Planning Your First Snowboard Holiday
Taken from The Welcome To Snowboarding Booklet
Travel writer Matt Barr, with the help of some famous friends gives you some fantastic advice on how to get the most from your first actual holiday on snow.
Those strange clothes. That daft language. An impenetrable social code that seems to be based upon nothing more than snobbish, try-hard elitism. But enough about golf. Yes, like any sporting subculture or new pastime, snowboarding can be a bewildering world for the newcomer. There’s a lot to get your head round, and a lot of new experiences to immerse yourself in. And none of these rites of passage are as confusing, exciting and memorable as your very first snowboarding trip.
Booking your first snowboarding trip means one thing: this is serious. Sure, as the snowboarding fever took hold, you probably found yourself sitting up all night, flicking through exotic magazines and feverishly clicking your mouse as you browsed a lot of strange new websites. You’ve probably also did some research about snowboarding as well. But booking your first trip? It means you’re committed.
So what can you expect? Make no mistake: your first time in a ski resort will be a magical and confusing experience. There’s the awe-inspiring landscape. The bewildering looking lifts. The scale and steepness of the mountains. The sheer number of other snowboarders frapping round the place like experts. Those inviting-looking apres-ski sessions. So how can you make the most of it? The first thing to remember is: it’s the same for absolutely everyone. From Shaun White to Terje Haakonsen, Ed Leigh to Jenny Jones, we’ve all stood at the foot of the mountain on our first day, wide-eyed with excitement and apprehension. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your first time to the mountains.
1. Do some basic training before you go..
That old cliche about using muscles you didn’t know you had might have been minted with snowboarding in mind. At the moment, you probably don’t know that you have muscles down the side of your shins. By the end of the first day, as you hobble to the bar for that second pint of relief-giving Mutzig, you’ll be cursing those previously hidden pockets of pain.
The solution? Some simple core and leg work before you go, as ex pro snowboarder and BBC TV presenter Tim Warwood recommends. “A month before you go away, get on the squats and the sit ups. A little strengthening of your legs, back and core will pay dividends, and you'll be good to go the instant you get to the slopes”.
2. Do some research.
And not just remember to wear sunscreen, as pro snowboarder and founder of Stentiford Snowboarding James Stentiford found to his cost on his first trip to Val Thorens back in 1987. “I forgot how strong the sun is in the mountains” he remembers ruefully, “..and got hideously burnt, coming home with a goggle burn rather than goggle tan”.
For James, researching your destination can make all the difference. “Having local knowledge can be the difference between the trip of a lifetime and your average snowboard holiday. Do your research before you go, so you can find out where the best spots are and the cheap places to eat. There’s plenty of info out there. Get on social media and try to find a contact in resort to point you in the right direction or even show you the good spots”.
3. Take a lesson.
And now just if before you go if you’re a total beginner, although that should be obligatory. Heading to one of the UK’s many indoor centres to get up to speed with the basics really will make a world of difference once you’re out there. Imagine: rather than spend the first two days learning how to turn and stop, you’ll already have this covered and will be able to head tentatively out onto the big slopes with the rest of the real shredders.
Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Jones even counsels experiences riders to spend a least one day of their trip taking a lesson. “Definitely. Even if you can snowboard, have a lesson at some point because I guarantee you’ll learn something new and improve your riding. You’re never too good to pick up some new tips”. And even if you can already snowboard a bit…
4. Don’t blindly follow your mates.
Most group snowboard trips span the full range of snowboarding ability, from wannabe pro to total beginners. It follows, then, that each group member’s idea of what constitutes a great day is equally wildly varied. (Indeed, as your snowboarding career progresses, you’ll realise that finding the perfect formula for a shred day involving a group of differing abilities is an ongoing human puzzle up there with the hunt for the Yeti; it probably doesn’t exist, but that hasn’t stopped everybody from trying to find it).
When you’re a beginner, this can turn a good day bad very, very quickly. As you’ll learn, snowboarders are inherently selfish people. Sure, when they say that they’ll spend the day teaching you to carve down a red run, they really mean it. But then they lead you to the top of a tempting powder run, shout ‘Lean back and lean with your front shoulder - you’ll be fine. See you at the bottom!’ and burn off, leaving you to cry tears of frustration as you spend the rest of the afternoon digging yourself our of shoulder deep snow.
I speak from experience. Over the last twenty odd years, I’ve been fortunate enough to go snowboarding all over the world, from Iran to Whistler. Yet my very first trip, to Les Arcs in France, is still seared on my memory. On my second ever day riding on snow, my seasonaire mates led me on a gruelling day-long backcountry circuit around the entire Les Arcs region that took us off-piste, down black run, up drag lift and through every conceivable human emotion, from tears of rage and frustration as I caught my toe edge on yet another cat track, to awed silence as I beheld the true majesty of the mountains for the first time. The solution? Stick to friends of equal ability, and runs that give you the best chance of enjoying your day.
5. Show drag lifts and t-bars some respect.
As a beginner, there’s a special place in hell reserved for drag lifts (or t-bars or pomas). As the name suggests, a drag lift works by pulling a skier or snowboarder up the slope at what seems like an indecently rapid lick when you first try one. The problem for snowboarders is that they were designed for skiers, who face up the hill forwards. For snowboarders, who face the hill sideways, riding them takes some adjustment and no little skill. For beginners, this is one of the most daunting and difficult skills to master, and it’s worth making sure you only try and tackle them when you’re feeling pretty confident. Once you’ve got the hang of them they’re really easy, but when you’re tired and feeling unconfident they loom like an exam you haven’t revised for.
To that end, study the piste map before you start each day to make sure that you won’t be faced with an icy, two km long drag lift on the way home. And if you do decide to take one on, make sure you unstrap your back foot eh? Tim Warwood again: “My first trip away on real snow was to Glencoe in Scotland. It was the last weekend of the season so snow was sparse but man I was excited. It was my first time on a t-bar lift. I went up with both feet strapped in but caught an edge about a third of the way up. The t-bar got caught behind not one but both my knees. I was powerless. I got dragged up the whole hill through snow, ice, slush, mud and stones on my knees. Most painful thing I have ever experienced to this entire day!”
6. Be sensible and know your limits.
Probably the wisest advice of all. Learn, for example, from the experience of none other than BBC Ski Sunday presenter Ed Leigh, who made the mistake of running before he could walk on his first trip and firing off into the off-piste and all that inviting looking powder: “I got 4ft of epic powder on my first trip that got wind affected and broke off in slabs. I thought these slabs were great fun to ride, like icy magic carpets, so was purposely breaking off slabs and trying to ride them downhill. I'm lucky to be alive….”
Perhaps it is best to heed the advice of Jenny Jones, who knows a thing or two about knowing when to listen to your body. "Don’t be scared to take a rest day. I know you only have one week holiday and you want to make the most of it, but I promise you if you ride hard two days in a row, your third day is going to be tough so make it a half day and don’t set any challenges apart from a leisurely day visiting nice mountain restaurants. Then tackle the gnarliness again the next three days!”