Posted by: cousindampier | 3 October 2011

‘Wear a Butt Pad.’ – Seven Things I Learned While Snowboarding

Having lived in Ohakune since June 19, and – more importantly – having worked on Mt. Ruapehu since July 4, I’ve obviously become a master snowboarder.  And by ‘master snowboarder,’ I mean I can occasionally make it all the way down the mountain without falling on my face.

Snowboarding is trickier to learn than I thought when I arrived.  I don’t really know what I expected, actually, but it seems to have taken a bloody long time to learn how to do it with any level of ability.  Much like Douglas Adams’ lesson on learning to fly – “throw yourself at the ground and miss” – learning to snowboard is like learning to forget you are falling down a mountainside.

So, I pass along the following to anyone else dumb enough to want to learn:

1) You will retain no Pride.

This sport is not for those who want to save face.  On any level.  They should just give T-shirts to people after they preform their first faceplan – just to make them feel part of the club.   You can even add on points for first somersault, first tailbone plant on ice, first fall while attempting to jump, first time wiping out and taking a skiier with you (25 points), skiier and his son (50 points), or a whole family of skiiers (100 points!!), and points for first somersault which results in a faceplant.  All of these things will happen.  Many of them multiple times.  You will eventually feel no shame in any of them.

Which is good, because if you did than…well, don’t bother reading the rest of this.

2) You will learn to hate children.

Lets keep the Sins theme going here – this covers Wrath and Envy.  Children on the mountain fall into one of two catagories:

1) children you hate because they are better than you

2) children you hate because they are worse than you

Children who are better than you are pretty self-explanatory: “Look at that kid go.  He can’t be more than 6!  And he’s awesome! I have 20 years on him, and I’m on my butt for the 18th time today.  Goddamn, it hurts.  That little shit.”

This thought basically occurs to you about 75 times per day.

Children who are worse are obnoxious in a whole different level.  They, like you, are learning.  They, like you, aren’t very good.  But, because they can stay up on their skies, they make wide, long, slow back-and-forth curves in the snow, taking up the whole goddamn trail.  And when the trail gets really narrow, they still take up the whole thing, they just go a little faster, making them impossible to pass.  And they are always accompanied by their parents, who shoot dirty looks whenever you pass their child too closely.

What’s worst is when a kid just….stops.  For whatever reason, but just stops.  The trails at the Turoa Resort converge on the base cafe in a few ways, but most flow through a beginner-level track which is narrow, windy, and where I’ve fallen more times than any other part of the mountain.  Children have caused 80% of these falls.  Well, children and my own suckiness.  Can’t forget that part.

(Things I should mention: I’ve only ever totally wiped out and taken a kid with me once, and she was really nice about it.  She must’ve been 6 or 7, and stopped suddenly in front of me, and I tried to stop and instead whacked my snowboard into her legs.  One ski flew off, but fortunately she fell backwards into me, and I took the brunt of the fall.  Also, she was receiving a ski lesson at the time from one of the mountain staff, and I was wearing my Ruapehu jacket. It was awful. HEY LITTLE GIRL! I TOTALLY DIDN’T JUST TAKE YOU OUT AND TOTALLY DON’T WORK FOR THE MOUNTAIN! YOU KNOW THAT RIGHT?

But totally, totally cool kid.  The rest suck).

3) Just because you are good at the beginner’s area does not mean you are good anywhere else.

This is key.  The beginner’s area – “Alpine Meadow” at Turoa – is probably the same at all mountains.  Relatively flat, wide, and after a few days, pretty easy.  However, the ability to stand on your board’s heel edge and not fall over does not make you good 1100 meters higher up.  In fact, all it does is make those 1100 meters you have to snowboard down hurt.  A lot.

I had one day (read: two and a half hours) on the Meadow.  The next day, in an effort to be like the cool kids at the cafe, I brought my board up to the cafe I work at. (That cafe is the highest on the mountain, 1100 meters higher than the base cafe.)  On that ride, I probably fell 40 times.  I never got further than…10 meters.  It took 45 minutes, and if it wasn’t for the kindness of my boss, who was boarding down with me and apparently has inexhaustible reserves of patience, I would’ve probably just walked the last bit.

So yeah.  Take an intermediary step.

4) Eventually, you will become ‘good.’ Until somebody calls your name from a chairlift.

When this happens, a natural first instinct is to look up and around.  Which is dumb when you’re barreling downhill at whatever speed.  Your center of gravity gets thrown off, you stop bending your knees, and sometimes forget your feet are attached to a piece of plastic and try to move them.

The result is, you wipe out.  To the amusement of whomever called out your name in the first place.  And the reason they usually called your name was to see you wipe out.  I think they call this the Circle of Life.  Wasn’t the Lion King about snowboarding?

5)  You will think people who try to pass you suck

This may be hypocritical.  Actually, I think it is, but whatever: I’ve got no qualms about people passing me.  I’m slow, probably have crappy form, and am taking forever on some narrow part of the trail.  But you know what you DON’T have to say?  “Right” or “Left.”  Because my first instinct when I hear “Right” is not to move to my left so someone can pass me on my right.  It is:

a) to wonder if the person is talking to me

b) figure they probably are talking to me

c) remember what they said

d) think about what it means (because if the person says ‘right,’ I have to move left, and vice-versa)

e) execute the action

Know what is not happening when I am thinking about those things?  Paying any attention to the trail in front of me.  Then I wipe out, and some old, rich lady in skis trying to pass me wipes out with a frail little yelp, and then she gets up in a huff, and I roll my eyes and think ‘I didn’t want you to be my sugar-mamma anyways’, and we move on with our respective lives, but DAMMIT, its an annoying 30 seconds.

6) You will be able to play ‘connect the dots’ with your various cuts and bruises.

Seriously, I’m amazed by how my body bruises now.  There was no mark when I fractured my ribs (note: I fractured my ribs on the beginner’s area early in the season.  THE BEGINNERS AREA! That should be like 500 points).  But every other nasty fall I’ve had, a memento has been left.  And they last for a long time, turning all sorts of blues and purples and blacks.  It’s like looking at a kaleidoscope, only its on my skin.  Weird.  And Cool.

7) You need to have a buddy.

This is the only piece of serious advice here.  Learning to snowboard is about 862% more fun if you learn with somebody.  Preferably someone who arrived with the same experience as you whom you can chat with about how to fall gracefully and not get hurt.  (I got lucky: mine works in the same cafe as me, so we got to board down together pretty much every day, and she’s awesome to boot.  If you don’t have this luck, take the chairlift up and try not to be hit on the back of the head by the chair as you get off.  Then sit around and see who else gets off the chairlift with the same sort of futile effort, and badger them until they agree to ride with you.  Or facebook stalk people.  Whatever.)

On that note, one last word of advice: pay it forward.  I was also very lucky in working in a cafe with a lot of people who knew how to snowboard before coming Mt. Ruapehu; many of them were very patient with teaching me how to snowboard, and spent a lot of time sitting in the snow waiting for me.  They also passed on a lot of what they knew, only about 50% of which I used (everybody boards differently.  And some of it was useless.  But I nodded and smiled anyway.)  So having learned like that, it falls to me to pass along whatever I know to someone else who is learning someday.  Which pretty much dooms anybody who goes to snowboard with me this winter.

Oh, and you if you take any of this advice.

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