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The power of one

Tamara Miller
Dominique Taylor/The Vail TrailSnowboard instructor Mike Everson stays close to student Tamara Miller as she practices gliding down the bunny slope at Beaver Creek.
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I turn 30 next month. This isn’t quite the milestone it used to be, I know. According to the AC Nielsen global research group, the 60s are the new middle age and the 40s are the new 30s. I guess that means I’m like a teenager or something.

Nevertheless, 30 is a nice round number, and round numbers have always played a big role in my goal-setting, like when getting out of bed, I always aim for the nearest half-hour – 7:30 or 8, 8 being preferable. I also liked to round off to the nearest dollar when balancing my checkbook – it makes the math so much easier. But when my husband found out he took all the checkbooks away from me.

So, as I’ve inched closer and closer to 30, I’ve compiled a list of goals to accomplish before the big day, (which is Jan. 3 for anyone who cares). I tackled the easier tasks first – buying a townhome, becoming an editor – and ignored the unattainable – a flat stomach, the perfect haircut. And I put off the goal I feared the most: learning how to snowboard.

The image of skiers and snowboarders as arch enemies on the mountain makes for great storytelling and jokes. But in reality, it seems to be more the exception than the norm. I know plenty of people who ski and snowboard, and even tele-ski, as if mastering two winter sports isn’t enough.

I had no problem with the idea of being an ambi-snowrider; it’s just that learning to ski was hard enough. It’s been almost seven years, but I still remember the almost paralyzing fear I felt when my now-husband took me to the top of Lost Boy, a lengthy green at the top of Vail’s Game Creek Bowl, and told me to form a wedge with my skis and get moving. It took three full days of bruises and tears for me to learn how to parallel, and several more for me to learn how to enjoy being on the mountain. The idea of returning to novicehood was enough to get me to do, well, absolutely nothing toward learning how to snowboard. Still, visions of Gretchen Bleiler and Hannah Teter were dancing in my head.

Instead, our staff photographer took action, hooking me up with a friend of hers, reportedly the best snowboard instructor around. I couldn’t refuse the opportunity, but as I rode the escalators up to the base of Beaver Creek that Friday morning, I was nervous. My instructor, Mike Everson, immediately put me at ease with a big smile and a genuine handshake. Everson is a 34-year-old Madison, Wisc. native who moved to the Vail Valley a year ago. He’s a former pro snowboarder who likes to spend a lot of time in the half-pipe. He’s endured three wrist surgeries in his snowboarding career, but he’s dedicated to the uniplank. He earns his keep by teaching others to snowboard through his job with the Beaver Creek Ski and Snowboard School.

I gave him all sorts of warnings about my lack of ability, eye-hand coordination, courage and stamina. Everson seemed unfazed, assuring me that he wouldn’t let me fall too much. We started at the bottom of the ski slope, just east of the Centennial Chairlift. Everson told me to just strap my left foot into the binding and place my right foot on the board. He pushed me down the slope, holding on to me the entire way, to give me a sense of how the board felt. As I slid down the little hill, I started to relax a bit.

Everson had me practice weighting the toe edge – the front – and the heel edge – the back – of my snowboard. The first few times I had Everson’s hands to support me. Then he had me make the turns by myself. I fell a few times trying to figure out how to stop, but when you’re only going about a 1 mph, it really doesn’t hurt. At last, he had me connect the heel turn with the toe turn, having me make wide S-turns down the slope.

He clapped his hands and proclaimed, “That’s it. It’s time to get you on the lift.”

Not even an hour had passed and already my instructor wanted to take me to the top of the hill. I had a flashback to my Lost Boy experience, but Everson reassured me I was ready.

“You already have really good edge control,” he said, convincingly.

Getting off the chairlift is one of the two places where snowboarders bite it the most, Everson said. That first chairlift provided ample proof – I managed to stay upright while getting off the lift, but only because Everson held me up the entire time. We took the Drink of Water lift up to the green runs on the top of Beaver Creek. I strapped in, tried to get up (a lot harder on a board, than skis, and with no poles, to boot), got Everson to help me up and tried to replicate what I had done at the base of the mountain.

That’s how I took my first good fall. While attempting to weight my toe edge to turn I fell flat on my face. I laughed (or at least in my rosy-colored memory, I did) and turned on my back while Everson explained what I did wrong. I was sitting in the saddle – sound familiar, skiers? – instead of keeping my weight on my front foot. I also wasn’t turning my shoulders enough to initiate the turn.

I got back up and tried to do what Everson said. One of the things Everson said he likes most about being a snowboard instructor is watching his students latch on to a new skill. He’s taught people who spend most of the day at the bottom of the hill, just trying to learn how to weight the edge of a snowboard. He’s also taught people with the athleticism – or the courage, frankly – to pick up snowboarding so quickly they’re onto black diamond runs by the end of the day.

Everyone had a different learning curve, he said. Knowing how to ski beforehand can help, but not always. Patience is the key to being a good snowboard instructor. It was clear that Everson had plenty of that.

At last, I had linked a few turns. Behind me I heard Everson yelling praises after me. In my head, I imagined him jumping up and down like a happy parent. So caught up with my fantasy I took my best digger of the day – a fall, flat on my back that made my neck crackle like popped bubble pack. Turns out I was leaning too far back again.

“You’ll never do that again,” Everson said.

Indeed.

After countless more turns – and falls – Everson and I took the Centennial lift back down to the base. My legs had nearly turned into jelly, and the whiplash from my digger was starting to nudge at my neck. But I had already committed to Everson, and myself, that I would rent a snowboard again soon and practice what I had learned. Maybe even take a group lesson next time – Everson said I could join the Level 3 class since I knew how to get on and off a lift and knew how to turn. In my mind’s eye I had the picture of a 30-something version of myself, clad in baggy snowboard garb, dragging my knuckles along a 40-degree, powdery slope. I just hope it doesn’t take me another decade to get there.


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