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Vacation Sports: Snowboarding

Snowboarding has a certain image: that it’s part of youth culture, it’s kind of cool, and that being seen to be good at it is more important that actually enjoying yourself. That, at least, is how a lot of non-boarders come back to the sport.

We’ll come back to snowboarding’s image problem in a moment.

What’s for sure is its popularity. With the explosion in cheap skiing vacation deals in the past ten years or so, particularly in the United States, snowboarding has taken off as an alternative activity for those who want to try something a little different from just hammering downhill on a pair of skis. The sport itself has an odd history. It’s true roots seem to lie in the backcountry of northern, snowy states – places like Michigan and Montana, where the precursors to boards evolved in the 1960s, either from snowshows from pairs of skis bound together to form a surfboard like construction.

Since then, snowboarding has adopted a lot of the culture of surfing, and, to an even greater extent, of skateboarding. It’s taken on added respectability as its popularity has grown, and it first became recognized as an Olympic sport when a snowboarding event was included in the 1998 Winter Olympics.

There are various different types of snowboarding, but if you’re a beginner having lessons as part of a vacation, the chances are that you will start by learning freeride boarding. This is the kind of snowboarding that’s closest to skiing, as it basically involves working from the top to the bottom of a slope while staying on your board. As well as being a great activity in its own right – some expert boarders do nothing but freeride – this should give you a great introduction to some of the basic techniques that you’ll need if you want to get involved in freestyle snowboarding. Freestyle boarding is about pulling skateboard-style tricks and stunts to challenge yourself and show off your skills – the kind of boarding that you see most often on TV.

One of the first things you’ll learn is how to fall off. This may seem kind of strange, but actually it’s quite important. First time snowboarders tend to make the same mistakes as first time skiers, and hold their body weight as if they were walking. If you do this, when you start to go over on your board your instinct will tell you to stand as straight as you can, and maybe wave your arms in the air like a windmill. This won’t work. The thing to do when you feel yourself falling is to bend your knees and crouch. This won’t stop the fall, but it will mean that you’ll have less far to fall – you’ll simply roll on to the ground. If you’d been standing up the upper part of your body and your head – which is the most vulnerable part of your person – would fall quite a long way. Your instructor will also give you some tips on how to break falls. When you take a fall, instinct makes you throw your arms out to break it. This is a good instinct, and using your arms to reduce impact is fine. However, you’re instructor will encourage you to take your weight on the palms of your hands but on your balled up fists. This is because your arms are going to sink into the snow. If your palms are open, the heels of your hands will plunge in deep, but your fingers will get a little left behind – maybe breaking them, or causing you to sprain your wrist. A fist plunges into the snow cleanly and decelerates at an even pace.

Most winter sports vacation packages offer a choice between skiing and snowboarding activities, or a mixture of both. If you’re thinking of taking up either sport it’s a good idea to have a short ‘taster’ session – maybe over a weekend break – or to sign up for a week of mixed winter activities, or a vacation where there are a wide range of pastimes on offer. That way if you find you absolutely hate snowboarding (which is pretty unlikely) you won’t have booked yourself on to a two week course you don’t like.

And don’t be put off by the image! Snowboarders on TV may all seem to be around fifteen, but the truth is that it’s a sport that can be enjoyed by anyone who’s reasonable healthy and active. You may need the physique and stamina of a teenager to be a world class freestyler, but if you just want to mosey on down a mountain coolness is entirely optional!

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