“Grownup snowboarder.” A contradiction in terms? Isn’t snowboarding a sport for rebellious adolescents with died hair and pierced body parts, wearing tee shirts and elephant sized pants, doing impossibly contorted tricks in a half-pipe? It may surprise some hard core skiers and skeptics that the answer to both of these questions emphatically is “No.”

It is true that the punk stereotype is what most outsiders of the sport consider to be the image of a “snowboarder.” But while young people dominate in terms of numbers, they are not the whole picture and actually are relative newcomers to the sport. Before snowboarding became a popular fad, attracting this “new-school” from a skateboarding and street background, there were the “old-school” and “alpine” riders.

The old-school pioneers have been snowboarding since as far back as the days when few, if any, ski areas allowed boards – 10 or 15 or more years ago. Some, but not all, have a skiing background. Generally, they don’t confine themselves to the half-pipe as do most of the new-schoolers. They use the whole mountain, as do skiers, favoring powder, back country, steeps, chutes, and cliffs, while using free-riding boards with soft boots. And, as their name implies, they certainly aren’t kids anymore.

Alpine riders are the smallest minority, many of whom are current or former skiers. They rarely, if ever, venture into the half-pipe, and are fond of traveling at high speed on groomed trails, slicing deep ruts into the snow. You won’t find them skidding sideways or sitting in groups in the middle of the trail. With traditional ski-looking clothing, often a helmet, hard shelled boots and stiff, narrow, directional carving boards, they occupy a misunderstood middle ground: disdained as “skiers” by the new-school, yet shunned as “snowboarders” by two plank die-hards. It is this group which attracts most of the “grownups” from the over 35, baby boomer generation.

Consider this profile. You are a boomer who has been skiing since you were a kid. You have the experience and skill to ski most anywhere on the mountain. But face it, your knees can’t take the pounding of those moguls the way they used to; two or three runs in the bumps exhaust your energy for the rest of the day. And you are becoming cautious and maybe even a little tentative on those steep chutes you used to blow down with abandon. At your age, you quite prefer rapid cruising on Giant Slalom boards over groomed corduroy. Truth to tell, however, after 20 or 30 years on skis, much of the challenge and a healthy dose of the thrill is gone.

It is while on the groomed runs, or riding the lifts above them, that you have noticed the alpine snowboarders, linking graceful, surgically carved turns that, as a matter of physics, simply are not possible on skis. These riders don’t just drag their knuckles; they are able, in the right conditions, to slide their hips, knees or entire body across the snow as they cleave crisp, perfect arcs. Much as you resist, they have piqued your curiosity. You may even have tried those “parabolic,” “shaped” or “super-side cut” skis being marketed so heavily these days. But you find that while they may approximate a true carved turn better than your traditionally shaped skis, they are pale imitations of an alpine snowboard. The difference between them is analogous to water skiing: no matter how adept a skier is on two planks, he or she will be unable to change direction as quickly and precisely, or to achieve the edge and body angles, as with both feet mounted on a single surface, one behind the other.

So you are persuaded to try snowboarding, and you now understand that this doesn’t mean that you have to pierce your ears, buy outlandish new clothing, and go through a mid-life crisis. How should you proceed?

Before purchasing equipment, I advise the beginning snowboarder to rent or demo both boots and boards. The snowboarding learning curve starts out slowly, then skyrockets; needs and tastes will change drastically over a short span of time. Renting a variety of different boots and boards during the learning process is educational as well as economical.

The first board should a symmetrical all-mountain “free-riding” board of between 135 and 160 cm., depending upon the size of the rider. Borrowing your friend’s stiff, unforgiving racing board with the bindings mounted at a 60 degree angle, or your daughter’s soft, tiny twin-tip freestyle board with the bindings mounted “duck stance” (both feet angled outward), is not recommended. Rely on the expertise of a knowledgeable shop tech to fit the proper boots, board and bindings, and to adjust stance width and angles, to suit your personal needs according to age, height, weight, strength and ability.

At the time boots and boards are chosen, a crucial decision must be made: which foot forward? Some new riders have participated in such similar sports as water skiing, surfing or skate boarding, and already know. If you are unsure, the following exercise usually works to ascertain the dominant leg: with a running start, slide across a linoleum floor in your stocking feet. Instinctively, one leg usually is thrust forward for balance, while the stronger leg remains behind for support. This should accurately determine your snowboard stance.

As with undertaking most new endeavors, lessons are highly recommended. Taking the lift to the top of the mountain cold-turkey definitely is not. No matter how coordinated, strong, and balanced you may be, prepare for a humbling experience your first time out. Expect a few face and fanny plants; anticipate some bruises and sore muscles. Some beginners even wear protective padding on their wrists, knees, elbows, and posterior; in-line skating equipment works well. Competent, experienced instruction will minimize the struggle and maximize a swift progression from tumbling to turning. Snowboard lessons geared to adults, such as the Delaney Snowboard Camp increasingly are available at most resorts and help make the learning process successful and enjoyable for the mature set.

Generally, the baptism by fire that a new snowboarder experiences is short lived. In comparing the learning curves of skiing and snowboarding, it is said that “skiing is easy to learn and hard to master, while snowboarding is hard to learn and easy to master.” In both sports, the initial task is the ability to turn in both directions in order to control the rate of descent. This usually is more quickly accomplished on skis, where balance is easier to maintain with two legs moving independently rather than being attached simultaneously to one surface. But once turning is assimilated, the progression from awkward novice to steady intermediate to confident expert is markedly faster on a snowboard. It is not unusual to advance from floundering on the mildest bunny hill to carving deep trenches on groomed black diamond terrain in a single season.

Finally, some comments about injuries. Beginner snowboarders typically sustain more injuries to their upper body, such as thumbs, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, which absorb much of the forces in falls. Ankle and foot injuries also are prevalent for riders in soft boots. Caution and common sense during the learning phase, as well as using protective guards and pads, should help to minimize their occurrence. Once the beginner stage is passed, the rate of snowboarding injuries drops significantly, and liklihood of knee injuries is much less than for skiers. Having both feet attached to one board with bindings specifically designed not to release prevents the independent twisting of the legs and torsional stress associated with injuries to knee ligaments common in skiing.

So, to all of you grownups, adults, and over the hill oldsters: be adventurous, be bold, be outrageous. On your next visit to your favorite resort, follow your kids on a snowboard. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Well, those are terms which sort of defy definition. Some argue it’s a riding style, others that it’s an attitude, still others that it’s nothing at all. Here are a couple of selected posts which express the opinions of their respective authors:

Guys from Old School probably started boarding around the mid to late 80’s when the Burton Safari and the 1st generation Sims ATV came out. At this point in boarding, we were running our back foots kind of straight across with Sorels. The “trend” at this stage was to evolve boarding to a more ski/high tech thing. Stances were going tighter and more angled, hard boots were getting more consideration (I’m sure old Damian helped out here..), and asym’s were starting to flood the market. This is not to say “freestyle” and pipe riding was declining. However, sometime later (92?), there was a backlash towards more trick oriented boarding with heavy emphasis on bilateral abilities. In order to be fully symmetrical with a lot of fakie oriented moves, the board really requires a rider to have his feet straight across, wide for stability, and the board to be fully symmetrical (did barf make the first real “twin-tip” board?) Thus, boarding reverses its trend and this is where I believe “New School” arrived. I remember the days when guys would laugh at you if you rode a perpendicular stance. Anyway, that’s how I view it.

I was always under the impression that the difference lies mainly in tricks and overall style. Old school tends to be big on huge air, grabs, a nice carvey riding style, bigger boards, freeriding, etc., while new school tends towards shorter twintip boards, flatland tricks, spins, a really wide stance, lots of time spent in the park as opposed to freeriding the slopes, etc. (A lot of this difference is reflected in skateboarding, I’m told by a friend who’s been skating since the mid-80s.) >…is it as trivial as the old bunch of stylin’ snowboarders turning 20, and thus ceasing to be relevant? 🙂 Well, yeah, that too, probably… 🙂

When I started riding there were no freestyle bindings. I’ve stayed pretty up to date with the technology though, and ride a fully symmetrical Barfoot (a recent one, not the one from the 80’s) with pretty much 0/0 stance angles. But I still consider myself “Old School” when I have to make the comparison (and I don’t like to), because I consider the difference to be mostly an attitude thing. Perhaps this may be inaccurate, but I’ve always associated “New School” with the whole lame, commercial, gangster imitating, skier dissing, baggy pant wearing crowd of (worm)heads who have of late started giving the sport a bad name and sparked quite a few closures to snowboarders around the country. Just my $.02 worth. Take it or leave it.

When it comes to repairing gouges and “dings” in bases the correct process depends on how the base was originally made; there are two different methods of manufacturing the polyethylene used for bases. Extruded bases are made by melting pellets and forcing the material through a nozzle of the required size to form sheets of the desired thickness. The resulting base material is very easy to repair, but equally easy to damage. Very few boards are made with extruded bases. Maybe some of the cheap Kmart type boards, etc. Sintered bases are made by slowly heating powdered polyethylene under great pressure. The result is a block (sort of like a big wheel of cheese) that is then skived (cut) to form the base material. This method costs about three times as much as producing extruded bases. Sintered bases are much higher in molecular weight; with increasing molecular weight, abrasion resistance and wax absorption is increased.

While it’s great to have a base that won’t get gouged as much, it is a lot harder to fix. Repair candles contain a whole bunch of stuff other than polyethylene, like wax and things to make it able to burn at a low temperature. It won’t stick to sintered bases. Snow, especially granular snow, can be very abrasive (how ’bout that last bloody face plant you/I did!). You can scrape out a drip repair with your fingernail. Depending on the size, depth and location of the damage there are three repair methods, using pure polyethylene, that can restore the base to as good as new (or almost): using an extruder, a plastic welder or putting in a base patch. For each of these methods to work right it is important to heat the surrounding (good, clean) base material also so it will bond securely to the repair material. It is also more difficult (than with drip candles) to remove the extra material that is left above the surface of the base. Unfortunately, the tools to do the job are expensive and not practical for most people to own. If it is more than some small scratches, it is worth having a good shop do the work.