How to start snowboarding

At the age of 12 I talked my parents into buying me my first snowboard. Armed with a hollow, plastic, single tipped behemoth called "black snow", I was ready to tame the 60 foot hills of my parents' western-minnesota lake cabin. I tried and tried but the dream of carving out paths in maplewood state park just never came to fruition. I gave up then, but 10 years later I was on a proper mountain receiving my first lesson from a friend on how to do the real thing.
Snowboarding can be a very intimidating sport. All I heard about before starting is that I was definitely going get hurt or at least be very sore. I've found these statements to be mostly correct, but don't let that sway you from trying. The first day for me was the hardest and after that, I found it to be very enjoyable, more so than skiing.

Get your gear

For your first day, rentals should be fine. I would like to point out, though, that properly fitted boots and a good board with strap on bindings are much easier to ride than the worn out rental step-ins most places offer. If you have an option of getting a pro or demo setup, I think it's better for your first day than the low-end stuff. I'm sure many people will say, "I'm not a pro. I don't need that." It's true, you're not riding for money, but the higher end gear gives you much more control, which generally results in less falling.

As far as strictly-snowboarding gear goes, there are 3 main pieces: The board, the bindings and your boots. Bindings are the pieces that connect your boots to the board. They come in many varieties, from step-ins to straps to interesting hybrids such as Flow bindings. I personally don't find step-ins easier to put on and I think they offer MUCH less control. What do most pros use? Straps, and so do I. If you need help deciding what to buy, here is a decent spot to start.

As for safety - There are 3 things you should consider. By far the most important is a helmet. Unless you're a prodigy, you WILL fall your first day. It's possible you'll hit your head. You'll want a helmet to protect you. The main first day injuries are sprained/broken wrists and bruised tail bones. Consider picking up wrist guards and tail bone protection. There are spandex-style shorts you can buy with a padded area right there for the bone. They help a lot.

Determining your stance

I'm going to put binding angle, forward lean and any other advanced settings aside and just focus on stance. Your stance is which direction your body is oriented when you're going downhill. If you face to the right then you ride regular and if you face to the left it's called goofy-foot. If you've skateboarded before, you probably already know which stance to take. If you haven't and have no idea what stance to try, there are some tips here.

Regular vs Goofy Foot StanceRegular vs Goofy Foot Stance

Before getting on a lift

Find a flat, open area to toy around on. Strap your front boot in but leave your back boot free. Try to skate around for a while by pushing off with your back foot as if you're skateboarding. You should be able to do this without falling down before attempting to take the lift up. It's how snowboarders get from the bottom of a run to the lift and essential to keeping balance while getting off the lift. Your body will feel VERY twisted while doing this at first, but you'll find a comfortable way to get around after a little bit. I tend not to turn my back foot but to push with it sideways, keeping my body from twisting too much.

Getting on and off the lift

Getting on is fairly straight forward. You skate up to it with only your front boot attached to the board, wait for it to come around and then sit down. Your first few times you may want to hold your loose boot up and out as to not catch it underneath. Getting off is the real trick. While approaching the dismount area, turn your body so that your board is pointing straight. Hold the tip up and let the bottom contact the snow. Now take your back foot and set it down right in front of the rear binding and just stand up. You may have the urge to lean forward or back, but you must fight it, stay focused on keeping balance and let the board go where it will. After you've cleared the lift, the easiest way to stop is to hop a few times on your back foot, taking all the pressure off the front, until you come to a stop.

If you fall, get out of the way! There are people coming immediately behind you, and you getting run into by them is going to hurt much worse than your fall did. Just move to the side for a moment, gain your bearings and continue.

Once you're in a good, clear area, strap in your rear boot, sit down with your board in front of you, put on your goggles and get ready to start.

Plowing the snow

In my opinion, learning to stop is actually more important than learning to start! There are many ways to get going in an uncomfortable, uncontrolled way, but learning to stop is what will make everything ok.

Stand up, keeping your weight uphill just a little so that you don't immediately start sliding down. Don't turn the board yet, keep it "plowing" the snow with the long edge facing downhill. The skill is not letting the front edge down. The moment that edge hits the snow, you will flip forward and onto your chest or hands. This is actually a little easier to do on a steeper slope than on a bunny hill, so I recommend starting on a real run instead of the practice area. You'll learn much faster, and it's really not that hard to control. The technique here is to gain enough control with your ankles and weight so that you can comfortable let the board plow down the hill for a few feet then pull the front edge back up toward yourself to stop. Do this over and over until you can do it with ease. It may take a lot of effort because chances are that you'll end up sitting a lot and pushing yourself back up to start again.

Heel-side edge control - toe edge upHeel-side edge control - toe edge up

The falling leaf

Once you've mastered the straight plow, you may want to move on to the falling leaf. The falling leaf looks like it sounds. You plow the snow with the long side of the board, being careful not to let the front edge down, but the difference is that we're going to add in some directional control to this. Try pushing harder on one leg than the other. The board should angle itself downhill that way and you'll start moving in that direction. Before you've turned the board straight downhill, reverse the pressure and put all your weight on the other leg. The board will now turn that direction and you will be headed in a new bearing. Try this back and forth, pulling back to a stop any time you get too uncomfortable. With both directions together, it will look and feel like a leaf falling from a tree.

The falling leafThe falling leaf

Stopping quickly

The next thing I try to teach is picking up a little speed and confidently turning to a stop. Start with the board in the plow position, but this time instead of just putting pressure on the forward leg, we're going to add the twist of your body to turn it faster. Push down on your forward leg and with a swinging motion, kick the board to make it point downhill. Only do this for a few seconds as you may pick up too much speed. Be ready to kick it back to a stop. This is done by twisting your body and using your back foot almost like the rudder of a boat. Kick the board back to the plowing position all the while leaning back a little uphill to not catch the front edge in the process. Plow to a halt and start over. There may be significant falls while attempting this, but it will be worth it for the extra control you will quickly develop.

Turning from straight into a quick stopTurning from straight into a quick stop

Learning toe-side

Everything we've done up to this point is called heel-side, because your heels have been facing uphill, pivoting the board to keep the front edge from catching the snow. Now it's time to learn toe-side technique, so that you can turn back and forth properly on a run.

Start on your knees with the board downhill, behind you. Slowly stand up, and practice bending your knees a certain amount to control the plow of the board. You should be looking uphill, not being able to see what's behind you. It's ok, don't even worry about what's back there because you'll be going to slow for it to matter right now. Just practice the same plowing maneuver but on your toes instead of on your heels. This is the part where you risk hitting your head and tail bone, as catching an edge now will cause you to fall backwards downhill.

Once you feel comfortable with toe-side plowing, try the falling leaf. You will have to look over your shoulder in either direction to see where you're going, but it should be manageable for now. The thing you should focus on is edge control, as in bending your knees the right amount to keep that front edge off the snow without also stopping yourself.

Toe-side edge control, heel edge upToe-side edge control, heel edge up

Now it's time to pick up some speed. Start turning yourself to face your front edge downhill and make yourself kick-plow to a quick stop. Do this over and over to guarantee you can always stop yourself while on your toes. This is done the same as with the heel-side you learned earlier.

Connecting the two

Are you comfortable doing all of these exercises heel and toe side now? Here's how to connect them to properly carve down a mountain. Get riding down your run heel-side, then make the board completely straighten out so that it's running flat with the nose riding straight downhill. Twist your body to face uphill, then kick your back leg behind you while bending your knees at the same time. You'll now be turning the opposite direction and riding toe-side. Bring the board back to a flat, straight orientation again and then rotate your upper body to face downhill. Kick your rear, rudder leg again to bring it out in front of you and lean back, uphill. Repeat.

Combining lean with turn on heel-to-toe changesCombining lean with turn on heel-to-toe changes

I was able to get to this point after about 4 hours of riding, just doing these things. I have a limited amount of skateboarding background, and a little water skiing experience. These were the exact instructions given to me to teach me how to ride, and they have worked very well. Don't be afraid of falling, try to learn from your mistakes and you will be well on your way to being able to ride any mountain of your choice.

General Tips

  • When starting, edge control is everything. Always keep the forward-facing edge of your board in mind and don't let it down to catch the snow.
  • Make sure you always feel in control of your board. If it's doing something you don't like, kick it back to where you want it.
  • Control your speed. It's ok to forcibly stop yourself when you feel you're moving too fast.

13 Comments

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LOL I think I'm bett

LOL I think I'm better on the wakeboard. As with both boards you have to keep that forward edge up or you'll faceplant! Then too practice makes perfect...sorta, until Neptune or "snow snakes" get you. Have fun and stay safe!

reply
greating

Spanatko

Don't listen to spanatko. More than 85% of snowboarders are self taught. It's not crap, it's good advice.

re: How to start snowboarding

:-) THANKS ROBERT this seems like good advice for begginers like me. My friends and I have been wanting to go snowboarding and this weekend is the perfect opportunity. I hope all the tips work out for me. I'll keep you guys posted.Thanks again.

re: How to start snowboarding

hello :) , i've never snowboarded before in my life and in january me and a few of my friends ( who also have never snowboarded) are going to a ski/snowboard resort to give it a shot. I was wondering if there is any way i can practice a little bit before going if i got a hold of a board? I live in illinois but nowhere near any hills and it hasn't started snowing yet so im kind of clueless for right now. If you could send some advice my way that'd be greatThanks!

re: How to start snowboarding

Spanatko,I'm going to go ahead and say that the vast majority of snowboarders are self-taught or taught by friends and that even most instructors are non-certified. I have no problems riding whatsoever. While I'm sure many people do learn faster from a training course, I was able to pick this up quickly by myself and many others can as well.I'd be curious as to how many x-games snowboarders actually had professional instruction. My guess would be very few. Skiing has more of a rigid technique and it does help significantly to have professional instruction. With snowboarding it's really a game of keeping loose, keeping your knees bent and keeping the leading edge up.What's the problem?

re: How to start snowboarding

do not read this ****! get a proper lesson from a certified snow-sport instructors, this is just plain non-sense! do-it-yourself does not work with snowboarding nor skiing, get professional help and stop this crap!!!

re: How to start snowboarding

LOL I think I'm better on the wakeboard. As with both boards you have to keep that forward edge up or you'll faceplant! Then too practice makes perfect...sorta, until Neptune or "snow snakes" get you. Have fun and stay safe!

re: How to start snowboarding

Good advice! I'm glad to hear someone else enjoys wakeboarding! Unfortunately I'm not as good at it as I am on the snow but once I get there I'll hopefully be able to post some tips.

re: How to start snowboarding

Great Post for learning how to snowboard! I'm happy to see you recommending helmets. They not only help keep your noggin safer, they also help keep you warmer. I've been boarding for a few years now although I ski much better. This is a great activity for winter.I'd like to mention one not so obvious difference between men vs. women thing in regards to boarding. Men "lead" or make turns with their shoulders because they have a higher center of gravity. Women however, have a much lower center of gravity and "lead" with their belly-buttons. So ladies, as odd as it sounds, steer with your belly-button. It'll make learning much easier for you.This is a great winter activity and summer offers a similar one: wakeboarding! If you're interested in that too, then check out my post at: www.PacificNorthwestBoating.com have fun on the slopes and stay safe!Again, really great post for learning the basics.

re: How to start snowboarding

Check www.learn-snowboard.com for detailed hints about an edge control that is based on using shanks as levers. You get more safe and precise edging.

re: How to start snowboarding

Cool - nice - going tomorrow to Perisher - first time Snowboarding - will let you know how it goes

re: How to start snowboarding

Good advice on the helmet and tailbone protection but as a snowboard instructor i would fore go the wrist guards because though they may prevent wrist fractures they do so by moving the fracture up the forearm which can actually be a more painful and long-lasting injury.

re: How to start snowboarding

Great advice! Robert helped me carve my first slope, and now I can't wait to get out again.