The Diary of a first and LAST time snowboarder:

First Trax

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I’ve skied for eighteen years (since 1988) of my 53 years on planet Earth.  I got a much later start at snow sports than I would now wish…but you play the cards you’re dealt.  My four daughters were all introduced to skiing at early ages.  My oldest at five years old, the next two at about four, and my youngest is now skiing in her fifth season…and she is not quite six years old.  I often wonder how cool it would have been…to have been introduced to skiing at such a young age. However, coming from Charleston, South Carolina and the Columbia area…we were more into golf, water skiing and summer sports. Once I skied my first time which was at Appalachian Ski Mountain – I was hooked.

Eighteen years later…somehow…I am not certain HOW it happened…I was convinced to attempt snowboarding. I think that it was one of those guy things.  
One of my brother-in-laws said S-O-M-E-T-H-I-N-G like, "Why don’t we try snowboarding one day since we’re here for the week?"  None of the rest of us had the guts (you know the guy thing) to say no and momentum built from there until from that moment forward it was understood that we were going to do it, it was just a matter of which day.  Actually I must admit that I’ve wanted to try snowboarding for years, but every time I hit the snow I just wanted to enjoy the day so much so that I’d put the idea aside.  There was no putting the idea aside this time.

We did first track (skis) for the first half of the day, enjoying some wonderful conditions.  We broke for lunch and it was suggested that perhaps we should make the second half of today our snowboarding day. Bob, one of my brother-in-laws is one of those guys who is built to ski, looks good skiing and should be/could be a great ski instructor. My other brother-in-law, Darrell is more like myself; athletic enough to try and succeed at most anything, but we’re not going to win many style points. You can probably guess which of the three of us was more gung-ho about the snowboarding test. The three of us are all forty and older and this was our first ever attempt of snowboarding. We were joined by a couple of our teenaged kids; one who had never attempted snowboarding, one who had tried it once without enough success to make them change from skiing to snowboarding, and one who is pretty darned good at it.

We rented the snowboards & boots and were on the slopes within an hour. I laced up the boots and was immediately enjoying the fact that even though my ski boots are comfortable…they don’t hold a candle to the comfort of snowboarding boots. Heck I wouldn’t mind a pair for working around the house.  My snowboard was cool enough and I was impressed at how easy it was to simply pick up a board and walk to the slopes.  None of this gathering of twin skis, poles, etc and clanging your way to the slopes. I found myself wondering if MAYBE I was going to be transformed into a snowboarder after all of these years. I also found that I had an urge to speak in cryptic slang and pull my pants down lower on my waste…but I successfully fought that off.

We made it out onto the slopes and we all agreed that it sounded reasonable to do the bunny hill first.  If you are familiar with the bunny slope at Snowshoe, you’ll agree that it’s pretty tame, with very gradual, but somewhat challenging inclines for novices to sliding on the snow with one or two planks. We rented the step-in bindings, which were very easy to figure out and within moments I was clicked in and ready to go — with my left foot in.  Getting the OTHER foot clicked in was a small challenge that I was tickled to conquer within another minute or so.  I thought to myself, "Heck there’s nothing to this."

I’d seen enough boarders hopping around to know that with both feet shackled to the board…there was no thought process needed to figure out that I had to hop to get going. I have to back up a second before I tell you of how I immediately succeeded in getting started…to tell you that while we were still in our condos "doing lunch" that I clicked both feet into the bindings and hopped around a foot or so…and rocked toe-side and heel-side…and fell on my butt!

Anyway my first attempt at hopping to get going on the snow went great.  I immediately started "surfing" my way down about twenty yards before my first fall.  I say surfing, because that’s what I envisioned that I looked like I was doing.  I had both arms flailing around like a giant bird trying, but failing to fly! Upon falling I thought to myself that I’d done pretty good for my first shot at it.  I then tried rocking forward to get up and that didn’t work. I could get just so far and my somewhat out-of-shape stomach wouldn’t quite let me get up.  My nephew, (the snowboarder), came around exclaiming how great I’d done and he informed me to try rolling around on my stomach and pushup that way.  That WAS a piece of cake – the getting up part.  However, getting up that way has you immediately faced the wrong way and now your challenge was twirling around to face 180 degrees the other way!  That is a challenge that I never mastered. Nevertheless, I figured out the best way NOT to have to face that repeated challenge was NOT TO FALL. I finally got up and skied (oops boarded) down the first run without another fall.  The bunny slope lift was packed so I clicked out, picked up the board and walked up the slope for another run.  My second trip down was a piece of cake. I rode the second trip down with no fall, which gave me a false sense of accomplishment, because I gained speed on my third trip down and got up enough confidence to transfer from the side slip to what I’ll call surfing left foot forward. I was cruising on my third attempt and rotated to a side slip down and caught a front edge and…OH MY LORD will THAT take you into a face plant in NO time at all! Thankfully the snow was soft, and I popped up – okay I clicked out and stood up and walked back up the slope.  My fourth time down went better, mainly because I had lost that confidence to try anything tricky, and I went from top to bottom in one semi-smooth run. Buoyed by my success, and the fact that I was darned tired of climbing the hill on foot, I suggested that we hit the real trails.  My nephew boosted my confidence by telling me how great "Uncle Mike" did (that’s me) and how his father had taken out the ski school on one of trials. Of course my ski-king brother-in-law had even better success than I had and he too was ready to hit the slopes.

Darrell admitted that he had fallen and as he was rotating to get up he had taken out two peewees. He got up and took out the rest in another failed try at going down the bunny slope. He stayed behind and the rest of us forged ahead to the slopes. Bob, his son (the second time snowboarder and my namesake nephew Michael), and the rest of our crew of 13, which included my five year old daughter took off — and left me. Whatever I had learned in four or five trips down the bunny hill wasn’t working on even the green trails down the Northern Territory of Snowshoe! One things was the sea of people that I was seriously worried about taking out. Nevertheless, four or five falls and a lot of side-slipping down the initial portion of the trail later I was cruising again. I picked up enough speed to catch a couple of three year old skiers and thought I was ready for primetime. Somehow I rotated to the right which had me sliding backwards and even so…I was doing okay and I caught an edge that way and WHAM! Great goodness it’s like the earth literally reaches up and jerks you straight down as fast and as hard as possible.  Falling backwards does this whiplash thing that introduces the back of your head to Mother Earth in a very hasty fashion! Boy that rocks your world. I’ve been tackled more than a few times playing football that didn’t feel that hard! I had fallen on a decent downslope and getting up from there was not going to happen.  It’s not that I didn’t try 235 times…but when I would try to get up forward, I’d fall straight back.  When I’d roll around and get up stomach first, I was facing the WRONG WAY going DOWN a mountain…which is not something you want to be doing when you’re not totally in control!  Somehow I got up and mostly due to the fact that was dead tired of getting up…I WILLED myself down the next portion of the hill.  All of this had gotten me 100 yards!  Just kidding…I had done pretty good…but it FELT like I’d not gone too terribly far. The length of time I’d taken to get to where I was with this snowboard…would have put me down the slopes twice on skis.

However, I experienced momentary glimpses of stardome wherein I’d go a few hundred yards before crashing to the snow…yet again.  I fell more times in that first twenty minutes than I have fallen in the last seven or eight YEARS of skiing. However my kids cackled with laughter each time I’d plunge to the earth and writhe around to get back up…so it was worth it.  After what seemed like ten falls, I was physically SPENT! I was wet with perspiration more so than from hitting the snow and the last few falls…I don’t think I’d have made it had it not been for my thirteen year old snowboarding nephew, Jay. He continually told me how great I was doing, but I suspected he was getting tons of enjoyment from helping his now beaten uncle up. He has a good heart, but I think that the kid in him had him snickering silently to himself.

I did finally make a few transitions from toe-side to heel-side etc. and finally arrived at the lift at the bottom.  Doing the slide-drag thing in the lift line wasn’t as bad as I had pictured it being and minutes later we were riding the lift back up.  I had convinced myself that I would fall getting off the lift and had no problems with the idea that I’d stop the lift for the first time in my snow sports experiences. Surprisingly, I stepped off and rode down the lift exit right to a great stop.  This time I did it because I think I FEARED having to try to get up ONE MORE TIME.  The family cheered by successful landing and made a few decisions right then and there.  One – snowboarding is much EASIER than I thought that it would be.  Snowboarding is E-A-S-Y…when you’re doing the R-I-D-I-N-G part. But the falling, writhing around to get up and falling repeatedly part is HARD WORK. HARD WORK!

My brother-in-law Bob of course not only had less trouble getting up…he was sold on the sport so much so that he rented his board for another three days. Damn him! I’m convinced that Darrell and I have had our one day adventure into boarding.  If I was about ten years younger and maybe thirty pounds lighter in the stomach I think I’d love it.  I mean I DID LOVE the riding part…but the rest of the sport is a darn aerobic workout.  That’s when it hit me that you just DO NOT see fat people snowboarding.  Look around.  If you see a fat guy snowboarding you can bet money that he’s either a first-timer or he just took up the sport. ANYBODY who snowboards regularly…is IN GOOD DARN shape! If there’s a fat guy out there that claims he’s a regular snowboarder, he’s a better man than I am. I’m not fat…but I do have a bit of a "few too many Coors" stomach and it prohibits a guy from doing the front hop-up needed to have fun at the sport.  I found a newfound respect for you guys who ride on one board. You guys and gals are simply in better shape than the average skier.

I did have a good laugh later when Bob shared some inner thoughts as he was going through the skiwee ski school kids.  He said that as he was approaching a group of the kids, all dressed in the ski bibs with the ski school logo and numbers on them, that he formulated this vision in his head that they were like bowling pins all lined up ready for him to mow down…scoring point.  Darrell interjected that on his foray into the ski school children that he has scored a spare!

If you’ve been considering an attempt at snowboarding I have a couple suggestions.  One, look at your waste.  If you are wearing a belt that could be used as a replacement belt on your treadmill – USE the treadmill for a while before attempting it.  Second, where a helmet! You WILL fall, you WILL probably do a face plant or two…and you WILL be whiplashed to the ground at least once.

So the day did create some great times, a good workout and some shared, hearty laughter…and some newfound respect for you snowboarders out there.  As for tomorrow?  I will be enjoying the effortless turns on the slopes with TWO planks on the snow. I wanted to try it…DID…and I will now watch in appreciation for the effort that all of you snowboarders put into the sport. Here’s to you (as I lift another Coors in a toast to you!)

Until Next Time!

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