Self-Experiment | Learn how to Snowboard in 4 hours instead of 3 days | A beginners’ guide

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I’ve just returned from my first snowboarding trip ever, with massive success. I managed to  get cruising on my board in a mere 4 hours, compared to the average 3 days.
In those 4 hours, I managed turns, carving steep, intermediate runs and even a couple of tricks, despite never being on the snow before.

By the end of this post you’ll have a bombproof Cheat Sheet on how to hack your first time snowboarding, to yield the best results. I’ll include 80/20 analyses on how to prepare for your first day efficiently, what to focus on during your slope session, and I’ll even throw in a post-shred breakdown for efficient muscle recovery and memory retention for the skills you just learnt.

Is 4 hours realistic? Most definitely, and I’ll explain how you’ll be using Parkinson’s Law to master the basics of snowboarding in such a short time.

Note: I am assuming that you already have your snowboard gear sorted. This is a skill-based tutorial, with a couple of gear tips thrown in.

MOBILITY

Before you get on your board, I recommend warming the body and mobilising key joints that you’re going  to be using whilst learning, and falling over. 
Here’s my top 3 mobility exercises:

  1. Deep Squat – Hold the position for 10 seconds. Do 5 – 10 repetitions
  2. Triangle Pose – Hold the position for 2 seconds. Do 5 reps each side
  3. Chair Pose – Hold the position for 5 seconds. Do 5 reps

mobssnowboarding
HOUR 1
Before Your First Session : Hacked Preparation

It’s true that accelerated learning starts with correct preparation.
For snowboarding, your first hour should consist of getting to a slope, indoors or outdoors, and give snowboarding a good go for at least 1 hour, on your own.

The reason for this is you need to figure out for yourself:

  1. Where your raw talents lie in the realm of snowboarding – what can you bring to the game? For me it was balance and a passion for accelerated learning.
    By doing this, you discover your strengths, which gives you confidence – a psychological advantage.
  2. Where your comfort zone is, immediately – what do you like trying, what are you scared of trying, right now on the slope? What can you manage straight away? Which way do you turn naturally, and which way scares you?
  3. What do you want to learn? – Be specific. ‘Learning to snowboard’ is not specific enough. Ideally, the what, should be synonymous with what you suck at. Because if you learn that, you will improve dramatically. This is about correcting weaknesses early on, not working on weakness within your strengths.For me it was backside turns and the technique on how to hit a kicker jump. Funnily enough, backside turns, although an easier skill, were far more outside my comfort zone than the thought of hitting a kicker jump.
    Gear Tip – You will take impact to your arse when falling, and you will fall a lot.

    Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 20.17.51

    The author, emerging from one of many falls in the powder with a snow beard.


    If you can’t afford impact shorts, or like me, get hold of any in time, just tape a thin pillow to a pair of lycra cycling shorts (shown below) and put them on over your thermal leggings.
    impact shorts

    Another Gear Tip:  always clip in your bindings with your gloves on. The sooner you get used to doing this, the less time you will waste on the slopes and the warmer you’ll be!

Mental Preparation

With the slackline students I have taught, I’ve noticed around 1 in 25 really get slacklining and nail the basics within their first hour. I’ve spotted that the majority of this 4% have a tapered gung-ho attitude, as opposed to an excited, cautionary one. This means that you gotta want it. You’ve gotta want to learn how to snowboard, to the best of your known capability, to get the most out of accelerating the learning process. Adopting an attitude of excitement, to the point where an instructor or friend almost feels the need to reel you in, will get you much further. This type of mental preparation will propel you into a successful learning phase.

HOUR 2
Take a lesson, but not straight away

So you’ve had your first hour experimenting on the slope with trial and error, on your own. You should have at least, vague realisations of what works for you and what doesn’t, how your body moves on the board etc. Take note of you’re answers to 1,2 and 3 above, before you got on your board. You’re going to use these questions again, soon.
Note; I recommend a good rest between hours 1 and 2, at least 60 minutes!

If you spent hour 1 on an indoor slope, Hour 2 is going to be spent outdoors, on the real thing.
This second hour is for heading out with someone better than you on the slopes. They can be a friend (most likely) or you can just choose someone to follow at the start of your run.

The key for this second hour is mimicry.
You’re going to copy your chosen slopist in two ways:

  1. Directionally – wherever they go, you go. Ask them to take you down beginner/intermediate runs and follow them as best you can. Just try and keep up.
  2. Physically watch how they distribute their weight, this is the most important thing you can copy.

The reason you follow them is because it allows your conscious mind to be occupied with direction, whilst your subconscious mind works out how to do the chosen skill.
When I teach people to slackline, I always cue them to pick a focal point to look at. This gives them a point to aim for and assists in maintaining balance. By focusing on someone going down the slope, you are already looking where you should be.

Balance is about skilful, deliberate weight distribution. By observing weight transfer from behind, you will have a real-time image to copy as you go along. Fake it ’til you make it.

HOURS 3 and 4

These next two hours are going to be your most important, because you’re going to take a 2 hour lesson with a snowboard instructor. Except unlike the average student, you will know your strengths and have a good level of confidence going in to the lesson, you will have discovered your comfort zone within the realm of snowboarding, and you will be clear on what it is you want to learn in your 2 hours.

You are paying an instructor for their time and knowledge, so this is what you should strive to require from them:

They need to know your strengths. Tell them what you discovered in hours 1 and 2.
They also need to know what you are comfortable with, so tell them that, too.
And finally, you should be very clear early on, preferably before they even take you down the first slope, what it is you want to be able to do by the end of the 2 hours.

(If your answers are different to the questions, after hour 2, then make sure you take note where you’re at and tell your teacher your most recent discoveries!)

Most students will never do this. Not even when I teach slacklining do my students come to me with a short list of ideals. But believe me, from a coach’s point of you, if you know what you want to be taught, it makes teaching much easier!
I was blessed with a lesson from a hot chick called Léa, working for Oxygene Ski + Snowboard School, and I made the most of it. This was the only lesson I was going to take this trip. That meant being as prepared as possible before starting.

lesson4shots

Some shots from my lesson

And if you’re pride takes a bit of knock at the thought of hiring an instructor, just remember this:

You’re hiring an instructor to guide you out of your comfort zone and pass knowledge on to you, enhancing your chances of breaching into the unknown with success.

The last thing to mention to your instructor is your video camera. Explain to them that you would appreciate them filming you so that you can assess your technique later. Again, my instructor was surprised at this – nobody is that prepared!


The Deconstructed and Selected :

The vital 20% of things you should cover in your lesson

From my lesson, here are the most valuable nuggets of wisdom that I took away with success:

  • Hips – the centre of your movement faculty. Keep them parallel with, and centred over, your snowboard at all times!
  • Where you look – just like slacklining, where you look is where you go! So focus on breaking down your run into bite size targets –  aim for one destination at a time, about 5-10m in front of you – roughly eye level.
  • Turning – bend the knees during the turn, straighten the legs between the turn to raise your centre of gravity and allow you to switch the edge you want to bury in the snow for the next turn. Once you get this technique, believe me, you will be off!
    My weakness was the backside turn – ‘imagine taking a piss into the snow, like michael jackson during his on-the-toes-pose’ made it much easier!
  • Speed Control – the easiest way to control your speed is to increase the length of each turn, creating an elongated zig-zag pattern down the slope.

A word on natural talent…

I’ve noticed when I teach new slackliners, most of them have a raw style that is unique to them. This raw style is primarily based on their instincts; they do how they feel they should do. If their raw style is assisting them more than it is hindering them, for their first lesson with me I let them keep it. I will only coach them out of their bad habits, if they are that; bad.

I think it’s very important as a coach to be able to spot raw talent. More importantly, to offer techniques and skills that will, in the beginning, complement their raw style as opposed to coaching them out of it because you’re convinced your way is the way.
The more I teach slacklining, the more I see that there are many ways to balance, and my skill as a coach comes in being able to prescribe assisting techniques and cues that will complement and catalyse the beginner’s progress – not strip them away from what little advantages they may have.

By telling my snowboard instructor my discoveries, she had a good idea of my raw talents before we even started, much reducing the risk of her going for her default syllabus that she is likely to use for 99% of her beginner students.

Once You’ve Finished Your Session

  • Get back to your place as soon as possible so you can run a hot bath.
    Hydrate with 5 or so glasses of water – try to avoid spilling due to excessive grinning.
  • Get in the bath, soak the muscles. It should be almost too hot to get in to.
  • Post-bath, stretch your weakest muscles and tightest movements. If it aches, stretch it!
  • Eat.
  • Drink More Water.
  • Now review your video footage. Don’t try to analyse beyond what your instinct tells you. If your technique looks shit in places, take note of what sucks about it, and strive to perfect that area on day 2. You will surprise yourself positively, too!
  • Sleep.

Why 4 hours is a realistic time-frame

A wise old goose named Parkinson came up with this nugget:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. 

In snowboarding terms, it means if you set yourself 4 hours to master the very basics of snowboarding, you will be forced to limit your work load to only the most vital components, all of which I have tried to give you in this post.
Once you have the basics of snowboarding, the learning really begins. My driving instructor once told me “really learning to drive starts once you’ve passed your test and gotten your license”. The freedom-filled, winter wonderland of snowboarding-fun starts once you have your basics down. You can start to create lines down the slopes, venture into learning tricks and perhaps even start thinking about experiencing some gentle off-piste.

Now time for your aprés-board beer, you’ve deserved it!

harrycastle1Harry Cloudfoot is a slackline instructor and skill hacker, based in London, UK.
You can follow him on Twitter and check his Facebook.

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