A Little Humility Never Hurt

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
The Downhill Report, December 1996

A Little Humility Never Hurt

Learning to snowboard can be a bumpy ride. Get over it, will you?
By Mike Harrelson

Ask most folks to describe their first day on a snowboard, and what they're sure to mention is falling down, more frequently--and more emphatically--than they ever imagined possible. Well, though it's often said that nothing in life comes easy, snowboarding can, at least once you get past the initial frustration. Without further ado, here are some hard-won tips to help minimize day-one bruises.

Baby steps, baby steps. Forget what you've heard about the sport being a breeze for anyone who already skis, surfs, skateboards, or seamlessly slaloms through a plague of Gap-crazed mall rats. Embrace your ignorance. Start on an uncrowded, low-angled slope, practicing toe-side and heel-side traverses until your brain cells implode from boredom.

I am a Gomer, part one: Use ski poles. Most people have a slight lateral-stability problem when on a board for the first time. OK, that's a lie: When not hurtling down an incline, most people have as much chance of remaining upright as a toddler in a storm-battered Sunfish. But with poles in hand, deployed as outriggers, you can avoid those pesky, slow-motion tumbles. Plus, when you get stalled on the flats, they'll save you from having to hoof it to the nearest chair.

Mind your edges. On a snowboard, you have half as many edges--and only one you have to worry about at any given time. With no tips to cross, no parallelism to maintain, you can hone in on a very simple rule: Always, always keep your downhill edge elevated. In fact, you might consider making it a mantra. On a toe-side turn, repeat "heel up, heel up, heel up..." On a heel-side turn...well, you get the idea.

Keep your bulk balanced. Despite the Boom Boom Mancini-like bobbing and weaving you'll see from many riders, keeping your weight evenly distributed is your best route to success. Though you want to initiate turns by pressuring your downhill foot, once on edge you should nest your back knee directly behind the front, keeping your center of gravity right in the middle and letting the sidecut of the board do its thing.

I am a Gomer, part two: Wear pads. Even if you're a quick study, there's no way to avoid the dreaded how-in-hell-did-that-happen-so-fast fall so aptly known as the mackerel slap. The upshot, uncool though it may be, is to don wrist guards like those commonly worn by skateboarders and in-line racers. Knee pads are also a good idea, not just to soften the blows, but also for those moments when you find yourself in the throes of a severe oxygen deficit. Trust us--when it's time to kneel and pant, you'd rather do it on well-insulated patellae.

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