly across the hill at all times"?   WEIGHT SHIFT!  Or more accurately weight balance.  As you go down the hill and you find one foot is sliding down further than the other (you're not "across the hill" anymore, one end is pointing more down hill) it's probably because you're weight is not balanced between the two feet.  The solution is to put slightly more weight on the foot that's sliding down hill further.  This will cause that end of the board to dig in more and the other end less.  The end that's digging in less will start to slide down hill to balance you back out.  But remember, regardless of your balance between the two feet, you have to stay on your uphill edge.  

Do it on both edges until you get it.

7. Falling Leaf
Ok, she says "push the front foot down the hill".  Pushing is not a really a good word. Actually if you "push" by putting more weight on the front foot, that will make the front of the board dig in more and it's actually the back of the board that will start turning down hill.  Call it what you want.  The fact is you're on an edge and you're going to shift your weight.  The foot with less weight on it will start to slide down hill.  Which ever end digs into the snow more will start to turn up hill.

Having said that, the foot that's lighter, digging into the hill less, can be "pushed" down hill.  Think of the board like a windshield wiper on a car.  The wiper pivots around the center point.  Having more weight on your back leg, will allow you to pivot your front leg down the hill.  Pivot is a much better word for this than push.

Once you have pivoted your front foot slightly down hill and you start to move, you put equal weight on each foot so that you traverse at the angle you want.  When you're ready to change direction, put more weight on your front foot, that will turn your front end uphill.  When you're just about stopped again pivot your back leg down hill and go across in the other direction.

7B.  Twisting the Board
Yes, I snuck this one in on you.  You need to be aware of something.  Up to now, everything you've seen says you go up on your toes or heels together.  Both toes, both heels, at the same time.  Guess what, you don't have to do it that way.  You can actually twist the board by keeping one foot flat and only rolling the other foot.  In the snow professor videos they focus on this as the way to initiate turns, and it does give you an additional level of control in your riding.  It makes for smoother transitions.

Just try it somewhere on flat ground while you're standing still.  Both feet strapped in.  With your front foot do a toe or heel side roll but try to keep the other foot flat.  In fact to exaggerate it you can have your two feet doing the opposite rolls.  You'll see that one end of the board can be slightly on your toe side but the other end can be slightly on your heel side.  Slightly, because the board will only twist to a point.

You can apply this technique in the next section.  A turn is initiated as follows:
1. You're straight across the hill or moving at a low angle across the hill with your lead leg first.
2. Roll and twist your lead leg off it's uphill edge. This will flatten that end of the board and allow your lead leg to drop downhill.
3. Flatten your back foot and continue to roll the front foot to the new edge.
4. Roll your back foot to the new edge.
Make sure you shift your weight to the forward foot as you roll it to the new edge.

I can describe it, but you have to feel it.

8. Making and Linking Turns
There's nothing new here.  Really.  Edge control, weight shift, etc..  But notice, there is a point in her turning process when the board is flat.  There has to be.  You're transitioning from one edge to the other, at some point you're going to be flat.  As I said before, when you're flat you have no control, so you want that transition to be smooth and quick.  Doing the board twist can help that.

5. The Chairlift
Right, this is last.  I remember my first day on the bunny hill.  There were all these people that would come along on their boards, clearly out of control, not really understanding what makes the board do what, spend 10 minutes on the bunny hill, and get on the chairlift.  The worst part about staying on the bunny hill is the tow rope.  If you're lucky you can find one with a belt.  Those are sweet.  But why go on a harder hill when you don't now what you're doing?  Brawn over brains?

Anyway, if you have at least the gliding and rolling on your edges down, you can get on the chairlift and get off with minimal drama.  All I can say is that the chairlift is always an opportunity to mess up.  I can definitely say that I've fallen way more when getting off the chairlift than coming down the hill. Practice makes perfect.

I was also reminded that people who don't know how to turn and stop shouldn't be on the hill.  I had pulled over to the side of the hill to look up and see where the person I was with was at, and this teenage girl.  Totally just going straight, arms waving and screaming, plows right into me, full speed.  Luckily we were both fine.  I picked myself up, started going again, take a few turns, and there she is again, headed straight for me.  Since I was moving I just gently held out my arm to push her away.