Snowboard lessons: is it time you went back to school?

By Pete Campbell
Picture courtesy of Beaver Creek Ski Area
Published September 2007

so you can get down the hill, but is your technique actually any good?

Ask a snowboarder how many lessons they've had and the majority will reply with one of the following: "a week in resort", "group lessons at the dome", "a board-in-a-day lesson" or "I'm self-taught."

This lack of instruction is quite evident when sitting on a chair lift watching people whiz down the ski resort slopes below. You see many a snowboarder with a handbag arm or mystery date and a bucket load of counter rotation. At a guess I would say that 90-95% of snowboarders ride this way. This, in the main, can be put down to the fact that the easiest way to snowboard, is incorrectly.

Personally after my first week of group lessons in Andorra, I was snowboarding the exact same way. It took another week's worth of lessons to kick the counter rotation habit and a little longer to lose my mystery girlfriend. Had it not been for these lessons, then I too would still be snowboarding the same way and hooning down the slopes thinking I was the bees-knees, when in fact, I wasn't.

Early days of snowboarding

In the early days when snowboarders were hounded off the slopes (see Skiers Vs Snowboarders) by resort owners and skiers, snowboard lessons simply didn't exist. Anyone that picked up a Jake 'Burton' Carpenter or a Tom Sims board had to teach themselves and usually on some backcountry slope away from the safety of the groomed ski resort slopes. These pioneers had their own style and technique, as they developed their own way to get down the mountain.

As the sport has evolved, so have the teaching methods. The Swiss, Italian and Austrians still teach as they did 15 years ago, using the shoulders to turn the board in a very Euro-carve way, whereas BASI (British Association of Snowsport Instructors) instruction, along with our North American and Australasian friends, teach a relaxed, 'body in line with the board' style.

It may be these differences in teaching techniques that have put off some snowboarders. To go from being taught one way, only to being told you're doing it wrong at a later date, is soul destroying and I for one know that feeling when having an awful instructor who never used the 'sh*t sandwich' approach. It certainly put me off snowboard lessons for a while.

Learning curves and the early plateau 

Compared to skiing, snowboarding has a steep learning curve and for that reason many people with just a small amount of experience can get about the mountain with ease. To some degree this is why many may not seek further lessons. They can happily get around the mountain, so what's the point in getting more lessons?

These riders however will hit a plateau early on in their snowboarding 'careers' and stop progressing. Some may be happy just to be able to get down the mountain, but what's the point in that? Some of our nation's best-loved sayings are, "You're never too old to learn new things" and "You never stop learning," so why do the majority of snowboarders not bother to take these ideas on board?

Another cause could be the recent heavy emphasis on freestyle riding. With snowboarding ever more appealing to the younger generation, often their first question to an instructor before even stepping on a snowboard is: "When can we learn to do jumps?".

Pop down to any freestyle night at one of the UK's fridges or dry slopes and you'll see people who can barely link turns attempting to hit the mixture of rails and kickers. It seems that snowboarders would rather attempt tricks than actually get to a good level of everyday riding.

The holiday attitude 

I can see the point that many snowboarders only get a week a year on snow and so this week is very precious, but that week can be put to great use. On the social side, you could have a week of morning or afternoon group lessons. Not only do you learn new things, but you also get to have fun with like-minded individuals.

Or if you prefer, for the price of a week's group lessons you could have one or two private lessons to hone in on your technique alone. This would be great for those riders who have reached a plateau and just need a few minor tweaks to push their riding up another notch. You then have the rest of the week to put these practices to good use and further your enjoyment of the sport.

It seems I may be on a crusade to keep the many snowboard instructors out there in jobs. Maybe I am, but surely if you do something you enjoy, then you want to do it to the best of your ability.  For many, that will mean going back to school.

Pete Campbell is a keen snowboarder who writes for SnowSphere Magazine and White Lines magazine.


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