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Learning to Snowboard as an Adult

Learning a new skill can be intimidating at any time in life.

As kids we worry that we won't be any good at it, that we may get embarrassed, and that we may get made fun of. As a kid we are supposed to learn new skills so we learn who we are and what we can do. It can be cruel and challenging at times dealing with our peers and facing the fact that somethings we just aren't good at. We wouldn't know unless we tried, so being a kid is all about trying and figuring it out.

As an adult we have different fears and worries. We still have caution about not being good, getting embarrassed, or getting picked on, but we also pile on other things that can create fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.

As an adult we worry about getting injured, being able to work, being on time, making an impression, or having success. We factor in all the possibilities, both good and bad, and we tend to have more caution because we have more life responsibilities. We have spouses, kids, bosses, colleagues, and businesses that depend on us. We don't have the luxury of having time off from life if we can't do what we normally do. This affects our decision making, but it also affects our ability to participate in the activity we desire.

If we go into a new activity that has a risk of injury, we tend to keep tense and not be able to fully enjoy the experience. This certainly happens in snowboarding when the first time is as an adult, but it can also happen when fixing the roof, climbing a ladder, or skydiving. When we overly think it inhibits our ability to instinctually react. Some will call this "paralysis through analysis". That means you think so much that you never actually do.

How do you overcome this obstacle? How do you get to fully experience the activity without having your consciousness committed to risk analysis and prevention?

Our mind goes into a protective reaction when we don't feel safe. One of the driving forces in humans is providing safety. That can be for ourselves, or it can be for others. When we worry about injury and not being able to go to work, that not only is a concern for our own well-being, but is a concern to keep those around us safe. We don't want to frustrate our bosses, overwork our colleagues, or not be able to provide for our spouse, family, or pets. At some point becoming an adult includes decision making that keeps us and those important to us safe.

We can improve safety by understanding the task at hand. In snowboarding, we learn a new movement pattern, a new skill set, and even new concepts that we don't normally apply in everyday life. The better we understand these new tasks and the more we understand them, the more comfortable we become in feeling that we can be safe throughout.

If you were learning to fly a plane, would you want to have your first lesson to be taking control of the controls and trying to land it? If you were training to be an electrician, do you think the first lesson would include a live wire? If you started working out at the gym, should you put all the weight on the bar in the first day?

You wouldn't do any of those things, and you shouldn't treat snowboarding any different. On the first day of snowboarding, it's not a great idea to ride to the top of the mountain. Most beginner riders don't know how to get on and off the lift, which you should be able to do before going to the top. Most beginner riders don't know how to change from heel edge to toe edge, and some don't even understand those terms. Most beginner riders are not familiar with sliding sideways, keeping in an athletic position, or shifting their body weight in response to the angle of the terrain.

How do you learn to do these things?

Some people will just go out and try. They may figure it out eventually, but it will likely cost time, energy, and possibly money (if they get injured). Plus, they will develop bad habits that need to be changed, or they continue running the increased risk of injury.

The fastest way to learn to snowboard effectively is by having an instructor. If you were learning to fly, you'd work with a pilot instructor. If you were becoming an electrician, you'd apprentice with a master electrician. If you were new to working out in a gym, you'd start light and at least talk to someone, get oriented by a trainer, or watch a video. Some sort of instruction would help decrease the risk of injury. Snowboarding is no different.

So, how do you get ready to learn how to snowboard?

While watching snowboard movies is rad, it takes quite a while to get to the point that trying to replicate the professional riders makes sense. When starting out, you need basic concepts and clear instructions. You need to learn movement patterns, the language, and the rules to keep yourself and others safe.

It's highly recommended by many people to take a lesson. I'm in agreement with this. Admittedly, I was stubborn, cheap, and dumb enough to teach myself. This was a frustrating process, had many bumps and bruises, and was risky to all those within my crash radius. Even though I eventually figured it out, I wasted time, energy, and money. The money wasn't wasted on an injury. It was wasted on buying expensive lift tickets that I wasn't able to utilize to the fullest. (I do think the view is worth it though!)

I eventually had to unlearn bad habits and reorient myself to the style of riding that fit me best. I enjoyed the relearning much more than the initial undertaking. I worked with an experienced instructor that helped me identify the movement patterns I had that lead to sloppy maneuvers. The instruction and cuing made an immediate impact on my skills and ability. I still find it useful to take a lesson every season to get a new perspective, practice a different challenge, and meet great instructors. It's a day I commit to myself and to the sport, and it gives me back way more than I put in.

It's also highly recommended that you get into snowboard shape. You don't need to be an extreme athlete, but you need to be conditioned to respond, balance, sustain, and tumble. Your ability to react appropriately, find and maintain your balance, keep working, and take a fall dramatically increase your chance of success. Much of this conditioning can be done at home and with minimal equipment. Also, this doesn't matter if you are a first timer or an experienced rider. Getting into snowboard shape requires a unique skill set that we don't practice in most of our daily activity, so committing time before the season starts helps you get into mid-season form faster. Every sport has a pre-season, and snowboarding is no different.

Watch and Ride has a great home based program that you can complete to get your body ready. It's well organized, easy to follow, and very practical in both teaching and execution. These guys do a great job, and for a small investment, you can be sure you have yourself on the right path. Check them out at

If you're brand new, it's also recommended that you rent gear. Different gear has different features, and you shouldn't pick your board based on the coolest graphics. Boards, boots, and bindings all have variable pros and cons, and some gear should just not be allowed for beginners. Talk to someone in the rental shop and let them help you get a starter set up to rent. Try out a few different set ups over your first several days before you commit to anything. It costs a bit up front, but it's better than investing $1000 in your own gear and then realizing that it's not a good fit for you.

As for learning the language and the rules, those are things that are best accomplished by reading signs, and working with a professional instructor. Like anything, you learn best by being in it. Work with someone that is willing to take you on the journey. Don't ask your buddy to do that unless they are really committed to you learning. Most riders don't want to take a slow day to teach another person, because that means they are leaving tracks untouched. Riders want to ride as much as possible, not teach their friends. Tell your buddy to have a good time and you'll meet up at the bar after your lesson. Chances are you'll be ready for that drink (don't forget water too), and if not, at least a bit of rest. #snowbeastperformance

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