Tale of a snowboard convert

Dropping ski poles to glide sideways and keep pace with the 'rugrats'

All I knew about snowboarding was what my dad reported after his first - and last - day of giving it a whirl.

Suffice it to say, Dad found it difficult to translate his skiing skills to a 5-foot-long board on which he buckled both feet and glided sideways.

Snowboarders, too, had an image problem in my eyes. Often teenagers dressed in tent-sized clothing, boarders have irked me more than once by zipping across my ski path at lightning speed, disrupting the natural traffic pattern. Skiers, after all, "owned" the slopes. Snowboarders were interlopers.

But then an opportunity arose to take snowboard lessons designed just for adults. It took me all of two seconds to make up my mind. I wanted to know what the buzz was about. I wanted to keep pace with the rugrats.

After taking a three-day class, I have revised my opinion of the sport and its young devotees. I think they are on to a great secret and should get credit for bringing the sport to the rest of us. If I owned skis, I would sell them and buy a board instead.

My class took place high in the Colorado Rockies at Beaver Creek, which is part of Vail Resorts. With personalized classes, Beaver Creek hopes to hook adults on a thrilling sport that previously belonged to skateboarding teens.

The first lesson for me and two other students started in the equipment rental room. Our instructor,

Chris "Zusch" Zuschlag, showed us how to use the proper gear: big boots, shoulder-height snowboards, and yes, tent-sized, waterproof outerwear. (All the better for movements such as rolling on the ground.)

Before we hit the bunny slopes, Zusch (rhymes with "whoosh") gave us "newbies" an insider tip on how to carry our boards.

"Snowboarding is all about style," he explained coolly, hoisting his snowboard onto his forearms like a cafeteria tray. "This is not style."

The proper way to be seen carrying a board is holding it under one arm, toting it by one binding, or slinging it horizontally behind your back.

We were all ears now. We knew that no matter how badly we boarded, we would still look hip. There was no stopping us now.

Over at the "bunny slopes," we first got used to sliding around on the boards with just the front foot buckled in. Essentially this was the drill: Stand up straight, look to your side, and lean on your forward foot, which makes you slide in that direction.

My forward foot is my right foot, but most people lead with their left. (People like me are referred to as "goofies." When I get a chance, I'll interrogate the skateboarders who originated that term.)

Next we learned turns. Really, really slow turns, with both feet strapped in. While sliding straight to one side, we learned to gradually lean on our heels. This steered us in a gentle arc, with the heels on the inside and the toes on the outside. To go in the other direction, we learned to stand straight up and gradually lean on our toes.

By this time, I was thinking, this sport is totally unnatural. It feels awkward, and it's nothing like skiing except for the snow. Which made me grateful to be learning it with a real instructor.

We'd now learned the basic components of snowboarding: straight glides, heel turns, and toe turns. All we had to do was put it all together by "linking" our turns, as the pros call it.

We didn't do this the first day, though, and we barely figured it out the second. We were busy learning another important lesson: how to fall.

When your body is on a crash course, the reflex is to try to catch the fall by reaching out with your hands. We were told to resist this urge by making fists and falling on those. Making fists saves fingers, wrists, even energy.

We got very good at falling.

But it began to be fun for me as my confidence grew, and I could actually make it to the bottom of the bunny slope without falling. In those moments I was exhilarated, and I could see why this sport is such a hit.

According to Zusch, snowboarding has injected new life into a stagnant ski industry. Surprisingly, his average student is retired, or close to it. Maybe because of this influence, the young snowboarding set is "maturing" on the slopes. Reckless snowboarders are the exception now, in his experience.

For adults, Beaver Creek offers a deal that's hard to pass up. For $130, you get three days of small-group instruction, equipment rental, and a discount on the next round of lessons.

The resort is hoping to hook a new generation of snowboarders - adults - and they've succeeded with one already. By the end, the only soreness I felt was in my wrists, from pushing myself up onto my feet over and over.

Don't tell my dad I said this, but learned correctly, snowboarding can be done with little pain and loads of fun.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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