As winter sets in, and the weather forecasters start calling for snow, the thoughts of many recreational athletes turn to alpine events, especially skiing. But for some weekend warriors, winter sports means only one thing: snowboarding. Combining the fluid grace of surfing with the jump and spin techniques of skateboarding, snowboarding is a rush that has to be experienced. A few things to know before you go.
First of all, you'll need a board. There are basically two types of boards, depending on what kind of snowboarding you will be doing. Freeriding is the more downhill oriented side of the sport, but freestyle is usually what you see on TV; riding the pipe, doing jumps, and looking styled. Most snowboards are designed for freeriding or freestyle, which is good because this shape is perfect for most beginners. It utilizes a twin tip (both ends are the same) design, as opposed to the freecarving or slalom boards, which are more directional in shape. Most people start out with a basic model, such as the Burton A Deck series.
To attach your feet to the board, you need bindings. Most entry level bindings share the same basic design: a base plate with ratcheting straps. Unlike ski bindings, snowboard bindings are not meant to release when you crash; but need to be disconnected in order to "skate," or glide along flat areas. More advanced bindings replace the base plate with a set of rails, allowing your boots to rest directly on the board for better response and feel.
You'll also need snowboard boots, and these are usually thick, chunky workhorses. They come in high and low styles, in hi-tech materials and good old leather, and have stubby, blunted toes which make your feet look small. They also run about a size bigger than your normal shoes.
Assembling all the equipment is fairly simple. Most ski areas will rent you a board and binding set up and a pair of boots for between $20 and $40 per day. If you want to buy your own stuff, expect to spend at least $450 to get decent quality equipment. Buying used gear is also an option, and often a good snowboard shop will have a selection of both pre-owned and previous model year stock.
No matter if you rent or buy, you'll need to determine your stance on the board. Most people board with their left foot forward. But some go "goofy," leading with their right. How to tell (and you will be asked. It determines how the bindings are set up): Think of sliding into a base in baseball. Which foot would you extend forwards during your slide? Usually, that's going to be your lead foot while boarding. Riding fakie (opposite your normal stance) is a useful skill, but one to develop down the line.
Strap your front foot onto the board, which will place your toes over one edge and your heel against the other. In order to get around in the flats, you push with your free back foot, much like propelling a skateboard. When you are ready to start your decent, you strap the back foot in and allow yourself to drift down the mountain. Make sure you are facing forward, keep your hands in front of you and your weight low (with your knees bent), and don't try to do too much too soon. Be especially careful not to catch the front or back edge of your board too sharply in the snow: this will cause you to crash.
Turns are made by leaning forward or backward and from side to side, using the toe edge and heel edge of the board for steering and speed control. Stopping is very similar to braking on hockey skates. You bring both feet perpendicular to the slope and scrape to a stop, hopefully without falling down. Then you unbuckle your back binding, skate over to the lift, and head back to the top for another run.
If you are thinking about trying snowboarding for the first time, go to a local ski area, rent some basic equipment, and by all means take a lesson. All told, the day might cost you between $75 and $100, but you will definitely make progress a lot faster with some professional instruction the first time out. This will also give you to opportunity to get a better feeling about the proper board size (based on your weight, not height) and to check out your compatibility with the sport before you blow a wad on equipment. So check it out: strap in and ride on!