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Snowboarding for the Middle-Aged: A Success Story!

By Lauren Teton

This article appeared in the Record Review, for Pound Ridge /Bedford, NY on Feb.15, 2002

"Why does a 45-year old person snowboard, instead of ski?" you may wonder.

The answer: growing up in New England, I tried to ski all my life. There were disasters like trying to use a rope tow when I was 8. There were the after-school lessons when the lift repair guy got his legs crushed in the big gear wheel while trying to unstick the T-bar that had sprung up there. A couple of years ago there were ski lessons at Stratton. I did so well on the new shaped skis that my husband and friends insisted I could make it down from the top of the mountain with them. I skied the whole way down in a snowplow, um, I mean "wedge", and even after my leg muscles uncramped, I had a gouge in my calf that lasted for weeks from the ill-fitting hard rental boots.

But I also got a taste for the irresistible beauty of a mountaintop view in winter. "Snowboarding is cool and looks like fun" I thought. I am a dancer and also hypothesized that my dance experience might help me on the board. And you can wear soft comfy boots! So, in early 2000 I arranged a lesson at Mt. Southington in CT. My husband is proficient as a skier but he's game to try new things. So he took the private lesson with me.

We met our instructor and put on our boards for the first time. And that was a mighty strange sensation! To stand with the left side of our left foot pointed down the hill. Amazingly we learned to ride the Poma lift balancing on the board with our front foot locked in. Of course we had a few minor lift disasters that day. In the first lesson, we spent a lot of time with our butts on the snow, as snowboarders do. They do because it's very hard to stand still on a board on a hill with the feet locked in, and much easier to sit down.

But I also learned that I was able to proceed downhill as slowly as I wanted. It's called sideslipping, and is done by putting the length of the board perpendicular to the fall line and digging in the back edge. And that degree of control was what was always missing for me in skiing. I realized that if I was to continue to learn to snowboard I would need waterproof snow pants. Later when I plunked down $140 for the ones with the padding built into the knees, I knew I was making a commitment to continue learning my new sport. But there wasn't much more snow that season.

Last winter found us on our first winter sports trip out west.

Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia was magnificent. Unfortunately in December it was also light on snow on the easy lower slopes. We struggled in our lessons for 3 days on scary steeps without much progress. Our hotshot young teacher couldn't understand why we wouldn't attack the steep hill just like he did.

"Du-ude, how about because you know how to snowboard, and we don't yet?"

Back home on a family trip to Berkshire East in Massachusetts I finally experienced a taste of snowboard success while getting off the chairlift. The ramp had enough slope that I had to glide off the chairlift and JUST GO!

Finally I was moving with the nose of my board pointed down the hill instead of the wussy falling leaf pattern I had been using until now. It was THRILLING! Later I repeated my success on a solo trip to Thunder Ridge, our local hill in Patterson one snowy day.

I told my husband who tried to hide his disbelief. We went back to Thunder Ridge, and he too finally rode with his boardís nose down the fall line. We were jubilant! He admitted to me later that if he didnít get it on that outing he was ready to throw in the towel and pick up his old school skis again. Mother Nature validated our new hobby by sending plenty of fluffy snow last season. I squeezed in ten outings! Alas, she's not been as cooperative so far this year.

I've learned a few things about riding since then and most important outfitting myself for minimum bruising. (See below) I've been out four times this season and I continue to improve and gain confidence. The stance and movements feel natural and intuitive to my body. My carving is getting awesome! My husband looks better on a board then he ever did on skis. And he says riding is more fun anyway. A 2 1/2-hour drive to a nearby small mountain is well worth it once I start gliding down the hill. It's like flying! Woo-Hoo!

It is so much fun! I love to shred it up! In fact, it is one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done. Next stop, getting some air, and the half-pipe! Then, maybe some jibbing on the rails. Or maybe not!

Survival Hints for Older Snowboarders

Safety and Comfort

I wear a helmet, and a ridiculous amount of padding. At the minimum, Rollerblade-type kneepads are a must so that you can fall comfortably (by accident or intentionally to rest). You probably know by now that the knee is a complex and expensive joint to fix. I wear elbow pads and sometimes wrist guards, but the jury is out on the wristguards. I have read that they can transmit the shock of a fall up the arms and cause more serious damage. The baggy clothes that are de rigueur for boarding will hide all these embarrassments, until you start disrobing in the lodge. Then people will stare at you in amazement (and disgust or admiration depending on their ages.)

Since I have taken a few hard falls on the derriere, I wear skateboard impact shorts with hard pads on the hips and backside. And for good measure I throw a little bubble-wrap in between the pads. Bubble wrap can be a boarder's best friend. It's also great for rental boots that rub. I used to get a mysterious bruise on my hip, until I realized I was falling on my car keys. Now I just take one key, and wrap it in bubble-wrap too. 

Speaking of falling, when you fall forward, your instinct is to try to catch yourself with your hands. But try to break the fall with those padded knees too. Or you will have very sore arms for a few days. Wrist Injuries are more common with riders, vs. leg injuries with skiers. And leave your rings at home, just in case you do have a mishap that makes your fingers swell up.

After a day on the hill, I like to take homeopathic Arnica to prevent bruising. There is a topical Arnica gel also, and the bottom line is, either I'm improving, or the pads and the arnica are helping! I haven't had a bruise this season! A hot bath with Epsom salts doesn't hurt either!

To make your riding day better, Kleenex and water are important. Something about snowboarding creates nose drips, and you're too mature and chic to wipe them on your glove like the boys do. I wear a Camelback water backpack, and I drink a lot of water. Fortunately snowboarding with a backpack is stylish (and practical!)

When you rent equipment, there is often a choice between step-in bindings, and the more popular strap bindings All I can say is that our learning curve zoomed up when we switched to the straps. Now I ride Flow bindings, which are a unique hybrid between straps and step-ins that I researched online and heard people loving. "In-up-go" is their motto. I can click in on the lift or while sliding. And I'm always waiting for my husband to sit down, strap in his bindings, and stand up. The Flow brand is not widely known around here, but should be.

Speaking of sitting down, sometimes you will find yourself sitting on the snow and because of the angle, it will seem impossible to get up. And if you are a woman, your male teacher might have forgotten to mention that because of your center of gravity in your hips, it will be impossible! The answer is The FLIP. Just roll over, from your back side to your belly while lofting your legs and the board in the air! Cute! Then it will be a snap to stand up. 

Speaking of female snowboarders, I think with our low centers of gravity and wider hips we are more naturally suited for the sport than men! 

Where to Ride Locally

Since the whole mountain experience is new to me, I have been checking out the local spots. So far I can report that Thunder Ridge in Patterson is great when you can get away for a few hours, for a day or evening session. They make good snow when the temperature is cold enough. It's about 35 miles away, up Rt. 684 and then Rte. 22. Don't forget to stop at the Red Rooster Drive-In for one of their famous burgers on the way home.

60 miles away is Mohawk Mountain, billed as Connecticut's oldest and largest ski resort and the place where snowmaking was invented! I found it to be friendly and service-oriented. It has a charming lodge and fireplace. Still run by the family that first started it, they kindly invite all the local kids in Cornwall, CT to ski and ride for free. The food is good, the lodge has a generous new sundeck, and they groom the slopes again before the evening session.

Ski Butternut is about 100 miles away in the Berkshires and is fun, but a little steep for beginners. And it seems to attract kamikaze riders who sneak up behind you. They offer a $15 lift ticket to holders of Thunder Ridge season passes.

Belleayre in the Catskills is about 130 miles from here, the last 40 miles a slow go on commercial Rte. 28. But it was voted by Skiing Magazine as the "best place to learn to ski in the East" and has "one of the best beginner areas in all of skiing." After my visit there last week, I can vouch for the fact that it had the most gentle, wide beginner runs I've ever seen. They were even too tame for us now! But they would have been better for us than Whistler-Blackcomb last December We enjoyed Belleayre and will visit again.

By the way, going on a weekday is absolutely marvelous if you can swing it.

To find fresh snow and check conditions in NY I use http://weatherunderground.com/ski/NY And for all of New England at a glance, http://travel.boston.com/seasons/winter/ski/table.html. ! Now if we can just get some fresh snow on those mountains!

 

"Let's Ride!"

 

 

 

 

 

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