Expect to spend a large, snowy chunk of your day planted on your behind.
Aside from that, however, when learning to snowboard for the first time, expect nothing else but a mountain full of fun.
A few weeks back, Girlfriend Ashley — as we’ve come to call her in her appearances within the pages of The Enterprise — and I had the pleasure of taking beginner snowboarding lessons at Sierra-At-Tahoe.
For our lesson at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Ashley and I left about 6:30 in the morning. Former Midwesterners, she and I, we left prepared for all possible elements — packing gloves, hats, winter jackets and, most importantly, snow pants.
We arrived plenty early and took our time scoping out the resort. The outdoor seating area near the grille offers a great view of the mountains, and let me just say, it’s great people-watching. You can witness, in awe, the experienced slopers barrel down a steep black-diamond run to your left, or you can watch, in stitches, those beginners — Girlfriend Ashley and I would be included in this category — tumbling down the bunny hill to your right.
In either case, we had a few moments to see both.
After getting a feel for the joint and a quick bite of delicious crumble cake to fuel up for the day, we trudged over to the snowboard rental desk in the main lodge to gear up for the lesson.
Sierra staffers — after asking us whether we were “regular” boarders who ride with the left foot forward, or the “goofy” kind who ride with the right in front — hooked us up with appropriately sized and configured boots and snowboards.
Signed up and with equipment in tow, we were ready for our lesson.
At 10 a.m., we were marched over to the base of the bunny hill, the smallest hill in the resort, grouped into packs of eight with the other beginners taking lessons for the first time and then assigned an instructor.
One of the instructors was named Brody, of course.
Before strapping into the board for the first time, our instructor, Lannette, told us to follow her up the magic carpet, a perpetual conveyor belt of sorts that hauls skiers and snowboarders up the smaller hills in the resort rather than the lift, to the top of the bunny hill.
We then magically carpeted up to the top of another smaller-sized hill where we found a fairly flat patch of snow where the lesson would begin.
First we became acquainted with the other would-be twentysomething boarders, which I thought was a nice touch because we could all then encourage one another throughout the day … and encouragement is needed.
Next, we were taught about our boards and all the technical names for the straps and curves and edges it has.
Finally, Lannette told us to strap in. From there we would learn how to push ourselves around with one foot buckled to the board and the other free. This, called gliding, proved a bit difficult, but extremely useful when trying to move around on flat snow.
I’ve recently started learning how to skateboard; it’s a fairly similar move.
In any case, Lannette then brought us over to a slightly angled piece of snowhill — picture a fairly challenging putting green — and showed us how to push off with one foot strapped in and then step our free foot onto the board to glide. Girlfriend Ashley and I actually picked this up fast.
This maneuver got us more comfortable standing up on the board while moving, even though we weren’t riding very fast or down a particularly steep hill.
Near the flat patch, however, lay a slightly more elevated part of the mountain where Lannette would teach us how to hop on the board while it was moving — still with one foot loose. This move would be useful when hopping off a chairlift, which usually dumps you onto an abbreviated downward angled slope.
I won’t mention the stories that the person editing this story, Tanya Perez, told me about her experience toppling off of the chairlift on a snowboard and repeatedly falling down, rather than gracefully gliding to safety at the top of the hill. That would just be mean.
But like Perez, Girlfriend Ashley and I, had a tough time with this move and we both fell the first few times down the steeper slope. Don’t fret about falling, however.
While it does take you by surprise, it doesn’t really hurt. Snow, I’ve come to learn, is soft, especially on a warmer day, which we enjoyed.
After a few runs down this little hill, which feeds back to the flat spot that naturally slows your glide, the majority of us were able to make it the entire length of the slope without falling. Progress! And more importantly, progress within about an hour of practice.
The next move we would learn was a little “J” turn at the end of the run.
Climbing to the top of the little hill after watching Lannette show us how it was done, we’d push off, glide down and then (hopefully) turn a bit to the left or right before coming to a complete stop.
OK, so we all fell a bunch doing this. But that was just fine! At this point, we all knew one another’s names and were rooting for each other as we barreled down the little snow hill, making any inevitable spills easier to digest.
The next move would be our first while completely strapped into the board. It also was the most difficult to learn.
With both feet locked in, the move was to face down the hill with the board perpendicular to the decline. Lannette showed us, then, how to slowly slide down the hill using the front and back edges of the board to stop and go. She explained that this was a safe, easy way to descend even the steepest of mountains.
Every single person flopped down the hill the first time. It was hilarious.
However, after a few sketchy attempts, Girlfriend Ashley and I both made it down without falling. HOW ABOUT THAT?!
After feeling pretty good about ourselves and our new-found snowboarding abilities, we learned we had only a few minutes remaining in the lesson. The 2 1/2 hours went by extremely fast!
Our last mini-lesson of the day would be about something called “falling leaf” and it would take place on an actual hill. Oh dear.
Falling leaf, as we saw Lannette perform in front of our eyes, involved edging slowly down the hill just like the move we’d learned, but then turning the board slightly so that you were actually snowboarding.
That’s right, snowboarding down a mountain.
Needless to say, if you weren’t well-acquainted with the snow yet, you were about to make fast friends.
I volunteered to go first and, unlike the smaller hill we’d been practicing on, there was no flat patch upon which you’d soon come to rest. At least not for a while down that hill.
Edging out down the hill, I was off and actually not doing so bad! In fact, I made it all the way to the bottom, edging a bit, angling to the right and snowboarding, turning the board to slow myself and then angling back the other way, when wham!
The snow at the bottom of the hill was beginning to get a little slushy and it grabbed the front edge of my board, slamming me head first into the side of the hill. Luckily, I’m spry and caught myself. After a deep breath, I hopped back up and finished making my way down the hill.
I made it, and Girlfriend Ashley was not too far behind. She took it much slower than I — she’s the intelligent one, as you might have guessed — and though she, too, took a couple of spills, she safely made it down the mountain. As did all of eight us, sooner or later, and so concluded the lesson.
In my own personal review of the lesson, I can’t say that I’ve had more fun than that in a long while. It was challenging but, with some determination and a bit of resolve, absolutely doable.
After our lesson and a celebratory beer and burger on the outdoor patio, Ashley and I headed back up the magic carpet to practice what we had learned throughout the morning.
After a few hours, both of us could comfortably “falling leaf” down the hill, avoiding young, out-of-control skiers and snowboarders, slowing down when our speed had picked up faster than we were comfortable with and stopping when we reached the base of the hill.
Neither of us would consider ourselves experts, by any stretch. Though I’m confident with more practice and perhaps another lesson we’d be able to pick up the more difficult moves.
— Reach Tom Sakash at [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash
If you go:
Sierra has an effective and friendly training program for snowboarding. The half-day beginner lesson during the peak season is $119 each. Non-peak rates drop to $99.
The resort also offers beginner lesson deals regularly. Look to sign up for those at the beginning of the ski season in the fall.
For more information, visit http://www.sierraattahoe.com