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As Published In
Mountain Times

Gearing Up for Snowboarding
Tips for Staying Comfortable and Safe on the Slopes

by Lauren Traub Teton

Get your own free subscription to the Snowboard Szine. Know what's happening for snowboarders. Be entertained.

Ready to take the plunge and try snowboarding? Its not just for 16-year-olds, you know. The right equipment will cushion the bumps and allow the process of learning be more comfortable, so you can stick with it long enough to see what all the fun is about.

You probably will take a few spills in the beginning - it’s natural until you find your balance. Follow these slope-tested tips for staying unscathed, and it may make the difference between your giving up or coming back for more. And when you have questions, know that you can find experienced and friendly helpful guidance at your local board shop.

Padding, Padding, Padding!

You will often see snowboarders sitting on the snow in groups like little mono-ped clams. And soon you will be sitting on the snow too, by accident, and on purpose. To snowboarders, waterproof pants are not just a nicety, they are a must for staying warm and dry.

Kneepads are indispensable for snowboarding. You probably know that the knee is a complex joint, painful and expensive to repair. If you wear only one piece of protection, it should be snowboard or inline skate kneepads with the hard shell. They will allow you to fall forward comfortably. The kneepads have the added benefit of keeping the knee joint warm and pliable.

Beginners may decide to wear the elbow pads that often come in a set with the knee pads. Wrist guards* are available, but the medical jury is out on the wrist guards. They may transmit the shock of a fall up the arms and cause more serious damage. As John Hobbs, Perfect Turn Supervisor at Killington said, "Wrist guards transfer the energy of a fall to the ulna, however since it's a bigger bone, it may be better able to handle the fall."

*Wrist Guard Update - 2005 - Click here to read about a snowboard wrist guard designed by a doctor that has been proven to reduce snowboard wrist breaks by 67%.

When you fall forward, human instinct is to try to catch yourself with your hands. That’s why wrist injuries are more common with riders, versus leg injuries with skiers. But it is better to break the fall with your padded knees and balled fists and forearms. If you don’t, you will have very sore arms for a few days. Leave your rings at home, just in case you do have a mishap that makes your fingers swell up.

A good glove is probably more important to a rider than a skier, because it’s on the snow more. Ken Root, owner of Root’s Ski and Board Shop (Killington Rd., Killington, 422-5000) likes the Drop brand glove and mittens for their good construction, padded palm, and removable lining.

Beginner snowboarders usually fall either forward, or back. The predictability of the falls simplifies the protection. Now that your knees are covered, what about the back? Impact shorts with pads on the hips and backside can prevent bruising. And not just for beginners. Doug LeTendre, shop manager at Dark Side Snowboard Shop (Killington Rd., Killington, 422-8600) said, “Some of the better riders are wearing impact shorts, too. Kids heading into the park are wearing shorts and helmets - tricks can be dangerous, they want to ride, not spend time on the injured reserve list.” Doug added, “The Burton Impact Short is great, lightweight, unobtrusive - you almost can’t see it under pants.” Dark Side also carries protective knee gear from three companies.

“If you fall and bruise your tailbone, it takes a long time to heal, and converts some riders to pads. Why not wear them from the start?” said Ted Manning at Surf the Earth Snowboard Shop (Route 4, Killington, 422-3739). “They’re great for beginners, and can really ease the falls of the first days.” Surf the Earth sells Pro-Tec brand pads, and impact shorts with soft pads that conform well to the body. Surf the Earth also sells Velvet Goggles, the first patented technical snow goggle anatomically fitted and designed for females.

Steve Doyle at The B-Side Snowboard Shop (219 Woodstock Ave., Rutland, 775-9989 or 775-5115), said the Bohn ButtSavr saves beginners lots of pain and frustration, and is easier to use than shorts, since it is designed to strap on over your long johns. Until you commit to snowboarding and the equipment, bubble wrap in your pants works well. Never fear, your butt protective gear will be invisible under loose snowboard pants!

Helmets and Hydration

Helmets are becoming downright fashionable for boarders and skiers on the slopes, and the first time you fall flat on your back, you will be so glad you chose to wear one! Steve at The B-Side says a good helmet is his number one recommendation for any rider.

“They are becoming a lot more stylish, with more options, like removable earpieces for warmer weather use and much better venting. We carry Skycap by Red, which has open and close venting and soft earpieces for added comfort, and removable padding to customize size. A helmet will keep you warm in the cold weather, too.”

Kyle Amon, manager at The Board Barn (at First Stop Ski and Snowboard Shop, Junction Routes 4 & 100, Killington, 422-9050) heartily agrees on helmet use. “I’m an experienced snowboarder, riding for 10 years, and last year, I lost an edge and tumbled into the trees. My helmet was cracked open, but my head was ok! Now, I’m a confirmed helmet wearer. People wait until after they have an accident, but it’s much better to start wearing one from the beginning.”

Remember that every time you have a serious helmet impact, including dropping it, you should replace your helmet so it can do its job. The Board Barn sells four brands of helmets as well as Red/Burton impact gloves with padding built in to help prevent wrist injuries, and an easy-in-easy-out Velcro safety leash by Da Kine.

It is important to drink plenty of water while riding. “Hydration helps prevent cramping, and will keep you on the hill longer having fun,” said Patrick Giordano, manager of Black Dog Sports (Mountain Green, Killington, 422-4281). They sell Da Kine insulated backpack hydration systems. Other favorites of Patrick’s, available at Black Dog, are a locking safety leash for convenience - it means not having to carry a separate lock, Spring gloves with less insulation for comfort and dexterity, and backpacks that carry snowboards. “You can strap on your board, lunch and gear and get away from the crowds.”

“Our shop is known for excellent tuning service t o boards. If you get to the mountain and the snow is too moist, Race Paste rub on wax by Test Pilot will make your board fast,” added Patrick. Black Dog also sells a photo chromatic goggle, the Carrera Testa that changes from light to dark and works, “incredibly well in flat light.”

Boards and Bindings - Rent or Buy?

Marc Adami, owner of Forerunner Ski Shop (Killington Rd., Killington, 422-3950), gives these three pieces of advice to his customers that are new to snowboarding: “Rent a helmet, always look down the hill to where you want to turn, and take a lesson.” He commented, “It seems so obvious now, but when I finally started looking down the hill, and gliding, I started linking my turns. Looking ahead downhill instead of at my feet was the missing piece of the the puzzle for me.”

Marc said boarders should probably rent at least the first five times they go out. By then, they will start to have an idea of how much length and flex on the board is comfortable for them. “Renting will probably save you money in the long run. Speed is easier to control with a shorter board. If it’s too long, you carry more speed than you want or need to. As you progress, you may want a little stiffer board for carving and a softer board for the park.” Marc added, “Keep a sense of humor in the learning phase - you’ll need it!” Don’t forget: “Kneepads are key. Gloves with wrist guards are also a great idea. We sell Level Gore-Tex - it’s a great system.”

Crissports at The Shops at the Shack (Route 4 and Killington Rd., Killington, 422-6800), carries three boards that will be easier for beginners to ride; the Burton Cruzer, Burton Feather for women, and Rossignol Nomad. They are designed to be lightweight for less fatigue, easier and smoother to turn, and easier to repair. Clark Rogers at Crissports said it is extremely important to have! your bindings custom adjusted to the boot you wear.

“I see a lot of people on the mountain with sloppy straps,” said Clark. “Every time I put a board together for a customer, I make sure the bindings are adjusted correctly for the boot size and placed in the right spot on the board. If not, it can lead to ankle injuries, less control, difficult turning, and can make the learning process almost impossible.”

Step-in bindings may be a good idea the first few times out, simply because there are so many new body dynamics to deal with. Northern Ski Works (10 Main St., Ludlow, 228-3344 and Killington Rd., Killington 422-9675), carries the Rossignol step-in bindings and Craig O’Connor at Northern said, “Step-ins are great for everyone, but especially for novices, they are a great learning tool. They are very convenient and user-friendly, riders spend a lot less time sitting on the snow. They can stand up and step right in.”

Another solution is Flow Bindings, which are a hybrid between step-ins and straps. These are what I ride, and I cruise off, leaving my friends sitting in the snow at the top, since these bindings are so quick to click into. Locally, Flow Bindings are available only at Surf the Earth. Brian Ryther at Surf said, “We get a lot of people who search them out, because they are so comfortable and convenient. A lot of them are instructors, too.”

Take a Lesson (or Two, or Three...)

John Hobbs, Perfect Turn Supervisor and Snowboard School Director at Killington (, agrees that lessons will make the learning experience more efficient and pleasant. “It can be tough in the beginning, but it’s like riding a bike - it becomes natural. When I first started riding many years ago, I borrowed a friend’s board and got beat up black and blue and wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. I thought, ‘I don’t know if this is for me. Maybe I’ll just go back to skiing. Then I got some coaching, and all it took was a few pointers to get me in balance and making the moves I wanted to make.”

The Perfect Turn Coaching Program at Killington takes students’ strengths and capitalizes on them to help riders work toward new skills and moves. Hobbs said, “The board is designed for beginners, torsionally soft, which allows it to turn more easily. The base and edges are beveled, meaning less edge catching, which means less falling. We train coaches to help people minimize falls by literally holding their hands through their first turns.”

Okemo Resort’s snowboarding school offers the Burton® Learn-To-Ride Program(LTR), one of the fastest-growing in the country. Okemo offers a wide variety of terrain, along with a major halfpipe for riders to explore (once you get your bearings!). Their Burton LTR Program offers specialized beginner terrain in groups with new Burton LTR Boards for a fast learning progress. The focus of this program is on teaching new boarders, regardless of age, to ride better, faster, and with more confidence and control. For more information on the Burton LTR Program at Okemo, visit

Aftercare for Your Board

“Make sure your board is well-maintained, waxed and edged” said Mark Hendry, sales manager Mountain Vision Sports, (1967 Route 4, Killington, 773-1238). Take note that “some new boards don’t come de-tuned at the nose and tail.” Translation: the edges might need to be dulled around the front and back tips, and you should have that checked at the shop when you buy. Hendry’s advice to beginners: “Keep on doing it, and you’ll get it. Learning and progressing is very satisfying.”

Fred’s Freeride and Tuning Emporium (Killington Rd., Killington, (802) 422-FREE) owner Haskell Thayer encourages boarders to have their rides tuned professionally. He said, “You need a machine shop to put the correct edges on, and a straight bar to make sure the base is flat and edges correctly beveled so the board rides like the day you bought it. Bad tuning can mess up a board and make you fall. If you rub your hand on the edges and feel roughness like a gritty sandpaper, you have burrs. They are round and they won’t keep the edge and you’ll slide instead of gripping. If you sharpen your board yourself and don’t know what you’re doing, you can make it worse.”

When to wax? Thayer says, “If the base is white and chalky - that’s freezer burn. Wax will keep your base from drying out and becoming slow and catchy. The base should be smooth like glass.” Fred’s Freeride offers wax and sharpening service while you wait.

“A lot of people are starting to take care of their own equipment and we have seen sales of tuning equipment double this season,” commented manager, Vin Quenneville, from Out of Bounds Snowboard Shop (Route 4, Killington, 422-8778). “People are becoming more informed and taking pride in maintaining their own equipment. We sell waxes, irons, scrapers, tuning guides, and we’ll give customers a quick clinic in how to perform the steps in maintaining their boards. A dry base will ride too slowly - sharp edges are your best friend when conditions are not ideal.”

Aftercare for You

After a day on the hill, less-limber riders may benefit from some remedies from the health food store and drug store. Homeopathic arnica tablets, topical arnica gel and bromelain capsules may help prevent bruising. If you don’t have a hot tub, a hot bath with Epsom salts at the end of the day is great for stiff muscles. And good old aspirin, or other anti-inflammatory painkiller of your choice doesn't hurt either!

John Hobbs said, “learning to snowboard has been a life-changing experience for me. I finished school and came to Killington to snowboard before I went back to the real world. And, I never went back to the ‘real world’!”

ith a little preparation, your days on the slopes can be safe and comfortable. We KNOW they will be fun! 


"Let's Ride!"






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