Getting into Snowboarding

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Friday 15th October 2010
In this article
  • Finding the snowboard that’s right for you.
  • Extra gear makes the sharp snowboarder.
  • On the slopes.

Countless television commercials, the Winter X-Games and dozens of industry magazines have helped transform snowboarders from unwanted renegades into respectable winter athletes. With such a high profile (nearly one-third of last season’s slope visitors rode a board), snowboarding is bound to be on many SharpMen’s "must try" lists. While tossing the standard skis and poles can be a bit scary, these SharpToys basics can get the most avid flat-lander ready to shred on his first trip to the top of the hill:

Selecting Your Board

Before heading to the rental store, consider the terrain you’ll be riding. There are two styles of snowboard riding: free riding and park. Each of these riding styles requires its own type of board. If you’re unsure about the type of terrain you prefer riding, a hybrid board is your best bet.

Free riding boards.

Most seasoned skiers who want to give snowboarding a whirl will want to try free riding first, as it involves riding the same sort of terrain as skiing, from groomed trails to back-country powder. A good free-ride board is slightly longer than other board, usually standing up to its rider’s nose when placed on its end. The added length provides more flotation in powder and makes it easier to maneuver. In addition, free-ride boards have a higher curve at each end to prevent powder from piling up on top of the board.

Park boards.

Park riders perform all the flashy tricks that make it onto the boarding videos. These guys generally skateboard and rollerblade when they’re not on the slopes. Shorter boards are easier to rotate for tricks, so park riders prefer boards that stand a few inches shorter than their chins. When going for air, most of the height comes out of the spring in a board, so any SharpMan who wants to attack a half-pipe should also look for a more flexible board to help get the most from his jumps. It’s best to wait on the tricks until you’ve gotten a few days of carving under your belt.

Hybrid boards.

Hybrid boards are what outfitters recommend to new riders. Their mid-sized (chin-height) length provides enough flotation to make it through powder, while still short enough to rotate in a jump. Since most first-time riders don’t need either the flotation of free-ride boards or the rotating capability of park-specific sticks, hybrid boards are ideal for anyone trying snowboarding for the first time.

Other Gear

There’s more to hitting the slopes than just selecting the board to suit your style:

Clothes

Don’t let the mild weather at home fool you. It’s not uncommon for mountain temperatures to be 20 degrees colder than the flats. Throw in nature’s tendency to whip up a bit of wind around any peak, and you’ll need a bit more cover-up to brave the elements:

  • Jacket. Regardless of how hot you get when you exercise, don’t skip your boarding jacket. Ideal styles provide layerable (i.e., removable and easy movement) insulation underneath a shell of Gore-Tex or similar waterproofed material. If you don’t have a coat that’s specially designed for the mountain, don’t fret: you’ll get the same easy torso movement by layering sweat shirts underneath a winter parka.
  • Waterproof gloves. Waterproofing your fingers is key for those who want to keep their fingers and enjoy their ride. The ideal pair of gloves is waterproof, high enough to keep the snow out (i.e., mid-forearm) and roomy enough to cover your wrist guards (see below).
  • Water-resistant pants. Thinking about riding in your jeans? Think again. Denim cotton won’t hold warmth once it gets wet, leaving you cold and, well, cold. Since keeping your legs warm and dry is essential, water-resistant synthetics are your best bet, but wool pants will also keep you warm (but not dry) in a pinch.
  • Glasses/goggles. Because there are fewer buffers between your eyeballs and the sun’s rays at altitude, protecting your eyes from glare is paramount. UVA and UVB protection sunglasses or a pair of similarly tinted ski goggles will prevent corneal damage to your eyes and serve as a wind shield.
  • Boots. You’ll rent a pair of snowboard boots along with your board, though most regulars say that getting your own pair is the first purchase any budding boarder should make. Just as shoes become more comfortable when broken in, a pair of boots that’s been broken in to the shape of your foot works best for riding.

Safety Equipment

Unless you’ve got a killer health plan, a superhuman tolerance to pain and a lot of extra sick days to burn, protective gear is a necessity:

  • Helmet. A helmet is the single most important piece of protective equipment. As with any other fast-moving sport, your head and everything inside it is particularly vulnerable. Don’t take chances with your noggin; get a helmet.
  • Wrist guards. The most common injury new shredders suffer is a broken wrist. It’s painful, but preventable with a pair of wrist guards. Best of all, specially designed snowboard wrist guards fit inside your gloves.
  • Hip pads. The overly cautious (or clumsy) may want to get their hands on a pair of hip pads that slip underneath your ski pants. While pads won’t prevent broken bones, a little extra padding may make the ride home a lot easier.

Hitting the Slopes

It’s always a good idea to take lessons before tearing it up on your own. For SharpMen who itch to carve, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Position. While it may be disconcerting for skiers to stand sideways and against the direction of travel, keep your shoulders parallel, and thus your chest facing to the side. This position is necessary to maintain your balance on the board. You’ll also want to keep your knees bent to lower your center of gravity and help in maneuvering.
  • Turning. To steer, simply move your back foot in the direction opposite from the direction you want to ride. This will push the nose of your board in the right direction.
  • Stopping. Move your back foot forward so your board is perpendicular to the direction you’re headed. Lean back slightly to catch an edge and slow yourself down.

Because both feet are attached to one board, most guys feel that picking up a snowboard is a lot harder than skiing. After all, when you catch an edge, you can’t simply step forward to catch yourself. Most instructors encourage first-time riders to give the sport three days before they write it off, due to initial difficulty. Happy riding!

This article last updated on Friday 15th October 2010
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