Editors Note: This is the first installment of a Tribune "Learn To" series in recognition of Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, a national grassroots initiative. In the upcoming weeks, the Tribune will explore less mainstream snowsport options and excursions.
Learning to ski and ride gets easier every year. With more beginner-friendly gear and elite instructors out there, all signs point to green - bunny slopes that is.
January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, perfect timing with the recent snowfall. Choosing the right conditions, gear and between skiing and snowboarding are critical before making those first turns.
First thing's first, and that's boots.
The best thing a beginner can do for themselves is get comfortable boots that fit correctly, according to South Tahoe snowboard shops Shoreline and The Boardinghouse.
Comfortable boots will make or break that first experience. Spend time picking a boot that is snug, but still be comfortable. The boot should be tight, but don't cut off blood circulation for the bunny slopes.
Picking the right day may be as important as picking the right boots, Shoreline manager Ryan Parker said.
"If it's an icy day it's probably not the best day to learn," Parker said. "Choose your day wisely."
Choosing a day wisely is the first of many choices to come.
To ski or to ride?
Once the commitment to learn is made, it's time to choose between skiing and riding. Long gone are the days when skiing was considered uncool. Now the decision comes down to which sounds more fun. Be aware, however, that there is a different learning curve for each.
The Boardinghouse's Lucas Brandt breaks down the differences.
"It's easier to learn to ski right at first, but it's easier to progress at snowboarding," Brandt said. "That's because it's just easier to get on skis and ride straight away. That's how you naturally stand, but it's harder to progress because you have four edges."
For beginning snowboarders, Brandt suggests strapping in and practicing standing up from a sitting position. Get comfortable with this move, because new snowboarders will be doing it all day. Also, a good tip is to stand on a two-by-four at home and practice distributing your weight.
Snowboarding is hard to learn out of the gate, but once it clicks, progression is swift.
Committing three back-to-back days is key for new snowboarders. Three days is usually the snowboard learning curve, Parker said.
"Go three days in a row, and take a lesson for sure. Don't let your girlfriend or boyfriend teach you," Parker said.
In short, save the slope date for after the lesson.
Parker also recommends using the same equipment as the person learning. Don't try to teach skiing on a snowboard.
A harness is not a bad idea for a parent teaching their child how to ski or snowboard, especially with renegade beginners about.
To ski or to snowboard is perhaps the most crucial question when it comes to kids.
"There's a big debate right now about should you teach your kid to ski or snowboard first. I don't have an answer for that, but for me personally, I'm going to teach my child skiing first," Parker said. -
Whether it's skiing or snowboarding, young or old, hit the slopes with realistic expectations and a positive attitude.
"There's lots of falling. Don't expect to be a pro right out of the gate," said Tori Bowler of The Boardinghouse. "There's a learning curve and I know it's a challenge, but it's totally rewarding once you get it."
Minimizing that learning curve
Equipment advances are shortening learning time, and opening up more terrain to beginner skiers and riders.
"It was way harder when I learned. I had a stiffer, longer board that was regular camber, and it was pretty hard to even turn it," Bowler said. "I think a lot of the changes happened when the manufacturers started using actual riders to help develop the boards."
These changes include softer, and therefore more forgiving, skis, boards, boots and bindings. For snowboarders here are boas on boots for quick lacing, and Flow binding for an easier strapping in experience.
The biggest and most important change for beginners, however, is in the skis and boards. The shorter and softer this equipment gets the easier it is to maneuver and learn.
Rocker technology is also shredding the old learning curves. With a raised tip and tail this equipment will minimize falls as beginners start to understand their edges.
A helmet should always be in the gear list without exception. In this day and age, there is no excuse for not wearing a helmet, especially since the beginner slopes could be the most dangerous place on the mountain.
Cost is always a roadblock. Skiing and snowboarding are not cheap, so is it really wise to invest a chunk of money in a sport that may not pan out? Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort has an answer.
Sitting 30 minutes from South Tahoe, off Highway 50, the resort offers a banging beginner package. For $39, beginners get a 2 1/2 hour lesson, a lift ticket for the lower slopes and rental gear.
"Our main thing is definitely just getting people out on the mountain in an affordable fashion. It's a sport that doesn't always lend itself to the masses," said Steve Hemphill, Sierra-at-Tahoe communications manager.
Both the cheaper price and shorter lesson make that unknown a little easier to swallow.
"It's a 2 1/2 hour lesson so it really does allow you to dip your toe in the water and see if it's for you," Hemphill said.
If it turns out to be a good experience, then you can extend the lesson to full day for an extra $20.
There aren't any hidden catches. Just two simple rules, beginners must be at least 13 years old, and the lessons must be reserved online at www.sierraattahoe.com/learn-to-ski-ride.
Save even more money by packing a lunch or any beverages that might sound tasty come halftime.
Borrowing gear from a friend is not a bad idea, just don't lend out boots. Those will mold to the skier or snowboarders feet, so not a good share item.
Fine tuning those moves
No matter what skill level a rider is, there is always room for improvement. Pro baseball players still take batting lessons, after all.
Check out the Peak Performance Academy at Heavenly or the specialty lessons at Sierra-at-Tahoe.
The PPA is designed to improve skiers and riders powder technique in two or three-day clinics. The first of these will be offered Jan. 25-27.