From snowboarding to skiing
January 17, 2013
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado – I haven’t put on a pair of skis since 1995 when I was on a ski trip with my Canadian relatives in Collingwood, Ontario, and even then, I never progressed much beyond the snow plow/wedge that week.
I first strapped a snowboard on my feet in 2000 at Breckenridge while I was student at the University of Colorado at Boulder and have remained loyal to the sport ever since. With a lack of deep powder to ride last season and this season, though, now seems like the perfect time to take on a new challenge.
It’s Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month across the United States ski industry, and three-day lesson packages for the price of a normal two-day package at Vail and Beaver Creek this month make it a relatively inexpensive time to hire an instructor and test out the water.
There’s a benefit to learning how to ski or snowboard when you have already mastered one of the sports, said Jim Kercher, the Ski and Snowboard School director at Beaver Creek.
“The main thing is there’s a huge advantage in doing one sport – you know the mountain already and you know snow conditions and you will react habitually to those conditions, whereas if someone was brand new to either sport, they would have to learn that,” Kercher said. “So, you have a huge advantage when you switch.”
In 1995, I had never tried to slide around on snow on anything other than a toboggan. Back then, this Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-native couldn’t imagine becoming proficient in any snow sport. As I clicked into my rental skis this week at Beaver Creek, I remembered back to that first day at Breckenridge in 2000 when I fell on my snowboard countless times and could barely walk the next day. I tried to keep that memory fresh in my mind because being a beginner on the snow is tough, especially when snowboarding is so easy for me now.
The National Ski Areas Association reported 5.1 million snowboarders who rode more than once in 2011, down from the peak of 6.3 million in 2003 and 2004. Of those 5.1 million, 16.6 percent also alpine skied in 2011, but some think those numbers could be increasing.
Maybe it’s because the children of snowboarding adults think skiing is cool because, well, their parents aren’t doing it.
There’s probably some of that, Kercher said, but he attributes the slight decline in snowboarding lessons and increase in skiing lessons seen at Beaver Creek more to new ski equipment and other factors.
“We haven’t seen too much of a decline in snowboarding, but we have a little bit,” he said. “The new ski equipment and freeride and big mountain skiing and all that is very attractive to the younger set – that’s hot right now.”
Depending on the region, though, the results are different. In California, where skateboard and surfing culture reigns, snowboarding is as hot as ever.
Beaver Creek instructor Brett Gagnon, who teaches both sports at Beaver Creek, agrees that new technology and gear for skiing has created a lot of interest in the sport again.
“The wave now is boarders going back to skiing,” Gagnon said. “I think that’s part of the generational process of snowboarding, where some of the older boarders are now interested in the new equipment in the skis.”
Regardless of the reasons, people like Gagnon are happy to teach the switch. Hiring an instructor who does know how to both ski and snowboard is highly recommended for anyone looking to switch because there are explanations and comparisons they can give that others would have trouble articulating.
The biggest challenge of going from the boarding to the skiing are the edges – two versus four.
But because the feeling of an edge scraping the snow is something athletes on both sides know, the learning curve for feeling those edges during the crossover is relatively small.
My biggest concern before my lesson began was crossing the skis together, getting tangled up and falling. Turns out that hardly happened at all.
One thing that a snowboarder will intuitively do, however, is gravitate toward the back seat. Gagnon’s biggest challenge of the day during my lesson was perhaps trying to break me out of the habit of being too far back in my stance.
By lunchtime we were off the bunny hill – an area of the mountain I never thought I’d visit again – and on to greens! By the end of the day, I was able to ski down a couple of blue runs relatively well, but obviously still with a lot to learn and practice.
Something an instructor can provide that friends or learning on your own can’t are the drills. Gagnon had a drill for every technique, and he had a drill to replace any drill that didn’t seem to work.
The highlight of a day learning something new in such a familiar place isn’t overcoming the challenge – although that’s part of it – it’s the simplest surprise that I never would have considered: Downloading on the chairlift.
After three or four great post-lunch runs, downloading on the Centennial chairlift reminded me of why so many of us love to play in the mountains. The ride down is one of the most beautiful views around – one I hadn’t seen in quite some time.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.