A Beginner's Guide to Snowboarding

Trip Start Feb 16, 2011
Trip End Jun 11, 2012

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Thursday, November 24, 2011

Howdy folks,

Sunshine Village finally opened its doors on Thursday last week after receiving enough snow to open a few of its runs. I was keen to try snowboarding before skiing because everyone told me that it was harder to learn, but easier to master once you know the basics. Skiing, on the other hand, is easier to learn, but harder to master. Given that the season is open for almost 6 months, I thought I would have enough time to learn at least one of them!

I wasn't about to throw myself down the hill without knowing what I was doing, so I booked in a full day lesson with Steffie and her friend Christian. We decided to rent the equipment first before making a full investment so we picked our boots and boards up down at one of the many rental shops downtown the night before. They measure the board to your standing height and should be between your chin and nose. The boots are roughly the same as your normal shoe size, but are also measured in sole length to match the bindings. The bindings are fixed to the board and your boots strap into the bindings so your feet don’t move about. So far so good!

We didn’t get much sleep the night before and we were up early to catch the 8:30am bus to the hill from the Banff Inn. Steffie and I both purchased a bus pass instead of hitchhiking up to the hill or buying a car because it seemed the simplest option. We arrived at the lower car park at 9:15 and met Christian who was getting his gear fitted. From the car park, there is a gondola which takes you up past a turning station, Goat’s Eye Mountain station and finally arrives at Sunshine Village. I hadn’t been to the village since summer when we had to drive up from the lower car park along an access road. It certainly looked different since we went for a hike to Rock Isle Lake!

We gathered at the meeting point for our 10am start and met our instructor Ron. He took us up to the bunny hill and showed us how to strap in and go through a few basics. We went up and down the bunny hill a few times practicing at very slow speed although trying to skate up the hill with one foot strapped into the board felt a bit cumbersome. There was a 45 minute break for lunch, so we headed into the village café for some overpriced food. My feet were killing me because they had fitted me with a size too small so I enjoyed taking off my boots for a while.

After lunch we were given some instructions on how to safely get on and off the chairlift and we jumped on the Strawberry Express up to the top of one of the runs. It proved a little tricky getting off the moving lift and a few people fell down the exit ramp. Once everyone arrived regrouped near the start of the hill and strapped in our other foot then came the falling down part as everyone tried to put their training into practice.

To try and put it simply, the way you control a snowboard is either by the heel edge or the toe edge. By putting pressure on the heel edge by sitting your hips backwards, you slow down and face straight down the mountain. By twisting your hips and following your outstretched hand with your eyes you control which direction you go in. We practiced this by trying to go down like a falling leaf rocking from side to side. It took a long time to get down and Steffie was getting a bit frustrated. She stayed behind to do some more practice on the bunny hill while the rest of us went back up in the chairlift.

Next time around we practiced controlling the toe edge. Here you apply pressure into your toes and push your knees forward and face up the mountain going backwards. I actually found this easier to control than the heel edge and it was easier to get up from the snow from your knees than from going forwards. We practiced our falling leaf going in reverse and I even managed to do a turn to go back down facing forwards. The last thing we practiced when we got back down to the bottom was trying to perfect the turn from backwards to forwards.

We took the gondola back down at 4pm and caught the 5pm bus back to Banff after a coffee in the lower car park café. I was so tired I was almost falling asleep on the bus and I was in bed by 7:30pm! The next morning, Steffie and I got ready again to go back up the hill even though we were a little sore. We caught the same bus and were up for a few warm ups on the bunny hill by 10am. I was keen to practice on a decent hill so we went up the Strawberry Express and fell down the exit ramp again! I’ve quickly learned that snowboarding is all about falling down which is why we wear helmets. Steffie was having a hard time trying to put the theory into practice so we took our time going down.

We spent the rest of the day just going down the same run trying to get more practice. By 2pm, Steffie was pretty tired so she sat our while I tried a few runs on my own. I went down the run in about 10 minutes which was pretty quick, but fell flat onto my back right at the end so I sat down for a few minutes just to make sure I was feeling ok. On my last run I tried a different course which was a bit more flat. I haven’t quite worked out how to go fast in a straight line yet so I ended up having to unclip and skate back over to the decline. I was pretty exhausted by the time I got back so Steffie and I went down the gondola and caught the 3:45pm bus back to Banff.

I thought it would be a good idea to soak in the hot springs to relax our muscles so after dinner we caught the bus up to Sulphur Mountain for a night dip. It was really great to sit outside in 39 degree water in the -5 degree air. We finished off the night with a trip to a nightclub and a bar, but by 1am I was falling asleep in my chair.

To summarise, I’m feeling pretty confident about my abilities which are better than I thought after only 2 days. Next week I’m going to look at buying my own gear and perhaps going up 2 or 3 days each week to practice some more! I don’t know what I would do in a Canadian winter if I couldn’t do this!

Snowboarding Expenses

Sunshine Season Pass and Bus Pass: $1250
Full Day Lesson: $115
Two Day Gear Rental: $50
Snow Jacket: $70 second hand
Snow Pants: $250 new
Balaclava: $20
New Snowboard, Bindings and Boots: Around $600

Total Cost: Around $2300

It’s a good thing I have 6 months to make the most of my investment!
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