LGN 105: She’s Snow Angel

See what I did there?

Inside: About my dichotomous brain; The rest is all snowboarding

I want you to understand something about me — about my brain.

I have very distinct parallel processors. A lot of people do. I’m not saying I’m special but it amazes me how strongly two opposing thoughts, sensations, and ideas can occupy my one brain. It’s also very sticky. I mean, numbers, thoughts, ideas, memories, people (my brain doesn’t do out-of-sight-out-of-mind). They stick around for a very long time as bright and shiny as if they were input yesterday.

I can suffer and still have a good time. I can be intensely pissed at you and offer you my water because I’m worried that you’ll get dehydrated. I can be colder, hungrier, and more drained than I’ve ever been and at the end of the day still think, “Wow. Now that was a fantastic adventure.”

One does not lessen the other. That’s the interesting thing. But when I’m in the right frame of mind I can use one to hedge in the other, which comes in handy when dealing with stress and negative experiences. It drives me to learn, to analyze, and go to great lengths to not repeat the mistakes that make for much suckage.

LISTEN UP, SNOWBOARD INSTRUCTORS

Here are some things I wish snowboarding instructors would do. Sometimes they seem a bit out of touch with what it means to be new to snow sports.

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Here’s my snowboarding curricula vitae:

January 11th: REI Learn to Ski or Snowboard Class

An excellent resource. For $165 you get the VIP treatment, relatively speaking, which includes a 90+ minute lesson (and transportation, lunch voucher, drink voucher). It’s thorough and the instructor sticks around a little longer if anyone needs them on the slopes.

By the end of the day, I didn’t get it. Despite the patient instruction and the practice runs.

I needed to sleep on it or something. That’s common, though. It takes more than a day for most people, I think. We went up to the top of the First Class slope (the bunny slope) and I bit it constantly on the way down. It took forever.

That’s the sum of my snowboarding experience.

I bought the Mountain Passport for $50, though, because there’s no way I’m going out like a punk. It’s a once in a lifetime deal that lasts for the rest of the season at Liberty, Roundtop, and Whitetail.

February 1st: Mountain Passport in Full Effect

Timed to coincide with some friends who took the REI class. Accompanied by an experienced skier/snowboarder after the lesson.

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The lesson at the top of “First Class”

My experience up to this point is one day of face planting all over the beginner’s slope. And mentally processing the previous time and watching snowboarding tutorial videos on YouTube.

I took the free lesson for a refresher. It was the hour long rudimentary class. If I hadn’t done the REI class it wouldn’t have been enough considering I have no snow sports experience. It was tantalizing in its spartan efficiency. It basically went like this:

  • This is how you get around with one foot in the board.
  • Go straight on the beginners area slope.
  • Go straight again.
  • Everybody good? Okay.
  • Heel turn.
  • Heel turn.
  • Toe turn.
  • Toe turn.
  • Comfortable with that? Great. Let’s go over to the ski lift.
  • This is how you get on a ski lift. Meet at the sign at the bottom of the ramp.
  • Let’s go over there.
  • Strap your other foot in. Flipping over will make it easier to get up.
  • Let’s try a heel turn.
  • Again.
  • Toe turn.
  • Let’s try that one more time.
  • Now let’s put them together. Let’s work on linking turns down to the bottom. I’ll stay behind to help Gary.
  • Okay. You’re all free to go. Any questions? Have fun.

1. You notice anything missing in there?

I do. Notice that there’s nothing in there about how to stop. When operating a vehicle of any kind for the first time “How do I go?” may be the first question but “How do I stop?” suddenly becomes the most important.

How do you stop? You stop by turning.

Listen up, snowboard instructors. That doesn’t make any sense. It’s not intuitive. I know it’s true. It’s physics. It still doesn’t make sense, though. Not until you train your body to understand.

“Um, teenage instructor person who’s been boarding since the age of 3? Yeh, me again. I think it would help if we knew how to stop.”

“You turn.”

“Right. Yes. I get that. I turn. I’m turning. But how do you stop? Like … how do I stop moving forward once I’ve turned.”

“Turning into the hill will stop you.”

“No. Yeh. Sure. Okay. I see you stopping when you turn and all but… no that’s okay. I’ll get it.”

I’m sliding downhill picking up speed and there’s a five year old on skis in front of me. Let me tell you something about little kids. They have the situational awareness of a drowsy frog. You ever see a frog on a nature documentary? Snake creeping on them and the frog just sits there and I’m yelling at the TV, “Do you not see that snake?! Move, fool! Why aren’t you jumping or swimming, for frak’s sake! Ugh!”

Adorable, fragile-boned children are slowly cruising by in every direction. They’re like background characters in a Mario Brother’s game. They don’t mess with you but if you run over one it will severely change your day for the worse. I’m approaching at ramming speed and my body has no idea what to do. I know I want to turn but it’s not natural yet. My neurons haven’t rewired for this most basic of skills. If you’re a beginner with no boarding muscle memory your only option is to fall on your ass. That’s how you stop as a beginner. You intentionally fall. That’s not what you’re supposed to do, of course.

What you’re supposed to do is turn. You turn so that you dissipate that downhill, gravitationally induced kinetic energy. Instead of straight down the slope you turn so that the board is perpendicular to the slope. As you turn, you weight the edge of the board that’s facing uphill and the friction keeps you from sliding down and your velocity decreases to zero since you’ve effectively idled your engine (aka gravity).

2. How do you get up?

They do teach you how to get up from a seated position. So far I can’t do it the forward way. I have to flip over. If that doesn’t make sense to you, you’ll understand when you take your first lesson.

I’ve watched dozens of snowboarding videos. Only one of them showed how to get up but it was just to get you started.

Here’s the problem. If you find yourself on a steep slope — say you’ve fallen directly on your shoulder socket and face and blacked out for a few seconds — you have to stand up on your board. Whatever your method, because you’re new to this you are going to be in motion as soon as you do.

If you’re a beginner that means you’re going to be in motion before you are anywhere near stable and in control. That means you’re going to fall.

I fell down the first section of a supposedly green (easy) slope for forty minutes the other day. That s— was steep as all get out, y’all. While sitting I’d start to slide if I didn’t dig an edge into the snow. Falling consecutively for that long is freaking exhausting.

“It gets steeper?!”

“That’s just a lip.”

“You said this was green. You said it was a green run.”

“It is green.”

“Then why am I looking at this!”

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I should have just rolled down once we got beneath the cloud line.

I’m still trying to figure out why my forearms are sore and my pointer and middle finger first knuckles are stiff. Weird.

My snow partner for the day — let’s call him or her Elehcim — doesn’t really do moderation when it comes to challenging one’s self. I was not ready for that run and therefore it sucked. I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew the theory. It was just too much, though, and would have required a more aggressive application of skills than I was capable of.

Plus an important accessory adjustment. More about that in the post-game analysis.

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Toe side into the snow. The guy with no weight on the front of his board is about to fall.

3. Leaning Into It

Snowboard instructors … well, this isn’t their fault. Everyone tells you that you have to lean over your front foot. I mean, your weight has to be over your front foot.

Know what that means? That means you’re leaning down the hill. When on the side of K2, which is apparently a green run by experienced skier standards, every fiber in your being and sense of self preservation is telling you to lean back. Way back. Leaning back means no control over the front of the board, though, which means no braking, which means no steering, which means going faster, which means losing control, which means falling or crashing.

I don’t know what the solution is for this one. The student — me, in this case — just has to commit to it. It’s a bit of a gut check. Besides, you’re supposed to be navigating across the slope and not hurtling straight down it like a human missile bent on self-annihilation.

POST-GAME ANALYSIS

Having said all of that, tumbling, limbs akimbo, down the steep green run with some instruction from an experienced snowsportsman, definitely did something to my brain. I mean, aside from making me want to violently stuff fistfuls of snow down the back of their shirt while shouting into their ear something incoherent about toes.

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Thank you. And eff you. But mostly thank you.

I got down to a less angled part of the slope and tried some turns and had some spectacular wipe outs. I heard a kid above me in the lift comment on my, um, abilities. A male voice — I didn’t see them because I was face down in the snow — said, “Everybody starts somewhere.”

And everybody ends somewhere like face down and butt up in a heap in the snow beneath the ski lift.

Then after wrecking over to the middle of the slope, Diane, Cathy and REI Sean came by on their skis looking like they’d done this before and more than once. Diane said, “Let me see what you got.”

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There they are.

Right there out of the blue I linked two and a half turns. Boom. I kind of got it. I felt it. It clicked. My toe turns are still sloppy and unsteady, but the time on Doom Slope and Elehcim’s attempts to have me stabilize on my toe edge made me realize something.

I need to go for the smaller boots (they don’t have half-sizes). The boots I had on were as tight as they’d go. The right one was tied and tightened by an instructor. While I was straining to get on my toe edge my heels were creeping far up the back of the boot. So that energy was being wasted instead of manipulating the board on to the toe edge.

So I went tubing while Elehcim tore up the double black diamond runs.

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Out of my shot, kid. I don’t care if you’re cute. Nice shoes, though.

I think I’ll improve my toe turns dramatically if I have that extra control.

We’ll see in a few days. Third time’s the charm. I think it’s going to happen. This may call for the GoPro.

I’m coming back for you. This is why I train. You bet your Dipsy Doodle.

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2 comments

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  1. jannamo

    The one and only time I’ve tried downhill snow stuff I tried skiing cause it sounded easier, and you are reminding me that that may have been a good choice! I loved it actually, but it’s a pricey hobby, haven’t been back since.

    • garyarthuryoung

      I hear that.

      That’s why I went for the deal. If any place out there offers one I hope you get a chance to go for it.

      It may just be me. Other people were getting it much faster. Same happened when I took a skiing lesson back in 2001-ish.

      But they say once you get over the snowboarding basic skills hump you can progress pretty quickly.

      Also, there’s always that one friend who will put you in over your head and encourage you to swim, metaphorically speaking.

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