Before you head off to the mountains, you can pick up the basics of snowboarding on real snow here in the UK!

Here's what happened when Ski Club's Sophie Mead tried snowboarding for the first time...

Many people assume that if they can ski, then snowboarding should be straightforward. I made this mistake twice and paid the price. Having skied for years, I decided to hire a snowboard for the day a few years ago and ended up with very sore wrists and knees from constantly falling. It completely put me off for a decade, but now I’m back for round two. Given my previous failed attempts, I knew that the best option was to get lessons. You wouldn’t get in a car without spending time with an instructor, so why would you think that you can snowboard without guidance? I signed up to 3 two-hour lessons at The Snow Centre, Hemel Hempstead which is the closest slope to London and the largest beginner slope in the UK. 

When you walk into the changing and equipment area, the first thing you see is the main slope which is an intimidating sight for a beginner. But luckily, the Snow Centre doesn’t just offer one slope, it has a beginner area which runs parallel to the main slope, and is half the length. That means you won’t have riders flying over your head or crashing into you and it also has a magic carpet to help you get up the slope. In previous failed attempts at self-taught snowboarding, the button lift has always been my enemy. A clear slope and a magic carpet make the view a little less scary. 

Equipment

First thing’s first, get to know your equipment. Clipping in and out of bindings is a hassle, but once you’ve got the hang of toe and heel release systems, it gets speedier. Our first activity was good fun: imagine a flat, polished floor that is begging you to run and slide on it. Our warm-up was like that on snow, some serious skidding. With our leading foot strapped in, we pushed along as if skateboarding then rested the pushing leg on the board and enjoyed a short ride on the flat ground. Easy enough to start off!

Get squatting

The next stage was finding the correct stance which involved some very entertaining squatting and thrusting. You should keep your knees bent and your hips forward, making the shape of a house beneath your legs. Don’t forget to tense your bum either. With our postures in shape, we practised slipping straight backwards facing uphill, finding the ‘bite’ point which allowed us to move slowly. We then repeated this facing downhill which was unsurprisingly easier given that we could see where we were going. 

A few shaky descents and tumbles later, we progressed to diagonal movement. In snowboarding, you lean and look in the direction you want to travel, so we practised zig-zagging (also known as traversing or leafing) down the slope. Again, this was much more enjoyable facing downhill! One tip to make this easier is pointing in the direction of travel. This movement opens up the shoulders and helps the body weight and stance lead the board in the right way. Our focus during this exercise was to travel diagonally with controlled speed and the ability to stop and change direction in a precise way. 

Level up

Learning journeys will differ between ski schools and instructors, but at The Snow Centre completing level one means you understand the equipment and slope etiquette and have learned about posture, balance and edge slipping. Level two means that you use your balance and posture to change direction, slide diagonally on your toe and heel edge and control speed with no assistance. I managed to pass level one and two in my first lesson and although I can ski, I was new to snowboarding.

Group sizes are no more than six which means that the instructor can give each individual the attention they need to progress. Instructor Jason Davis explained,

“After the first lesson, try not to leave it more than 3-4 weeks until the next one, to keep the momentum going.”

Sophie learns linking turns

 

One week later in lesson number two, we revisited traversing from side to side and then progressed to C-shaped turns. To master this, we were instructed to think of our feet as opposing pedals and as we approached a turn, push one heel up and one heel down. This allowed us to change direction by altering our weight and the challenge was to complete a smooth C-shape and come to a controlled stop. Next, we practised toeside turns where we ended up with our back to the slope, and that was much scarier. The key is concentrating on the pedal shapes and trusting that they will take you in the right direction, while also leaning towards where you want to go. Along with this, your stance needs to be low with your hips forward and knees bent low as the turn ends. 

Practice makes perfect

Once you can execute controlled frontside and toeside turns, you can start to link them together, creating an S-shape. This is the most satisfying part of the lessons because you then have a basic grasp of snowboarding turns! After an hour of perfecting C-turns, we spent the remaining time lapping the slope, working on smooth S-shapes (and falling quite a lot). The thrill of completing the turns can throw off your concentration so during this learning time, you must focus on the position of your feet, your weight and stance. In time, this will become natural but it must be practised and your instructor should give you advice after each run. 

By some miracle, I was able to do S-shape turns after my second 2-hour lesson and that feels like a big achievement! However, practice makes perfect and it is essential to keep the momentum going with lessons. Next time we will be moving on to the main slope with the big boys and girls and facing my arch nemesis.. the button lift. But for now, things are going well. Find out more about indoor snow centres and dry slopes here

For anyone new to snowboarding, the cost can be intimidating due to the equipment required. And why would you commit to buying the gear as a beginner when you don’t know how the lessons will go? Luckily, The Snow Centre provides a snowboard, boots and a helmet with lessons and you can rent salopettes and a jacket for £8, more here. A big thanks to Afterjam for providing a technical riding hoody, read our review here