Words & Photography by Ryan Thirwell
So you’ve seen the videos on YouTube, liked your friend’s Alps selfie on Facebook, watched the winter Olympics and you have finally decided to give snowboarding a go.
Congratulations and welcome to the party!
First the bad news – learning HURTS. The good news is once you are able to stand upright, turn left, right and stop, then the fun begins. With lessons you can look to be at this stage in 2-3 days. Without lessons it will be much, much longer.
The essential gear you need to buy are: Gloves, trousers and jacket. The rest you can hire your first time and if you like it buy for the second, third, fourth trip. If you enjoy boarding you may well be doing it for the rest of your life. Tips here are – buy a slightly more expensive fashionable jacket that you can wear as your winter jacket – which brings down the cost (at least in your mind) and fashion on the slopes is a BIG thing. TK Max is a good place to shop, as is http://www.theboardbasement.com. You can hit up any sports shop for the gloves and trousers – you lose the majority of your heat through your body and head so a jacket with a hood is a must.
Essential tips for your first time. The old adage goes that you should use an indoor centre to see if you like it / have any natural skill and then go ahead and book your expensive Alps / US trip to get the best of the larger resorts. Here is an alternative – why not book yourself a long weekend and travel to Cracow early in the season and take a bus down to Zakopane for 1-2 days? You can pick up cheap lessons and combine a city trip in. This way, if you decide its not for you there are alternative things to do in Cracow. and Zakopane is one of the hidden gems of Europe. For your first big trip I’d recommend Borovets in Bulgaria or the Andorran slopes as a cost over risk exercise. The Apres culture in the smaller resorts is much more geared towards long nights of drinking than their snobbier Alps cousins where things die down around 1am.
The realist is to do any of the jumps, off-piste or free-riding that you have seen on those aforementioned YouTube and Facebook videos you will need to take a season or many, many 2-3 week breaks. The European seasons starts in earnest from late December through March into easy April. The North American season is much longer.
Tips for on the piste: Green slopes are the easiest but, on a board this may mean extended flat areas where you will have to take off your board and walk much further – taking the board off is a pain and should be avoided, as should green slopes. Blue slopes is where the majority of your fun will be had and these will continue to make up the majority of your boarding hours well into your intermediate level. Red slopes will have areas of steep incline and swooping turns broken up by flatter areas. Black slopes are almost complete inclines and very steep. All but the very best do not enjoy these slopes on a board – but every boarder should aim to flatline these at least once in their lives (flat-line: put the board’s nose first straight down the mountain without trying to turn).
After a long day on the slopes its straight onto Apres ski (after skiing) and this means bars, clubs and hangovers. As previously mentioned some of the smaller and cheaper resorts offer the greatest Apres scene and Borovets, in Bulgaria is the standout in that crowd having been described as the Ibiza of the snow. In some of the larger resorts and the Alps in particular it is essential to pre-book your Apres to ensure you have good seats and access to the bar. Meribel’s LDV (Lodge De Village) is a great example of a ski-in, ski-out bar. The Rond Point (also in Meribel) offers a mid-piste stop off which has established a world wide reputation as one of the best piste bars in the world. In the smaller resorts the main action is found in the resorts – Borovet’s main action occurs in Bobby’s bar and BJ’s bar with the latter open until the very early hours. Both serve food and Bobby’s often come top of the Trip Advisor ranking due in part to the food but also the extremely welcoming atmosphere, which is maintained through the excellent hosting and punishment shops for breaking the rules. These rules can be applied liberally or strictly depending on your levels of cheekiness to the owners who are often found at the centre of the party.
Fortunately there is no better place to have a hangover than at the top of a mountain where the air is crisp and the adrenaline of falling gracefully down a mountain will outweigh any hangover very quickly.
The final advice is to purchase a camel pack to ensure you maintain hydrated throughout, there is no worse feeling than missing a day of your holiday due to feeling ill. Boarding will be the best thing you have ever done, or the worst – but you will make new friends and see sights you thought were only reserved for the rich and famous.
See you on the slopes.