East Coast Snowboarding Advice From Someone Who Knows Nothing: How to Suck Successfully

Some call me a semi-pro, depending on whom you ask. And, yes, I very much look the part thanks to Ride Snowboards hooking me up and my color-coordinated K2 Scene boots and Charm bindings, but I’m not quite a professional snowboarder. Recently, Vail gave me an Epic Pass for unlimited access to epic mountains—Vail, Beaver Creek, Whistler Blackcomb, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Stowe, Wilmot, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton, Arapahoe Basin and 30 European resorts across Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland…

I started at Mountain Creek in New Jersey.

Mountain Creek isn’t a big mountain, but it’s consistently crawling with urbanites seeking respite from the city slush and riders from the tri-state area who aren’t afforded the PTO to trek elsewhere—like one of the dope aforementioned locations. But because it’s a bit less intense, it’s not an entirely awful place to learn. When I wasn’t slaying the bunny hill this season, I spent some time violently hurling myself down the beginner trail, plowing into small children and indiscriminately taking out innocent bystanders left and right. After a few days of trying and failing miserably on my own, my brother accompanied his girlfriend and me for another shot at it and, to my surprise, I had a much better experience than I did after taking a professional lesson.

I’m not here to tell you how to snowboard, because that’d be catastrophic, but, from one beginner to another, here’s some humble advice that might prove helpful when you strap in for the first time.

1. Wear protective armor. 
Unfortunately for the people I took out, they weren’t all braced with the armor I was wearing. Beneath my deceptively professional facade, I was shamelessly sporting G-Form’s Pro-X compression shirt and shorts. They’re made with proprietary Reactive Protection Technology that’s anatomically designed to flex with your body, and the body-mapped padding stiffens on impact to dissipate energy when you take a tumble. I didn’t look like the coolest kid in the locker room when I was pulling up my snow pants, but I wasn’t the kid cupping my butt cheeks in my mittens on the way out either. I really only cracked my kneecaps, shattered my spine, dislocated some fingers and suffered some mild whiplash—but, as far as I could tell, my butt bones were all still in check. Likewise, my Smith Holt helmet kept me from leaving concussed. Yes, helmets are optional, but I’d go as far as to say I could very well be dead without it. 

2. When the après-ski bar sounds so much more appealing, hit the slopes anyway.
I was warned that I’d pick up three to four times more speed than I did at the “Progressive Park” where I’d learned, and thus fall three to four times harder, upon skating over to the big leagues. And by big leagues, I mean the green run. My instructor advised me not to even entertain the thought of getting on the chair lift on day one, but I’d already paid for a pass. I was internally freaking out. Lies—it was very verbal, indeed. But here’s the thing: Anticipation is a big chunk of that paralyzing fear. You need to muster up the courage to at least try on day one, even if you barely make your way back down in decent enough shape to try again. I say that because it’s really important to at least get a feel for sliding on snow on an actual incline (i.e. not the bunny hill).

3. Sit on the end of the chair lift.
Getting off the lift is far from an easy feat—only one foot is strapped in and, if you’re like me, you might not have a stomp pad to keep your back foot from sliding around. Being on either end of the lift makes it’s mildly easier to get off and, if you do fall, much easier to roll yourself out of the way for those coming up behind you.

4. Ignore your body; listen to the mountains.
When your body wants to catapult itself after catching an edge, or you’re thrown off balance after darting from a fallen soldier, or you’re picking up disconcerting momentum and you feel like you could be dislodged from your board and tossed off the mountain face at any moment, just chill. From what I can tell, snowboarding is largely about shifting your weight—when you catch an edge or have to make a quick turn or want to slow down, instead of letting your nerves get you down (quite literally), lean in or out on your toes or on your heels to move with the mountain. Avoid being flat-footed and, for the most part, put more weight on your front foot so you can kick your back one to steer and stop. I’m not entirely sure this is particularly accurate intel, but the biggest takeaway is to ease up and just go with it.

6. If you do fall, fall flat.
It hurts a lot to fall on your knees or your tailbone. Likewise, breaking your fall with your wrists is a surefire way to snap them or destroy your elbows. Falling flat on your back or belly flopping are actually far less destructive because doing so disperses the impact. There’s less of a force on your joints at collision and it’ll help prevent you from busting certain bones.

7. Get up and go again.
I’ve been told repeatedly that snowboarding is a complicated, multi-faceted sport to get the hang of, but it’s easy to improve once you’re past the learning curve—and many say the opposite is true of skiing. I’ve also been told that it’ll take at least three days on the mountain before you might even start to enjoy it, let alone figure it out. Day one for me was hysterical in more ways than one—I’ll concede to that. Day two was nothing but utter pandemonium and frustration that ended quickly with a pulled groin and a teenage boy in a bear sweatshirt executing jumps over my limp body. The morning of day three was laughter-inducing but, by the late afternoon, I’d metamorphosed into a still-human who could almost reach the bottom of the mountain without nosediving. Of course, if I’d given up any one of the countless times I had to check my own pulse in some obscure, twisted scorpion position, I wouldn’t have progressed to that probably too-proud point.

8. It’s a lot easier to ride when you can feel your body.
Yes, it could be subzero outside, but snowboarding is a full-body workout so you use muscle groups you might not have trained before. For that reason, it’s a super sweaty sport. I recommend layering—and doing so with waterproof outerwear. I wear an Under Armour ColdGear Authentics Mock because it’s moisture-wicking to keep you dry from both your sweat and the snow, paired with wool leggings of any brand (but I prefer these merino wool Expedition Base layer pants from Burton). Over those, I shield myself with G-Form’s Pro-X compression shirt and shorts. For my outerwear, I’m currently wearing Burton’s Baker Down Insulator Jacket—its waterproof and lightweight shell is filled with 800-fill RDS down designed for maximum warmth, and it boasts interior pockets to stash your lift pass. For pants, I’m wearing Burton’s Society Pants, which come equipped with snow-blocking boot gaiters and cuff elevators to protect the bottoms from mud and pavement, mesh-lined inner thigh vents and hand warmer pockets. And I also wear a super-soft Burton hood that’s compatible under or over my Smith helmet and features a drawstring-adjustable face protector, as well as sweat-wicking, hypoallergenic snowboarding compression socks from Stance and Burton’s Profile Mitts (mittens are warmer than gloves, but not as practical for strapping in and out of your bindings). It’s absolutely worth it to invest in good gear, especially if, like me, your goal is to go pro by the end of the season.