Snowboarding is the ultimate sport. Freedom, fun, speed, tricks, friends, solo, it has it all and, with so many options, it really has something for everyone. Learning to snowboard seems daunting at the start, so here’s the ultimate beginner’s guide to snowboarding, brought to you by someone whose been shredding for well over a decade and has taught countless people how to board.
How you start is not as important as consistency and not giving up. You’re going to fall a lot at the start. If you give up after your first four hours on the bunny hill, you haven’t even had a taste of what snowboarding can do for you. There’s no amount of private lessons that you can take that will stop this. So, just keep getting up. Keep going back to the hill. Because you CAN do this.
The ultimate beginners guide to snowboarding will cover:
- Snowboarding lingo
- What type of gear to get
- How to pick a hill that’s best for you
- Your first day of snowboarding
- Regular vs Goofy
- Magic Carpets and Tow Ropes
- Standing up
- Heel to toe turn
- Toe to heel turn
- Getting on and off a chairlift
- Chairlift etiquette
Snowboarding Lingo: A Quick Lesson
Do the teenagers of the hill talk in a way you don’t understand? When starting snowboarding, the language itself can be overwhelming. The people at the rental shack ask if you’re regular or goofy. Some kid on the chairlift asked if you like pow-pow. What’s a kicker or a rail? Look no further, here’s a condensed list of the common language of snowboarding and what it all means.
Regular: Riding a snowboard with your LEFT foot forward
Goofy: Riding a snowboard with your RIGHT foot forward
Switch: A snowboarder riding the different way than what’s natural (a regular rider riding goofy, a goofy rider riding regular)
PowPow: Powder. Loose snow that hasn’t been groomed
Tree Run: Usually done in the area in between groomed runs in the trees, a rider picks their own line through unmarked and ungroomed bush
Kicker: A big jump, usually at the bottom of a trick park (avoid as a newbie unless you’re exceptionally gifted)
Rail: Can be a box or a metal railing in a variety of shapes used for tricks
Bunny Hill: Smallest hill made for beginners (this is where you will spend the majority of your first day)
Magic Carpet: The awesome moving sidewalk that brings you up the bunny hill
Tow Rope: As the name suggests, a tow rope is a rope that will tow you uphill. These old and rickety things usually want to kill you your first day. Place it behind your back, lean back, hope that you don’t fall.
Stomp Pad: A rubber pad placed in front of the back binding that offers some grip to place the back foot when it’s out of its binding
Heel Edge: The metal edge on the heel side of the board
Toe Edge: The metal edge on the toe side of the board
Carving: Using both your heel and toe edge in s-curves to go down the hill
Sideslipping: Having the board perpendicular to the hill, can be facing down the hill (heel edge) or facing up the hill (toe edge)
Point it: When you point the board straight downhill and don’t have an edge touching. Best way to pick up speed, but lacks control.
Skate: Having the front foot attached in your bindings and pushing off with your free back foot to move over flats
Manual: Type of trick done where you lean back or forward so the tip or tail of your board is off the snow
Buttering: Carving while in a manual
Green Run: Beginner run, well groomed, not steep, made for beginners
Blue Run: Intermediate run, groomed, can have some steeper areas
Black Diamond: Advanced run, can be groomed or not, can have moguls
Double Black Diamond: Not your concern unless you’re spectacular, these can have cliffs, aren’t groomed and are for the best of the best
Moguls: Bumps. Usually large allowing you to turn around them, pretty much giant snowballs
Ollie: Jumping, using the back of the board as a spring to get some air
Nollie: Jumping, using the front of the board as a spring to get a bit of air
180: Turning 180 degrees while jumping, can often be done from an ollie or a nollie and on small bumps, and makes the rider end up switch
360: Turning 360 degrees
Everything else has to do with tricks. Unless you’re a prodigy at board sports, you won’t need to know that until after the first few weeks, when you’re not a beginner anymore.
Learning to Snowboard: Gear
- Rent if it’s your first day
- Spend your money on a good coat and ski pants to begin with
- GET GOOD MITTS
- WEAR A HELMET
- Face coverings like a bandanna or a balaclava can help on a chairlift
- Decent anti-fog goggles are a plus
I highly suggest renting your first day. If you like boarding and think you’ll do it again in the next few months, then look at buying your own gear.
I’m not made of money, so buying new gear off the hop to realize that your old football injury won’t let you stand up on a snowboard isn’t any fun. Also, if you’ve paid for a lift ticket and a board rental, most hills are pretty understanding about changing the board to skis if you hate it.
When you decide to buy, go to your local shop and ask a ton of questions. I suggest this over buying online, especially for boots.
You really don’t know if they’re going to hurt your feet until you put them on. Plus the stiffness of bindings and style of board depends on what kind of snowboarding you want to do and the conditions. Your shop will help you out, so use them.
Before you go your first time, spend the money on a good pair of ski pants and a good jacket.
Those come in handy all winter. Make sure you can move around and your pants don’t fall halfway down your ass (makes for snow in a bad area when you fall).
I like my stuff loose. Really loose. Some people are the opposite and like it tighter. Up to you and your comfort level. Fun tip, if you think you’re going to board next year, buy your stuff on sale in April and May when stores are switching to summer sports.
GET GOOD MITTS.
I’m going to say it again: GET GOOD MITTS. One, you are going to be falling a lot, therefore pushing up using the snow. Wet hands are sad hands. Cold fingers are the worst. Spend your money on good mittens. Please. Whiskey and coffee can only warm the hands so much.
There’s some mitts and gloves made for snowboarding with built-in wrist guards. They can take a little bit to get used to, but if you’re falling a lot and worried, they can help.
Get a helmet. No, you don’t look like a dork. Even if you think you do, your brains all over the snow looks way worse than being a bit dorky. Also, Oakley, K2, Smith, Solomon, Anon, and a ton of other companies have some pretty sweet looking helmets to rock.
Another fun fact, if you take one good head hit in a helmet, it’s done. The foam part of a helmet is made for one-time use, and after crushing once its no longer as protective as it was, even if it still looks intact. Throw it out, buy a new one. Or your second hit might end up with your wife feeding you with a straw for the rest of your life.
Face coverings are optional but pretty helpful on long chairlift rides or when it gets too windy while you’re ripping. I actually just use a bandanna. It’s cheap and doesn’t constrict how you breathe, but it’s easy enough to pull up over your face while you’re ripping or on a chairlift.
Goggles are “optional” but honestly, really important. Once you start picking up speed, cold air in the eyes hurts and can blur your vision. When you’re new and you faceplant, goggles will keep the snow out of your eyes. It might hurt to have them pushed back into your face, but dirty snow in the eyes is worse. Speaking from experience.
Most goggles today will be sold with 100% UV protection which is essential for protecting your eyes from all 3 types of ultraviolet rays – UVA, UVB and UVC. Even if its overcast or cloudy, UV rays are bouncing off the snow, you only get one set of eyes so make sure you look after them.
Picking a Snowboarding Hill
If you’re like me, there’s not a lot of options. Local or bust. But, if you happen to live somewhere that there are a lot of options, here’s what to look for on their websites to decide what hill to go to:
- Snowfall (daily and the base of snow they have)
- How busy they are (can be found on reddits, the facebook page, etc.) I suggest to start out when it’s not too busy. Cuts your time in line.
- Can you rent there?
- Price of lift ticket
- Any cheap hours (mornings only, after 3 pm, etc)
- Chalet food and drink amenities (do you need to bring food, prices, dietary restrictions, beer choices)
- Average overall skill level (no sense going to a hill with mainly double blacks if you can only handle a bunny hill and a green)
Your First Day of Snowboarding
Congratulations, you’ve started the best sport there is. Now, first thing is first. Are you regular or goofy?
If you’ve ever done a board sport, this is obvious. If not, get someone to push you from behind. If you step out with your left foot, you’re regular. If you step out with your right foot, you’re goofy.
It’s pretty simple. The guys at the rental shack will ask you when you rent. The boards are set up a little differently depending on what you ride. If you start out and it’s awkward, go back into the rental place and ask to switch. Most hills are more than happy to do that for you.
You have your rented gear, your lift ticket hangs from a half-decent coat. Your decent gloves are secured and you’ve squished your feet into a tightly tied boot. Now what?
Onward to the bunny hill, friend, where your adventure awaits. You can walk your board there. Or you can “skate” there.
That’s when, while standing, you put your front foot into the binding and attach it tightly. Then you push off using your back leg to glide over the flats.
This can get some getting used to and can be incredibly frustrating to learn, especially since everyone at the chalet can do it. If you fall, get back up. Trust me, unless you’ve knocked over 6 boards in the process, no one is laughing at you. And if you have knocked over 6 boards, then people mostly just feel bad for you.
First Day Snowboarding at the Bunny Hill: Magic Carpets and Tow Ropes
Hopefully, your hill has a magic carpet to get you up the hill. If it does, strap that front foot in and step your board onto the moving sidewalk. Then put your back foot on the stomp pad on your board.
Relax, watch the spectacular falls, breathe easy.
Getting off of the magic carpet may seem a little daunting. If there’s a bit of a downhill, you can just keep your foot on the stomp pad and ride straight off. If that’s uncomfortable, then you can ride off for a second and step behind you with your back foot. Then you can skate to the top of the bunny hill.
Now, a tow rope can be difficult to master, making it frustrating that it could be the first thing you encounter on a board. Don’t worry, everyone else hates them too. You are not alone.
So, if there’s a lift attendant, they will grab the tow rope for you and stick it behind your back hip. Stay relaxed, face sideways, put your back foot on the stomp pad.
If there’s bumps on the way up, don’t stiffen your legs or look around. Stay relaxed, keep your board flat so it’s not on an edge, and let the tow rope do the work. Then ride off like you would a magic carpet. This is easier said than done, and a tow rope can be incredibly frustrating to master. But once you do, you can curse them with the rest of us on the chair lift.
Standing Up on a Snowboard
First things first. Sit on your ass facing downhill and put your back foot into its binding. Strap it so it’s tight. Really tight. You can relax it later if you want, but I suggest as tight as the binding will go.
Now, to stand. You can push up with one arm and do the last half of a squat while keeping your weight on your heels. If you lean too far forward the front edge will catch and send you for an epic scorpion.
This is hard to do. You will fall backward a lot while you get the hang of this. Your ass and wrists will hurt. You will curse the skies, the snowboard gods, and the day you were born. You might want to quit. Don’t.
If you absolutely cannot stand on your heel edge, do the most graceful barrel roll you can muster with a board strapped to your feet so that you are facing uphill and are on your stomach. Then, you can climb up to your knees and then onto your toe edge.
This is easier to do. But now you have to turn from toe to heel edge which is harder than heel to toe. Pick your poison.
Yay! You stood up. Take a minute and a breather. I’m going to assume you got up to your heel edge off of your ass. If you did the toe edge, then read these next instructions backwards.
So, the easiest way to control a snowboard is to think: shoulders move hips, hips move board.
Where your shoulders go, your hips will follow, and the board will follow the hips. Bend your knees a bit. Not too much or your squat will make it hard to control.
Hands a bit outside of shoulder length. Pretend there is a string (or a piece of Dowling) attached from each hand to the board at the tip and tail. To sideslip, press down a bit on the dowling in the direction you want to go (put more weight on that foot). You can meander and sideslip back and forth down the hill.
This is the most control you can get on a board. It’s also the hardest form to keep. Your legs won’t burn nearly as much when you learn to carve, but that’s a few steps away.
Got the sideslip? Good, now on to a turn.
Heel to Toe Turn on a Snowboard
You’re facing downhill and are on your heel edge, sideslipping like a champ. Now it’s time to add some turns.
This is where the regular and goofy comes into play. Remember, left foot front is regular, right foot front is goofy. I will just use the term front foot and back foot, it’s up to you to decide which foot you want up there.
With that string between your hands and the tip and tail of the board, turn your shoulders so that your front foot is now downhill. You will pick up speed. This can be scary, especially when you start. DO NOT PANIC. Continue to gently turn the shoulders until you are facing uphill and are on your toe edge.
You did it.
Toe to Heel Turn on a Snowboard
So, you’ve done the heel to toe turn. Congratulations. The next step is a toe to heel turn. If you ever want to carve on a snowboard, you have to learn this turn.
You may see some people pointing the board, then turning to a heel edge, then pointing, then heel edge all the way down the hill. This isn’t using your toe edge at all, it’s brutally inefficient and will hurt your legs after a few runs. Plus then you’re never going to learn how to use your toe edge.
Using your toe edge is a must if you want to learn how to carve and how to do tricks. Don’t get lazy.
So, it’s the same theory as a heel to toe turn. From your toe edge, turn the shoulders so that your front foot is downhill. Then, continue the shoulder rotation until you’re facing downhill.
This is unnatural. When we fall, we tend to fall forward and stop ourselves with our hands. We are used to our weight on our toes, which is why a heel to toe turn is easier. It’s way more natural. A toe to heel turn makes you put your weight on your heels. This feels really awkward, and you’ll either lean too much and fall backward, or not lean enough and pick up too much speed and panic.
YOU CAN DO THIS.
Practice. Keep practicing. And trust me, DO NOT BAIL ON YOUR TOE EDGE. Once the balance clicks, learning to carve is a synch.
Carving on a Snowboard
So, you have your two turns all practiced up. You can go from heel to toe and toe to heel like it’s a breeze. This means you can stop using your toe edge or heel edge. Time to learn how to carve.
The easiest way is to start shortening the amount of sideslipping in between turns. At the start you’ll do a heel to toe, sideslip a bunch, maybe even the width of the hill, then do a toe to heel turn. Carving is just doing this fast. So shorten the width of the sideslip between turns. This is something that can be done on a green run.
Chairlift and Snowboarding
I highly suggest that you can at least stop using your heel edge before venturing on the chairlift. I actually suggest working on both turns before you venture up the big hill, but if you really want to go, I can’t stop you.
Getting on a chairlift is easy. Take your back foot out of your binding, skate to get yourself through the line, then sit on the big chair and enjoy the ride up the mountain and the view.
Getting off is hard. It’s harder than getting off on skis. The easiest way is to turn your body a bit before the exit, so that you’re already sideways (don’t fall off the chairlift). Then, when it slows to let you off, stand up, put your back foot on the stomp pad and RIDE STRAIGHT. DO NOT TURN. DO NOT GRAB ON TO YOUR CHAIRLIFT BUDDIES.
If you’re going to fall, do it yourself. Don’t be that guy and drag everyone else down with you. You’ll get a reputation. Once you’ve ridden off the chairlift (straight for as long as you can), then you can take your back foot off the stomp pad and skate to wherever you want to go.
Chairlift Etiquette and Snowboarding
You don’t want to be that guy. The one that everyone tries to avoid riding up with. So here’s a couple tips and tricks so that you will actually be good company on the chairlift (this goes for friends and strangers):
- Don’t drag someone down with you if you’re going to fall
- Spitting is gross
- Make it known you have headphones in *I suggest only ever having one in when you’re shredding so you can hear if anyone is behind you*
- Ask appropriate questions only
- Be polite
- Most people will ask if you want the chairlift guard down. Say yes if you want it, no one actually cares. It’s like a seatbelt, so I suggest using it.
- Don’t take your mitts off
- Don’t smash your board onto other people’s skis and snowboards
- Don’t yell at people behind or in front of you
- If you’re nervous to get off, tell your chairmates. They will try to get out of your way. If you’re really nervous, then you can give the thumbs down signal to the person running the lift at the top. They might slow it down for you so you can get off without hassle.
- HAVE FUN
So, beginner. You did it. You had a great first day. Can you imagine what’s in store for you? I can. It’s a lot of fun and a hell of an adventure. And snowboarding is always worth the cost of the lift ticket.