On the 14th December 2006, me and my boyfriend ventured to London Victoria to catch the coach where we would be spending the next 24 hours…we were off to Switzerland.
One channel tunnel crossing, 4 service station stops and a very wriggly not very comfortable sleep later, we arrived at our destination Chalet Jungfrau in Switzerland. In the light of the Chalet we got to see the other 90 or so people that had joined us on the trip, including the staff and instructors.
After unpacking the coach and the trailer and having found our luggage under the piles of suitcases, board and ski bags, we met our fellow roomies, had our dinner and got introduced to the free tea, coffee and hot chocolate that was on offer to us for the rest of the holiday!
Then it was Saturday morning and the day of my first snowboarding lesson had arrived. I was all kitted up with my board, bindings and boots from Big Dreams (www.bigdreamssnowboarding.com) and now I could finally get some use out of them! At 8.15am we left the Chalet all suited and booted, collected our boards and walked to the bus stop to get the bus to the station. We arrived at Wengen station and then me and the other beginner snowboarders divided off to walk to the location where we were going to spend the next 2 hours.
My instructor was the lovely Neil, the man who was going to make me and the rest of my group into pros by the end of the week (so I like to think anyway!)
We started off with the normal icebreaker stand around in a circle kind of thing saying our names and our favourite cartoon character…mine were the Powerpuff Girls. Then there was a warm up routine which involved jogging on the spot, running around in a circle, hopping and some stretches. By this point, I actually thought I was going to pass out and not be able to continue with the rest of the two-hour lesson…but I persevered!
After being introduced to the different parts of our boards, we got our first snowboarding task, strapping our leading foot into the board and moving the board side to side in front and behind our stationary foot, just to get used to the fact our feet would be on a board and we wouldn’t be able to move! I could handle this, first step – completed.
Second exercise: learning to walk and move in general with one foot attached to the board. This is a key skill as it saves you having to un-strap yourself from the board every time you’ve finished a run. I found this a little bit more difficult and was really starting to feel the “snowboard burn"…once again, I didn’t think I was going to carry on much longer, but I did…onto exercise number three.
Scooting: Basically like skateboarding, but without the wheels, and on snow. With your lead foot strapped into the binding, you push along the ground with your back foot and then once you’ve built up some momentum, rest it on the board next to the back binding and thus, ‘scoot’ along (stomp pads may help with this). I definitely struggled with this ‘Scooting’ malarkey but I had a little extra practice in the afternoon with my able boarding boyfriend, and I’m getting there…
Now it started to get serious on the beginners learning slope. Neil’s next challenge for us was even more adventurous…straight edging. This involved us going slight way up the slope and going straight down it! The aim of this was for us to get used to the sensation of sliding along the snow and is obviously useful when gaining speed in the big bad world of snowboarding!
The last activity of the day was side slipping. The aim of this is “to control the speed of descent and introduce braking" – according to the BASI handbook and you go down the mountain heel or toe edge. This is the point at which I discovered I couldn’t stand up on my heel edge…a task that I was going to be working on for the rest of the week!
First day over and it was already clear to see that we had come a long way in two hours. Granted, we had a long way to go; but I already had a good feeling about the progress we would all have made by the time the week was out. Bring on tomorrow…
Up the cable car to location Mannlichen for lesson number two. With instructor Neil getting us to jump around like lunatics including running on the spot “like Rocky" we were nicely warmed up for our next two hours of boarding.
Just when we thought everything was going to be brilliant like yesterday, he announced that we’d be making our way down this blue run to get to where we’d be learning for the majority of the lesson. Can I just say at this point that it was really misty and you couldn’t see a whole lot…oh, and to top it off, the blue run was pretty narrow…brilliant.
So off we went trying to put into practice our side slipping from yesterday, but it just wasn’t happening for me and 2 others, who were at the back of the boarders going down the piste. It resulted in me taking off my board and walking down to where we were about to be shown an example of the technique of the day, “falling leaf".
After the demonstration, I was the last person to give it a go, and to be honest…I was rubbish. I felt awful as I was holding up the lesson with my practically one-to-one tuition I was getting, and not only the falling leaf was I trying to master, but also this whole standing up malarkey still wasn’t agreeing with me.
So, the lesson carried on and we eventually made it to the area where we were going to be for the next 45 minutes or so, trying to make ourselves fall like a leaf through the 3-bag slalom that instructor Neil had made us.
We all took it in turns to do it heel-edge and toe-edge (although because of my standing up “methods", I was doing my leaf work toe-edge 99% of the time). This was nice and pleasant, compared with the disastrous start I had and felt completely incapable of ever going to be able to snowboard! Then, our favourite instructor dropped bombshell number two – we were going to continue down this run…this red run – ARGH.
Off we went, “just make it down there to the chalet on the right" Neil said as he began to snowboard slowly off into the distance. That may have been all very well, but can I just say, we couldn’t even see this chalet he was talking about.
But we all boarded off our separate ways to make it down to the invisible chalet. Then my first accident happened in the red run, stopping my board and falling over the edge of my friend’s board that was already lying in the snow. Having the edge of a snowboard dug into your stomach isn’t that greater feeling, but with her shouting the words “bundle" it definitely lifted the spirits!
And so the run continued, I went on my merry toe-edge way down the mountain; encountering steep slopes, hard balls of snow and a lot of falls. The most spectacular (and most painful) of all though, was when I was going at a very fast pace down one of the steeper parts and unfortunately found myself falling backwards on my bum; with my goggles, hat and hair band strewn around me, and my impact shorts having moved slightly upon my fall…I was in a fair amount of pain. But like the snowboarding trooper I am, I got up (after a few…well, a lot of tears) and continued to ride down to the chair lift – the final destination of lesson number two.
In the afternoon, my boyfriend and I headed back over to the beginners slope where I was on the first day of lessons, and he helped me to work on my heel-edge, to which I find a lot more difficult than my toe-edge. This was extremely beneficial (and tiring) but after the 1-hour stint (with a few breaks) I felt a fair bit happier with it and was looking forward to attempting to put it into practice tomorrow! He even filmed me doing it! Yes I fell over, but it was pretty good considering I’d only just got the hang of it. And no, that won’t be going on the Cooler website!!
Today I woke up feeling sick with nerves, all due to the fact I was thinking “if we did a red run yesterday, and that was just our second lesson, what would Neil be making us do today?!" Luckily though, it had snowed in the night and was snowing when we woke up and our journey to the slopes, so that was a blessing…for now!
And so we headed up to a different location for day three, Kleiner-Scheidegg. Our beginners group joined together for the daily warm-up routine “Neil Style" (including the actions to the Macarena – although one move was forgotten!) and we headed to one of my biggest hatreds of the snowy and mountainous world – chairlifts. I did it though, even if I did fall over after I had gone down the little slope at the end of it, never mind.
And so to the lesson, “just go down here and we’ll meet down there" shouted Neil. So we all heel-edged and toe-edged it off down this snowy ‘can’t see where we’re going’ slope (it was still snowing and you couldn’t see much, I’ll tell you now!) I was fairly confident I could do this, but my confidence received a bashing when I fell over twice and twisted my knees…ouch.
Once we were all lined up along the edge of the run, we were told what we were going to be doing today. That technique is garlands. This is the process where depending on whether you are regular or goofy, you point the nose of the board down the slope and then using the respective “edge", and you level off and control your speed of the board. You do this until you get across the slope, and then you turn round and go back the other way, but using the other edge of your board that you hadn’t just used! – If that makes sense! A bit like falling leaf but using both your heel AND toe edges (in simple terms!).
Anyway – to start with I couldn’t hear what Neil was saying or see his demonstration, and I ended up not doing this garlands thing at all and just proceeded to show off what I thought was a pretty good falling leaf on my ever so brilliant toe-edge (ha!). But I quickly understood what I was supposed to be doing…but putting it into practice was a different matter.
Gradually working my way down the piste with the group I practiced my garlands…even my dreaded heel-edge. Although yesterday’s afternoon lesson really did help, as I picked it up again today along with a little extra help from Neil.
Another discovery was also made today (thanks to observation from my instructor) and that is that I’m actually goofy rather than regular. Well, I think I’m actually ambidextrous (if that’s possible in the world of snowboarding) but better finding out later then never I guess! My board is still set up for regular riding, but I’m coping at the moment!
By the end of our lesson, the sun had come out and the snow had stopped falling and we could see what we were doing and we had all managed to get to the bottom of the run successfully without too many injuries! I was very pleased of what I’d achieved today, despite the shaky start, but I definitely feel like I’ve progressed, especially in the wonderful falling leaf!
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I did the same red run again (with even worse conditions than it was in the lesson!). It was great for me to put what I’d learnt over the last 3 lessons into practice and keep going as much as I could. Granted there was a lot of stopping and starting, but it a great feeling to know I could do it, without completely stacking it every 5 seconds!
Overall today has been pretty good, and I didn’t really need to worry so much in the morning. Although now all I can think about is what Neil has in store for us for tomorrows 2-hours of sheer joy! Lets hope we’ll be able to see what we’re doing a bit better…but believe it or not, I think I’m gradually on my way to becoming a better snowboarder.
Another day, another snowboarding lesson. This time it was in the area of Schilthorn. A bus journey, and two gondola’s later, we were ready to rock ‘n’ roll. To start with, it was our warm up, but the variation to the exercises today was that the stretches lasted for twice as long as normal and I’m sure we were doing them for ages…deliberately (thanks Neil), although I’m sure it did us good (so he said).
The lesson for today was aimed at us learning to do C-turns. But first we had to find an area that was big enough for us to practice them. In the mean time we garlanded and falling leafed our way down the slope practicing our edges…I couldn’t believe this was our penultimate lesson and four days ago, none of our group could snowboard at all!
While on the search for the perfect C-turn area it became apparent that this run had nothing going for us. There were a lot of long stretches of flat, and it just wasn’t suitable. So to cut a long story short, we all ended up finishing the run and instructor Neil decided we needed to find another area…he had spotted just the place…
After waiting 20 minutes for a gondola (in this time we had a lovely group bonding session) we went on the chair lift to this new destination. This time, it really was what we were looking for, nice one Neil.
Just as we came off the chair lift, in front of us was a wide, powder-lathered slope, ready for us to make our lesson into C-turn frenzy!
Instructor Neil did his regular thing of demonstrating to us how it should be done, and made it look like a piece of cake…nothing like it was going to turn out when the 9 of us in our group had a go…and to add to the pressure, we were going to be filmed on our second time round!
One by one we took it in turns to show him what we were capable of. Most of us had the basic garland covered, but when it came to throwing the C-turn in as well, some people did it, some people fell over, and some people couldn’t do it…and as for me, I did do it! I was also chuffed that this attempt also got captured on film, and I didn’t fall over! I even threw in a celebratory arms going up and down in the air, just for good measure! Second time around, I couldn’t even stand up twice and it was rubbish, but that didn’t matter as much as I was still happy with my first go.
Surprisingly this was the only practice we had at these turns as our lesson had over run due to waiting for the gondola earlier. And as Neil had another afternoon lesson to do, we basically just had to make our way to the end of the run.
Probably around 45 minutes, 2 very bruised knees and painful legs later I arrived back at base feeling absolutely drained.
In the afternoon my boyfriend and I headed up to the revolving restaurant where the James Bond film “On her majesty’s secret service" was filmed.
As the snowboarding went today, it was a good lesson, but I think I definitely need more practice with my C-turns! Bring on tomorrow…
And then it was Wednesday, my final snowboarding lesson. I couldn’t believe it had come around already…I felt quite sad in a funny kind of way, but anyway – on with the lesson.
We headed back up to the location of Kleiner-Scheidegg to show off our snowboarding ability and put everything we’d learnt over the last 4 days to the test. For one last time we huddled together and did our warm-up exercises under guidance and instruction from Neil – I think I can certainly say he’s the most creative snowboard instructor known to man (and the most devilishly handsome – he insists). Today’s variation on the exercises was a pleasant surprise to all of us…he managed to insert the famous part of the YMCA routine into our warm-up - I give him 10 out of 10 for imagination…his interesting twists he added every morning, certainly made warming up for snowboarding a lot more fun!
Today was the day we were to try out and practice our link-turns. We headed down the same run as we did on day three to a point that was wide enough for us all to try out these turns and for instructor Neil to show us how it’s done properly.
And so we took it in turns one by one to see if we could turn from our toe-edge onto our heel-edge. For some people it clicked almost straight away, some people they got it after a few goes…. then there was me. It just wasn’t gelling with me and I couldn’t do it. I found this incredibly frustrating but Neil was as encouraging as ever and reassured me that I would be able to do this. So up the hill I walked, over and over again after every try I had at linking my turns. I got a battering to be honest, my bum spent a lot of the time on the snow and I did bruise myself quite considerably as well (all in a hard days work!).
After finishing the run, then going down again back to the same place to practice again, I was injured and emotional and just wanted to do a link-turn. Neil was more determined than ever for me to do it…and so I did. Tip-after-tip I received, and a bit of a helping hand from my wonderful instructor, I did it. I was so relieved I’d finally conquered it. And I did it more than once!! To celebrate: a cheer from my fellow group members and a hi-5 and the words “Punk Rock" from Neil, I may not have looked ecstatic due to the emotion I was feeling from my bruises and injuries, but I was really – deep down!
Our lesson then drew to a close and reality kicked in…no more warm ups, no more chair lift antics with my fellow riders, no more Macarena…I had finished my first “learning to snowboard experience". Despite the bruises and twisted legs along the way, I have enjoyed every minute of learning to snowboard. I’m sad it’s over for now, but you just try and keep me away…I’ll be back on the slopes at the end of the season, probably perfecting those link turns…
I would like to thank the following people in my group for being the reason I have these stories to tell: Helene, James, Ed, Matt, Chris, Heidi, Theo, Ross and especially the man who made us all the snowboarders we are today – instructor Neil.
I travelled and learnt to snowboard in Jungfrau, Lauterbrunnen with Oak Hall Holidays www.oakhall.co.uk