January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month -- but can anyone really do it?
"First time?" the guy behind the Loveland rental stand asked as he installed the gadget that would hook my boots on to the board.
Shredding it on the bunny hill, or something.
I don't think he ended the question with "dude," but with his slouched over 'tude, I wanted to hear "dude" or "gnarly" or something else incredibly stereotypical so that I could get this interacting-with-snow-thing started right. No luck.
So instead I asked, "Is it the bewilderment on my face?"
Winter Park's new Burton snowboard lounge, where students can prepare to become rad.
I had headed to the slopes because my six months in Colorado were at an end, and it seemed wrong to leave the state without really experiencing snow -- the way that other newbies will be able to during Colorado Ski Country USA's Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month in January. "As baby boomers start to drop out, resorts are working hard to fill the pipeline and introduce new participants," explains Jenn Rudolph of Colorado Ski Country.
The theme of Ratatouille is that everyone can cook. Not that every person who picks up a spatula will become Wolfgang Puck with a few flicks of the wrist, but you shouldn't discount someone just because they are, say, a rat. Did being a generally unathletic, poorly coordinated, outdoor-phobic, snowboarding-and-skiing never-ever make me lower than a rat? I hoped not. So I set out on I-70 ready to punch my pow card.
Many of the state's resorts offer discounts in January. At Loveland, for example, the three-class pass that gives a skier a free season pass after three lessons has been expanded to first-timer adults: $285 if you pre-purchase.
Kids in Colorado get their start early. Loveland's learner-only slope is Loveland Valley, a shuttle ride away from the main resort directly off I-70. It's definitely child-dominated, and watching a seven-year-old maneuver down a hill with ease is way more intimidating than watching an adult do the same. As I trudged over to the conveyer-belt-like "magic carpet" elevator that would take me to the top of the teaching slope, I overheard an instructor tell her elementary-aged pupil who'd taken a spill: "Don't worry, the grown-ups also fall down sometimes."
Strapped tight into the board, I felt like a giant marshmallow belted into a roller coaster. My instructor for the three-hour private lesson was supportive. He'd say things like "That was sweet!" and then give me a high five. At one point, after I'd fallen a couple of times during heel-side garlands, he assured me that "90 percent of my students wouldn't be able to do that in forty minutes!" I didn't completely believe him, but it was still nice to hear. And when he started uttering maxims like "hard to learn, easy to master" about snowboarding, it felt up my frequently-falling-down alley.
At the end of day one, I could get halfway a the baby hill with the incline of a poorly installed hardwood floor.
But after the day, my bruised ass and thumb screamed otherwise.
My next snowboarding day was a five-and-a-half-hour-long group lesson at Winter Park. With its snazzy, just-opened-in-December, Burton-sponsored snowboarding lounge that promises no wait from signing-in for a lesson to getting your board, the Denver-owned resort is pushing riding hard.
Snowboarding classes, most of which are all-day affairs that start at 9:30 a.m., begin at the lounge. Winter Park is also offering a MaxFour class, targeted at people who may have done it once or twice and want to have a half-day lesson. All other snowboard rentals are still at the main rental locale.
Usual classes at Winter Park usually top out at seven students. Mine ended up with just me and Rachel from the marketing department, who could comfortably ski blue terrain but never snowboarded. "What sports do you guys do?" asked the instructor, a chipper older man who seemingly teaches every other physical activity known to man (skiing, yoga, certain styles of martial arts, etc.).
My marketing-department handler rattled off a list of varsity affiliations. I awkwardly said, "I swam... I played tennis..." I left off the "ten years ago" part.
We started at step one: how to stand on the board. I went into it a little cocky. I'd done this the day before, I thought, this'll be easy.
As we started to do turns, everything I might have learned the day before vanished. "Remember an athletic, balanced stance," the instructor kept repeating after I took another tumble. It felt like a reminder that I was neither of those things at times. Luckily, no children were hurt in the making of this snowboarding-machine.
After three-hours on the learning slope and lunch (included with the $159 all-day package), we hopped onto a chairlift to head to some slightly more legit terrain. It was my first time on a lift and as my terrified-of-heights self sat down, my knees began to shake and I screamed, "Where's the bar!" The metal pole came down and my knee-shaking decreased by 10 percent.
We plopped off the lift in an incredibly unnatural, angled position, and the last two hours of the day were spent trying to scuttle down a green hill. I watched the marketing rep and complete first-timer swoosh down -- albeit with some knee bruises -- while I slid and sputtered, adding some marks on my back to my already bruised ass as a parting gift.
But on my last of three runs down the hill, I made it halfway down. Success!
My instructor at Winter Park said a beam of light strikes you around the third day of snowboarding. That means I still have one more chance to prove to myself that I'm not a complete dud.
I drove back to Denver just as the sun dipped behind the mountains -- and sparkling, red-flecked snow hit my eyes. My quads and back throbbed, especially when I leaned into the turns as I headed down the heavily graded mountain. It probably wasn't safe for driving, but it seemed like a good sign for my future snowboarding career.