Photo: The view from Heavenly.
- Kirkwood Epic Day Lift tickets ~ $87
- Heavenly Epic Day Lift tickets ~ $97
- I went for it and bought an Epic Pass for the season, which was ~ $650
- Tickets are generally the cheapest when purchased online, seven days in advance.
Year after year, I turned down invitations to go Kirkwood, Tahoe, Mammoth, and Big Bear.
I resigned myself to the fact that I had missed my window to learn how to snowboard because I was too old, I don’t like cold weather and snow, and and… what if I die on the mountain, like Sonny Bono?
I decided to put my fears to rest, to quit being such a scaredy cat, and just go for it. Balls to the wall, as they say.
I was also curious about all the hype. What’s the big deal? Why is it so fun? I wondered how quickly (or slowly) I’d master this new winter activity.
Learning to board is the ultimate mind fuck
Learning how to snowboard was the ultimate challenge of not just physical exertion, but mental strength.
It’s confronting the voice in your head that tells you to quit when it’s too hard and you’re out of breath, to not let the jerk who whizzed by you at 100 miles an hour scare you, or take the easy way out and release the board from your boots when you’re stuck in an endless patch of deep snow. Let’s not even get started with my anxiety that is the chairlift.
Something that took most people three minutes to do, took me 20. Every turn, corner, slope, and line I had to stand in, was also a complete mind fuck.
Removing one leg from the board to hobble my ass over to the line for the chairlift, is really, really hard. It was like learning how to walk again, except you’re on a slippery contraption that you can’t control.
I had to be okay with letting others help me, guide me, teach me, and actually take their lessons to heart and try. I had to be okay with looking like a total doofus on the mountain and not care that I’d cause a collision every single time I get off the chairlift. Well, 99% of the time.
Day 1: Fall. Get up. Repeat in that order 1,000 times.
The first day I was a nervous mess. I was at Kirkwood, which is a smaller resort and the perfect place for a beginner, so at least the slopes were empty.
The first thing I learned is that there are a bazillion trails and hills with clever names like Sugar Bowl, and chairlifts that transport you to these trails and hills.
Duh, here I was thinking you just needed to get on a lift that takes you to the top of a mountain and just let gravity work its magic. On top of falling and getting back up all day, I had to study maps and learn the names of trails and chairlifts and ask ski workers for directions. Having fun is hard sometimes, huh.
Anyway, on that first day, I struggled to get to the actual lift that then takes you to another lift. In order to get to the second lift, you have to board down a giant hill.
I remember sighing a lot.
Once I understood the concept of the heel-toe moves that is essentially your steering wheel, I quickly learned how to stop on day one, and by the second month, I was pretty good at “falling leaf” and was going down the same blue runs as everyone else in my boarding group.
I’m not saying I swooshed down the mountain with the same grace, speed and agility as the rest of my group, but I did it, despite looking awkward and clumsy.
There were many times when I couldn’t pick up enough speed to get through certain parts of the trail, so I’d snap off my board and walk down the mountain. I rationalized that sometimes, it’s okay to quit. Especially because I was always the last one down the mountain.
The s-turn that nearly killed me
On my very last run on the very last day of the season in April, I ate it. Hard.
I finally decided to take a lesson at Kirkwood, because I was determined to connect my turns – also knowns as “s” turns.
On my last run my confidence got the best of me – blame it on the fact that I was fresh from my lesson and still hearing the echoes of my teacher’s praises: “You’re doing great!” “Awesome turn!” “Great speed!” “You got this, girl!”
While jamming down the mountain, my footing wasn’t right and I caught the meanest edge and tumbled so hard my goggles flew off, and I heard a collective “Ohhhh!” from a few people on the chairlifts above me. Someone yelled, “Are you ok?”
Have you ever fallen so hard that you’re completely stunned and can’t move? That was me, with my arms and legs all crumpled up, still somehow attached to my board. I could hear a slight ringing sound in my ears.
When I fell, my right hand bent backward and I could feel it fracture. Days later, my hand swelled up to the size of a golf ball and it took almost half a year for it to heal.
I laid there for what felt like a long time. I couldn’t get up. This was by far, the worst fall of the season and maybe the worst of my life?!
After a few minutes, I slowly straightened my board, dusted off the snow, grabbed my goggles and forced myself to get up. My hand was throbbing with pain and any inkling of confidence I had was now gone.
I slowly slid down the mountain and to the nearest shop and bought two packets of Advil.
That was seven months ago, and although my fractured knuckle hasn’t completely healed (I still can’t fully make a fist), I’m determined to make this boarding season the best, ever.
So, what’s so great about boarding?
There’s something so peaceful yet exhilarating about being surrounded by the white stillness of the mountain. The views from the top are stunning… and you’d never be able to see it unless you were on a board or skis.
Besides learning how to stop and ride down the blues, you know how I could tell I got better? The anxiety I’d feel on the mountain morphed into excitement. There’s nothing like standing on top of a mountain, ready for an epic run.
I’ll never forget when I was forced to go down my first blue, I stood up and panicked because I couldn’t see past the 20 feet in front of me. It was a cliff that just… dropped. But that’s what’s so fun about it, you won’t know what’s over that cliff until you get there. And that day, when I got past the 20 feet and got to the drop, it led me to an endless sea of fresh, soft powder, just waiting for me to ride over it.
I’m obsessed with the icy sound the board makes when it hits the snow. OK, I’m officially obsessed.
My next snowboard post will be about Whistler!