I faced my first challenge in the parking lot.
Up to that point, I’d already managed to wake up early, get geared up and enjoy the scenic drive down Interstate 70 to Copper Mountain Resort for my first snowboarding lesson of the year, and the second of my life.
The saga actually started much earlier: when I moved to Summit County at the beginning of winter last year.
Not wanting to choose sides in the important (and ongoing) skiing vs. snowboarding debate right away, I took a lesson in both. Honestly, I enjoyed both, but in the end, a decision had to be made. Friends, family and coworkers weighed in on both sides. After some serious waffling (and not the delicious kind) I decided to take up snowboarding, with the assurance that once I learned the basics, the rest would come much more easily.
I’ve never been the most coordinated person, and my balance is terrible — I routinely fall over when trying to put on my shoes while standing. But this was the chance to change all that and to finally take full advantage of living in Summit, which was the entire point of moving here from Shanghai, a city of 20 million people and no mountains in sight.
So there I was, sitting on the edge of my trunk at the Union Parking Lot at Copper, staring helplessly at the tangle of strings and pulleys attached to my snowboarding boots. When I bought the boots back in November, the guy at the store showed me everything. But two months later, I had no clue what I was doing. Fortunately, a nearby Good Samaritan helped puzzle them out just enough so I could slip them on. Chalk another one up for positive skier/snowboarder interactions.
Next stop was the Ski and Ride School to pick up my lift ticket for the lesson, making me an official student of Ski and Ride University, Copper’s latest promotion in honor of January as National Learn to Ski and Ride month. The offer includes three lessons and, on graduation, a season pass. As soon as one of the guys at the boot-fitting area helped me with my boots, I was all set to go.
With instructor Josh Neuberg and four other snowboarding hopefuls, I boarded the bus to Green Acres, the learning area with the peaceful, calming name. Fortunately, Josh had us all at ease before we even stepped onto our boards. Friendly and full of information, he shared the kinds of stories and insight that could only come from a native Coloradan who’d been snowboarding since age 5.
He assured us that our own inaugural experiences would most certainly differ from his, which involved one of his older brothers taking him up to the top of a black-diamond run and giving him the helpful instruction to “Keep up!”
Our first little bump of a hill in no way resembled a black diamond, and we started with one foot strapped in, sliding down and practicing turns. This exercise was great at building confidence and giving us a taste of the fun part.
The next step was to head a little bit farther up the hill and use the built-up terrain to help make the turns. To get there, we had to use the Pomalift. Instead of hooking the bar behind our legs, like skiers do, we held onto the round part at the very end and let it drag us uphill. It felt a little odd, “surfing” the board uphill, but it was a great workout for the leg muscles, which were already starting to protest from the earlier exercises.
Jumping off the Pomalift, we sat down and strapped in both feet. Josh then proceeded to teach us the very important (and somewhat difficult) skill of actually standing up when attached to your board. There are two basic ways — pushing off from a sitting position, or doing the “ninja roll” to face up the hillside and using your arms to push yourself up. I preferred the latter, but mostly because I need to do more sit-ups at the gym before I am any good at the other one.
Though strapping in both feet was a little intimidating at first, it was much better once I started moving. I completed some really nice sweeping turns, thanks to the built-up snow banks, that were a lot of fun and gave me some confidence.
There was one last step — riding the chairlift to the top of Green Acres and attempting to do the “falling leaf” technique on the way down, essentially sweeping back and forth, turning left and then right, all the way down.
This is the part where I fell down. A lot. But it was a learning experience, and each time I went a little farther, and turned a little more, before tumbling. It reminded me of when I learned to drive; cruising through the parking lot at 10 mph felt like I was racing out of control. The thing with snowboarding is you’re very rarely completely still, unless on flat ground, so it can be a little scary when your board starts moving and picking up speed and you’re trying to remember whether it’s your toe or your heel you’re supposed to lift and oh-god-is-that-a-tree-30-yards-away and suddenly you’re on your butt.
Slowly yet surely, I made my way down the slope, and at the bottom I looked back up with a sense of accomplishment. At the end of the lesson, Josh wished us well, encouraging us to get out again soon and practice.
Driving home, I felt the beginnings of what was sure to be several days of pain — a twitch in the calf muscle here, a twinge in the back there. But each was like a little badge of honor, mistakes made and lessons learned, proof of accomplishment.
I’ll be back up on the mountain again soon. And next time, I’ll tie my own boots.