Magazine article Sunset

Get on Board

Magazine article Sunset

Get on Board

Article excerpt

TRAVEL -GETTING STARTED

How one baby-boom skier became a snowboarding convert

For most of my life, snow meant one thing: get out the skis and go. Downhill or nordic-style, they were all I needed to take on the white stuff of winter.

But now I've added new spice to my ski rack-a snowboard. Egged on by my two preteen kids, and encouraged by the increasing number of other "grays on trays"-snowboarder argot for the sport's, um, more mature participants-I decided to forgo a weekend of skiing and give snowboarding a try.

Two days later I was hooked. Boarding, or "riding" as it is often called, already had me gliding down the mountain in wide, arcing turns and skimming down newly groomed intermediate trails. If I had been a beginner skier with so little time on the mountain, I'd still be belly-flopping off the rope tow.

Riding the boarding boom

I'm not alone in my affection for snowboarding. According to Dan Kasen, the National Sporting Goods Association's manager of information services, "Of the 27 year-round sports we follow, it was by far the fastest-growing sport last year." At resorts nationwide, roughly one in four people rides boards, not skis. At some areas, boarders outnumber skiers-- at Mountain High, near Los Angeles, it's 85 percent snowboarders, notes Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. Only a handful of resorts-Taos in New Mexico and Deer Valley and Alta in Utah-still eschew snowboards completely.

Snowboarding was once the territory of kids with barbed-wire tattoos, but the number of older enthusiasts has inched up: from 350,000 35- to 64-year-olds in 1988 (when NSGA first compiled snowboarding figures) to just more than 500,000 baby-boom-and-beyond riders this past year. While some of these riders may be searching for the rebel within, many now ride because it's gentler on their worn-out knees.

Explains Terrence Orr, M.D., an orthopedist based in South Lake Tahoe, California, "Because both legs are attached to the same platform in the same direction, you don't have the problem of one leg going in one direction and the other shooting off in another, like you do with skiing. It's much easier on the knees."

That sounded good to me as I took my son, Sam (age 10), and daughter, Hannah (age 8), to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, south of Lake Tahoe, for our snowboarding debut. We arrived with our own helmets and wrist guards (both safety essentials-see "Get in Gear," page 36). But as novices we opted to rent boards and boots.

"What foot do you use to kick a ball?" asked the attendant as he fitted us. "If you kick it with your right, you're goofy. If you use your left, you're regular."

Mock kicking ensued-Hannah and I were regular, Sam goofy. That "kicking" foot, the dominant one, would go in the front binding plate, a disk of metal that clamped the boot onto the board. The rear boot clicked into a separate binding behind it, a shoulder-width apart.

Fully outfitted, we exchanged bulky hugs and headed out to our respective adults' and children's classes. My instructor, Dustin, led my class over to a gentle hillock.

Getting the hang of it

We moved onto our boards. Dustin showed us how to clip in and out of our bindings-simple enough. "Okay, Harriot," he announced, "point your board down the hill and go." Without benefit of poles or much of a slope, I waggled my arms back and forth to get going. "Stand up, lean downhill, weight forward, and point where you want to go," he hollered, so I stood up, tucked my hips under, leaned, pointed, and inched down at a sound barrier-shattering 1 mile per hour. …

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