For 10 years now, I’ve managed to avoid winter and head to warmer climes and water; surfing and yoga-ing my way around the world. Yet this year I wanted to stay in Europe, embrace winter and commit to being able to go down a mountain with a certain amount of confidence and style.
I have had limited experience in the snow but the number of people that said “ you surf, so you should find snowboarding easy” were countless. In fact, I would disagree and say I found it immensely hard! Adjusting to the technique of boarding was more about retraining my mind and body, rather than learning from scratch, so initially there was a lot of resistance. My body knows what to do when standing on a wave, how to balance, how to move, to brace, to flex, to essentially predict what to do next so it was very confused for a bit! This is where yoga and having body awareness was a great help; on my yoga mat I was able to explore poses that supported the new muscle connections, stance and movement I was facing.
I’m a slow learner: A kinesthetic – I need to see, feel and understand it before I can have a skill or experience engrained. And I crumble under pressure! I need to learn at my own pace, with enough time to rest and process as I intake all the new information, which is why being a seasonaire was the only option for me. Yes, there are similarities between surfing and snowboarding but I wouldn’t say being a good surfer makes that much difference to your snowboarding progression – it’s about being a good learner! Luckily already being an instructor I was aware when I needed to step back, push myself or try a different approach – and I realised as challenging as learning something new is, its incredibly fun and rewarding too. Especially in one of the most amazing backdrops on the planet.
What really took getting used to:
Having my weight forward over front foot and facing down the mountain – my first issue was getting comfortable with slopes and gradients. Not ideal when you’re afraid of heights! But luckily I was pointed in the right direction of easy, gentle green runs and got to grips with things gradually.
Being fixed onto the board by bindings – this did not feel safe or comfortable at first, but as I worked on my stance, bending my knees and slightly outwardly rotating my hips and learnt more control, the mechanics behind snowboarding began to make sense.
Falling over – HURTS! There are better ways to fall over (making fists and trying to land on forearms instead of wrists), but its’ simply inevitable. I spent the first 4 weeks falling on my coccyx and feeling like my lower back was constantly bruised. The only thing I could do was apply ice and keep trying! At one point I just stopped falling. Thankfully something clicked.
Ice – There’s a sound that you hear when you skid out on ice and it’s the stuff of nightmares. Landing on ice hurts even more. You can try avoid it or you can just see it as an inescapable part of riding.
Skiers – Lets not go into the rivalry and camaraderie between boarders and skiers. Let’s just say they’re both different, and if the ski people are going very fast, very quietly, very close to you it can a tad off putting.
Chairlifts – They have they ability to ignite anxiety into the greatest of snowboarders. I know there’s a beautifully graceful way to disembark, I just haven’t found it yet!
The technical stuff – rails, camber, edges, carving and a lot of snowboarding is very specific and technical which comes with experience and depth of knowledge. Yet “catching an edge” (when you’re cruising along a flat section an unexpectedly stack it) can happen to anyone.
Photo Credit: Mike @ www.nomadsontheroad.com
What helped me progress:
Repetition and practice – unlike surfing you can ride the same curve again and again, the terrain can change slightly due to snowfall, but there’s a chance to really know a run, so you can get faster and more fluid each time. Somedays I had to really force myself to go up because I was tired and achy, but I cannot stress how important it is to put in the hours in order to improve.
Good equipment – Being in the extreme cold is all about having the right kit. Wrist guards and bum protection are great for when you’re learning. Having good lenses on your googles and changing them dependent on the light conditions is essential. There’s lots to consider. I’m super grateful to Roxy who kitted me out for the season, with their latest salopets, snow jacket, helmet, goggles, gloves and snood, I used an Endeavour boyfriend model, which was perfect for me and also invested in a pair Burton “ritual” boots.
Guidance – online videos at snowboard pro camp by Kevin Pearce in Whistler were so helpful and I was blessed by having instructor friends, who were simply stoked to take me out, give me tips and see me progress. Riding with people at the same level or slightly above really helps you visualise where .
Experiencing different conditions – the weather changes constantly and after a while you can get quite obsessed with checking the forecast, the visibility, snowfall, temperature all contribute differently to your session on the slope. But I learnt its best to get out whatever the weather so you can appreciate those magical bluebird (blue skies, no clouds) days even more.
Being present – just like many activities us “Surf Girls” love such as surfing, yoga and SUP; in boarding we can also explore the practice of mindfulness. I would use chairlifts to tune into my breath and distance myself from any negative thought patterns or anxiety. When hungover, injured or tired we don’t perform to our best physically and mentally, so it’s really important to be tentative if you’re in anything less than top condition.
Noticing how your perspective changes with time – when I started out some slopes would seem like the steepest thing I had ever seen, now I can laugh as how my viewpoint has shifted due to my progression. The slope hasn’t got any less steep, it’s just become more familiar and my confidence has grown.
One of my surf teacher trainers introduced me to the circle of learning a few years ago:
Unconsciously incompetent – when you’ve never tried something before and you have no idea how terrible (or good) you are at it you are!
Consciously incompetent – you’re now aware that you’re a beginner but learning skills and awareness of how to improve, falling and failing is part of this process.
Consciously competent – you reach a level that is clearly improver, the fundamentals and foundations are in place and you are able to hone your skills
Unconsciously competent – you’re totally in the flow and in zone, you no longer have to think about what you’re doing.
After 9 weeks of boarding I believe I have almost come full circle. Things are not yet flowing so completely natural it’s effortless, but I’m getting there. My mind and body seem in sync rather than my head being clouded of thoughts and emotions of what to do and what I’m feeling (which initially was frustration, fear and embarrassment). Now it’s pure joy – especially in powder, which is a whole new set of sensations and requirements within snowboarding.
The real test I have have left for my final week in resort – my first black run and my first attempt at riding a box in the park, I’ll let you know how it goes!
If you fancy doing a season in the Alps, here’s my top tips for surviving and thriving when immersed in the seasonaire lifestyle:
- Enjoy après and the social scene but ditch the nightclubs
- Stay fit: make use of the gyms, yoga and fitness, swimming and massage available
- Find the seasonaire discounts – lessons, guiding, hire even supermarkets will have good deals
- Free transport is great for the budget, but the best way to get around is via the mountain
- Be aware of environmental issues – www.protectourwinters.org
- Find heathy options amongst the traditional food of cheese, bread and meat
- Be polite to the locals by having just a bit of their language in your repertoire
- Safety – respect the mountain, know your limits, always ride with friends and take the correct equipment.
You can read more about my adventures at: www.ecoyogasurf.com