by Dan Egan
Quick, which one of the following is not an actual, recognized snowboarding term? a) Pop tart b) Washin' windows c) Flapjackin' d) Swiss cheese air
If you answered flapjackin', you are correct and are clearly in the know. Therefore you are excused from reading any further and are free to take your board and head to the nearest hill. If, however, you had no idea about the terms, you are either: a) over 30 years old, b) a "ski-only" type who doesn't want to be associated with the riff-raff snowboarders, c) a stickler for the King's English, or d) Liza Minnelli. Now, all of these are perfectly acceptable lifestyle choices, and if you want to be an old-thinking, ski-only, English language snob who's prone to flying into vodka-fueled rages, then go ahead. Feel free to stop reading now, as this may not be for you, either.
But if you're someone who always wanted to try snowboarding but were inhibited because maybe you felt it was strictly for the younger set, well then, read on, my friend. Make this the year you finally get in touch with your inner dude or dudette and learn to snowboard. Ride the pipe, maybe learn a trick or two, because I'm here to tell you that silly rabbit was wrong: tricks aren't just for kids anymore.
While youth still rules when it comes to snowboarding -- about 85 percent of all snowboarders are under the age of 35 - the younger generation doesn't make up the entire picture. More and more boomers and beyond are taking up the sport, while the kids who grew up snowboarding are getting older and staying with it. Some might worry that snowboarding is becoming too mainstream now that it's an Olympic sport and all the resorts have board-friendly terrain parks and half-pipes. Call it the maturing process of the nearly 40-year-old activity that is still the fastest-growing sport in America. Last year, about 7.5 million people went snowboarding. Many of those are lifelong skiers who finally converted from two planks to one. These are people who have grown kids. Besides, even the grandkids themselves can't always remember if "wack" means good and "sick" means bad, or if it's the other way around.
Consider Jim Carver, a 59-year-old snowboard instructor at Silver Mountain. He had been a hardcore skier for his entire adult life but felt he was in a rut. Nine years ago, he decided he needed a new challenge and decided to try snowboarding. So some of his young snowboarder friends got him a board, gave him a few words of advice, took him up the chairlift and pretty much said "see you at the bottom." It took him three hours to get down the hill, but when he finally made it, he was hooked.
"It was like a new awakening," says Carver. "This thing humbled me -- it kicked my butt -- but it was so elating, it's hard to describe. I get excited just talking about it." Carver's face lights up as he talks about the "freedom and joy" he gets out of snowboarding, carving through fresh powder as it sprays in his face.
For Carver, the problem was that skiing had become routine. "I took skiing as far as I could go," he says. "Snowboarding just opened up a whole new world." He still occasionally puts on the skis, but it's rare. "I snowboard about 98 percent of the time now, versus skiing."
Carver, who teaches skiing and snowboarding, says that about 60 percent of his clients are requesting lessons in snowboarding, not skiing. He says there's a huge interest in people of all ages wanting to learn how to snowboard, including one 70-year-old who, if he didn't exactly shred, still learned the sport and didn't keel over in the process. He sees a lot of older adults who reach a certain level of skiing and want a new challenge. Snowboarding is just another way to get that rush they got from skiing. "A lot of people are looking for something new," says Carver. "It looks fun and they want to try it."
For the aging skier, snowboarding has its rewards. The likelihood of knee injuries for snowboarders is much less than for skiers. Having both feet attached to one board with bindings specifically designed not to release prevents the independent twisting and torsion of the knee ligament which causes so many of the injuries common to skiing. The most common injuries are to the thumb and wrist from trying to break falls. "It's lighter and friendlier on your body," says Carver. "And you don't hurt at the end of the day. Your butt and your head might, but not your joints."
So now that you're duly persuaded to try snowboarding and realize you don't have to listen to Green Day or be hip in any way to participate, you are ready to proceed. "Where do I start?" you ask? As with most new endeavors, lessons are highly recommended. Carver strongly discourages the taking-the-lift-to-the-top-of-the-mountain-cold-turkey method. Most boarders who have also skied agree that boarding is initially more difficult to learn, but after learning the basics, the advanced levels are achieved more quickly. The common saying in comparing the two learning curves says that "skiing is easy to learn and hard to master, while snowboarding is hard to learn and easy to master."
Initially, you can expect a humbling experience with more than a few butt-plants. (Of note here: There is a new product called Butt Gear that might just be the ticket. It's like a pair of highly padded biking shorts or hockey pants with Velcro straps around the waist. As the promo material says. "Butt Gear is your ticket to a safe and enjoyable snowboarding experience." And listen to this real-life testimonial: "Thanks so much, Butt Gear, for saving my ass!")
In snowboarding, as in skiing, the initial challenge lies in developing the ability to turn in order to control your rate of descent. And this initial hurdle is more difficult on a snowboard.
Before you start, you must make a crucial decision: Which foot forward? If you're unsure, try this little exercise. Slide across a linoleum floor in your stocking feet, just like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Instinctively one leg will thrust forward while the other leg remains behind for support. This should determine your snowboard stance. Carver says the biggest adjustment for most people is getting used to is being sideways, rather than face-forward on the hill: "It just doesn't look right to them," he says. And according to Carver, the single most difficult skill to learn is getting up after a fall. However, Carver prescribes to the "no-slam" philosophy of learning to snowboard. "No-slam" means "no fall," and he believes that falling is not requisite to learning to snowboard.
Carver says the older adults are more cautious and patient about learning the basics before hucking themselves down the mountain or trying tricks. However, he says, the popular trend is toward freestyle, which includes all the tricks and jumps done at the terrain park and half pipes: "Everybody wants to freestyle."
So, all you boomers and over-the-hill skiers, no more excuses. Get out of your rut and try something new. All local resorts offer snowboard lessons with rental packages for around $100, so there's no reason not to try a pop tart and get sick. But don't be wack: If you go to Silver Mountain and you want to take lessons, ask for Jim Carver. As Carver himself says, "Tell them to ask for the oldest guy there. They'll know who you mean."
Publication date: 11/13/03