If you ever thought there was no more to snowboarding than riding a board in the snow, think again! Depending on whether you prefer the technical challenges of urban environments, vast snowy expanses of natural wilderness, or to test your top speeds against other snowboarders, you’re going to have to choose your equipment and your snowboarding destinations accordingly. Here’s a quick look at the main differences between the types to get you up to speed.
If you’re a fan of parkour – freerunning across buildings, benches and any other obstacles you might meet in an urban setting – then you’ll probably love freestyle snowboarding. Here’s where the sport began, with tricks and techniques involving spins, flips and slides, down steps and handrails, in the air and along the streets and parks. This is snowboarding at its grass roots, and it offers a starting point for learners that doesn’t require them to travel to a mountain or ski resort. Get yourself one of the shorter, more flexible boards, find a snowy park or deserted shopping centre, and improvise.
At the other extreme, if you fancy yourself as a character in a glamorous James Bond movie, why not get yourself some soft boots, a longer sturdy snowboard and take to the slopes. Depending on the weather, you might want to go for the powdery snow conditions off the beaten track, but if there’s a gentle sun softening the surface of the snow, you might prefer to glide across the park. Most snowboarders fall into this category. It offers the best of all worlds.
Racing on a snowboard is not for the faint-hearted! In organised competition, a handful of riders will set off together for a slalom course with gates, rather like those in competitive skiing, but designed to give more space for the snowboarders to lean into the snow for greater speeds. You’ll want a long snowboard, a pair of hard boots and a taste for adrenalin. There are many crashes in this sport that add to the risk and the spectacle.
So next time you see a snowboarder, ask yourself whether they’re a speed racer, an all-mountain snowboarder or a freestyler.
If you’re a fan of snow sports and you live in the UK, the chances are you’ll find yourself faced with travelling abroad to get your practice. Destinations with naturally snowy conditions are obviously the preferred option, not least for the experience of being in a stunning location; but if you don’t have the cash to splash out on regular plane travel, you can still find some great places to practice your skills on slopes much closer to home!
Chill Factore, Manchester
Manchester’s Chill Factore offers some top quality snow experiences, not just in skiing but in luge as well. Their main ski slope is among the longest in the country, at a colossal 180 metres, which means they can provide excellent facilities and coaching for more experienced skiers as well as novices to improve their technique. Classes are available at every level of ability and you can visit them online here.
Tamworth benefits from a couple of beginners’ slopes, and it’s a good place to learn the ropes if you’ve never tried skiing before. Courses lasting a number of weeks are available, but if you’re in a hurry, why not consider a fast-track course that gets you to grips with the basics in just one day! The main course is 170 metres long, and here you’ll also find facilities for additional snow and ice activities such as snowman building, igloos, iceskating and tobogganing. There’s also a swimming pool and a bar where you can get some refreshments.
SNO!zone, Milton Keynes and Braehead
For some real snow, whether you’re in the heart of Milton Keynes, or Braehead in Scotland, SNO!zone is your best bet. They have coaches who are experienced and qualified to help you make the most of your visit, and are ready to instruct even visitors with a disability. The main slope is 200 metres long in the Braehead centre, and in Milton Keynes, if you really want to test your courage, you can try a head-first ride on the Hammerhead sled.
The Snow Centre, Hemel Hempstead
This centre houses the biggest learner’s slope in the UK, incorporating two tow ropes. Its main slope is more than 30 metres wide and has a length of 160 metres. The British Association of Snowsport instructors has accredited the snow school here, which means you can be confident of getting some decent all round coaching.
Snowboard bindings come in a range of colours and designs to make the most of your gear in styles that suit you. However, there’s more to consider than the look, as snowboard bindings are the secret to transmitting your bodies’ impulses to the board beneath your feet.
You’ll need to choose bindings that are compatible with the conditions you ride in – whether for mountain terrain, freestyle or cross-country. You’ll also need to make sure they fit with your body’s flexibility. You should definitely bring your own boots when shopping for bindings, just to check they work well together.
The most common type of snowboard bindings are strap bindings. These have all sorts of benefits, such as being highly supportive and adjustable, but if you’re out in conditions that are so cold you need your gloves, then these can be fiddly to handle.
For ease of getting in and out of bindings, you could opt for a rear-entry binding, where the highback is hinged. Although this can be a cheap and convenient option, rear-entry bindings can also hinder good performance by not being as responsive.
If you have plenty of funds, then you could consider Burton Extra Sensory Technology (EST) bindings, which are at the high end of the market and designed to offer flexibility, comfort and stability.
Whether you’re brand new to the sport, or a seasoned snowboarder, the same basic fitness challenges will apply. The particular ways your body has to move and flex to handle the snowboard as you ride mean that it’s subjected to a high intensity session of physical demands. In contrast with most people’s sedentary lifestyles, that ten or fifteen minutes you spend bending your knees, engaging your core muscles, and pushing your legs to negotiate numerous turns and spins at speed, mean that you’ll definitely want to do some training to keep yourself from getting injured.
The good news is that you don’t need a gym to get yourself in condition because repetitions of some basic exercises done in the confines of your own home can be really valuable to your snowboarding fitness. Try to join up the different exercises so that your pulse continues at a decent rate throughout the workout, and it’s always a good idea to speak with your medical practitioner before you begin just to ensure you avoid any potential problems.
When you’re going through the circuit training, don’t worry if you can’t manage all the repetitions first time round. Over time your fitness will improve and you’ll impress yourself with increased levels of strength and flexibility.
To warm up and down, the repetitions are numbered in increasing and decreasing sets of 5. So the idea is to do the following repetitions: 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, 5.
Start with 5 pull ups, move to 10 dead lifts, then 15 toes to bar and 20 box jumps. At the end of the circuit, you’ll do 20 box jumps, 15 toes to bar and so on. (You’ll need to have a bar fitted in a doorway to enable you to do the bar exercises.) For the 3 exercises in the middle, try ‘chopping wood’, wall squats with a gym ball and one legged curls - bending on one leg at a 90 degree angle, combined with bicep curls.
Try to ensure you get the correct positions for every exercise so that you’re working the right muscles and avoiding needless stresses and strains.