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Rich Dafter

Falling in Love With Snowboarding
One Tumble at a Time

By Eunnie Park - Staff writer The Record, Bergen County, NJ

It's my third day of snowboarding, and my body is rebelling.

Knees are black and blue, back and shoulders are throbbing, left arm is limp and swollen with a bad sprain.

And I couldn't be happier.

Standing on top of the Sugar Slope at Vernon's Mountain Creek Resort, I observe the snowy hills below — sprinkled with fallen skiers and snowboarders. Soon I will be among them, blissfully riding and tumbling down the slope.

Today my goal is to spend more time riding than tumbling. I'm repeatedly told that snowboarding has a shorter learning curve than skiing; one can expect to be a competent rider after just two or three lessons.

A slow learner, I still find myself on my seat far more than on my feet, but I'm having too much fun to feel discouraged.

With one foot loose and the other attached to the board, I "skate" toward Lee Guarino, my 22-year-old instructor.

"What do you think?" he asks, gesturing towards the descent.

"I think I'm ready," I say, and turn to flash him a big smile of confidence. Ow. There goes something in my neck, too.

It's no matter. I've got slopes to ride, snow to board, and no aching body will get in the way. I fasten my loose foot into the bindings, and we're set to go.

Guarino gives directions, and I follow. Eyes on the destination, knees slightly bent, turn and lift heels or toes to decrease speed. Dodge other riders, keep a safe distance from the lighting posts, and when in doubt, fall.

I'm in doubt about everything — speed, direction, snowboarding in general — so I fall a lot. On my face. On my back. On my back followed by a somersault onto my face. I fall hard, I fall harder, and sometimes I fall so hard that I see stars.

Guarino rushes to my side, finds me alive and relatively well, and we try again. He draws little diagrams in the snow and offers tips.

"Take all that nervous energy, and channel it through your feet," he says.

OK, I nod, and I'm ready to go for the umpteenth time. If nothing else, snowboarding is a great exercise of perseverance. No matter how many times I fall, I have to shake off the snow and try again.

And for a brief moment, perseverance pays off. After sliding aimlessly for a minute, I somehow gain control. When I move, the board moves with me. I glide with ease and confidence, hearing the soft crackle of the snow beneath my board and the quiet breeze brushing past my face.

Toward the bottom of the slope, I turn, lift my heels, and dig in with the board's toe edge to stop, and — by some miracle — I'm still on my feet.

There. That felt like snowboarding.

Guarino rushes to my side, this time to slap me five.

"That was awesome! That was awesome!" he says.

"It was," is all I manage before slipping backward, sideways, and landing on my back.

GETTING STARTED

  • Look for beginner packages that include lift pass, equipment rental, and lesson. Prices range from $99 for three days to $40 to $70 for each day, depending on level and day of the week.

  • Private and group lessons are available. Private instruction ranges between $50 and $70 per hour; groups are typically $20 to $30. Some resorts offer discounts if you book several lessons in advance. Call ahead to make reservations, especially for private lessons.

  • Renting equipment (snowboard and boots) costs $20 to $30 and can be done at the mountain.

  • Snowboarders and skiers use the same lift tickets. Cost ranges from $20 to $60, depending on age, day of week, and hours of use.

  • People with back, neck, knee, wrist, or any other physical problems should consult a physician before starting.

    PREPARATION

  • Build strength and endurance by working out leg and abdominal muscles.

  • Work on balance and eye-foot coordination with activities like rock hopping.

  • Safety is first. All beginners should start with lessons, then return often for more instruction as they advance.

    WHAT TO WEAR

  • Breathable, waterproof clothes. (Dress in layers.)

  • Hat and waterproof gloves.

  • Sunblock.

  • Tinted ski goggles or sunglasses.

  • Do not layer socks. Wear one warm pair that comes up to the shins.

  • Ski/snowboarding helmet recommended; also consider other protective gear like wrist guards and body pads.

    WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW (TO RENT A SNOWBOARD)

  • Height, weight, and boot size.

  • Stance: "regular" if you ride left foot forward, "goofy" if you ride right foot forward. (Hint: The forward foot is the one you kick a ball with.)

    WEB SITES

  • www.snowboarding.com: Inspiring photos, videos, guide to getting started, information on resorts and summer camps, almost everything you need to know about the sport.

  • www.snowboarding2.com: Another comprehensive site. Also includes an abridged dictionary of snowboarding terms, a satellite weather forecast, and chat page.

  • www.valueseek.com/snowboard_terms.htm: This dictionary of snowboarding lingo enables you to sound like a rider — even if you can't snowboard. While you're there, click on "Beginner Snowboard Tips" for some good advice on getting started.

    Source: Bob McGraw, director of snow sports at Mountain Creek.

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