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Pastimes: A sport for all seasons

18 May 2011

by Neil Elliot

WHEN I was newly ordained, I dis­covered an unexpected aspect of the job: my wife worked regular days, and I had Mondays off. What was I to do? I started snowboarding.

In my youth, I had skateboarded and skied, and snowboarding com­bined the two. There was a dry slope near me, as there are all across the UK. It is thanks to these dry slopes that there are more skiers in England than there are in Canada.

Dry slopes are a great place to start the journey into “the dark side” (as my skier friends call snowboard­ing). Dry slopes will rent you equip­ment and give you the instruction that will get you going. They are open all year round.

You can master the basics of snow­boarding in a few hours — and they will be the least comfortable hours you will have on a snowboard. Once that is over, you are free to progress without any further school­ing.

The next stop in learning to snow­board is a visit to an indoor snow-slope. I used to go regularly to the SnowDome in Tamworth, Stafford­shire, but there are venues in other places. Here you can refine your skills on “real snow”. It is not the same as being on a mountain — but it beats falling down on dry slopes. There are many snowboarders who manage very well on just dry slopes, and sophisticated versions of these can be found at places such as Sheffield Ski Village.

Snowboard gear is simpler and cheaper than ski gear, not to mention more comfortable. As in any outdoor sport, a good pair of boots is your connection to the ground. Later, you can buy a board and bindings. Again, the techniques of snowboarding mean that your choice of equipment is more straightforward than it is for skiing. And any weatherproof outer layer will keep you warm and dry.

Welcome to the world of the snowboarder. Get yourself a guide to ski resorts, and prepare to dream. I always advocate learning the basics before heading for the mountains. It means that when you get to a snow resort, you can enjoy the whole mountain, and won’t have to focus on a 200-yard stretch of it.

The various ski guides will help you to decide where to go, depending on your budget and expectations. Some resorts are more geared for partying, some for families, some for varied activities, some for “hardcore” skiers and boarders. Some are near big cities; some are remote.

I live in the remote Kootenays, in British Columbia, Canada. Red Moun­tain is our resort, and it is a haven (even a heaven) for those seek­ing hardcore “soul-riding”. We get reliable deep snow; we have no lift queues; and our terrain is simply amazing.

What will you find when you get to a mountain? A natural environ­ment like nothing you have experi­enced, and one in which your new skills will enable you to slide and fly, to play. You will find adventure and freedom. You will discover that “what you thought you came for is only a shell, a husk of meaning.” As one of my Ph.D. interviewees put it: “Some people come to the moun­tains to snowboard; others snow­board to come to the mountains.”

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