Snowboarding is a recreational, professional and Olympic winter sport in which riders descend a snow-packed run on a snowboard. Think surfing/skateboarding up on the slopes – snowboarding evolved from ‘snurfing‘ in the 1960s and peaked in popularity around 2007 in Canada and the United States.
Snowboarding is an extreme winter sport – more so than skiing. Like most board sports, it’s conducive to stunts and sick tricks. It’s no coincidence the producers of Point Break chose snowboarding as the sport of choice for Life if Ice, in which Bodhi and his crew rode ‘an unrideable line’ high in the Swiss Alps.
While skiing is far more popular, and the sport has lost momentum in recent years, snowboarding has a fiercely loyal subculture. At times, that has been a source of friction between ski resorts, skiers and snowboarders, like the skier who infamously punched a snowboarder back in 2010.
Despite the odd punch and nasty words, snowboarding remains one of the most extreme winter sports, and one that would certainly be of interest to a budding poly extreme athlete. In this post, we’ll talk about snowboarding, and how to get your feet wet in this sometimes-risky but always thrilling extreme sport.
The sport has evolved since its inception in the 1960s, with various styles according to equipment and skill level. You were treated to a little of everything in Point Break. Freeriding, freestyle and freecarve/race are some of the most common snowboarding styles you see on TV and at your local ski hill.
Freeriding – This is the most basic form of snowboarding styles. The easiest way to describe it is ‘doing stunts’, anywhere, in a natural setting, with man-made jumps, half-pipes, rails and groomed snow. Freeriding is done with no course, rules or goal – it’s just you and the mountain. Be formless, young Jedi.
Freestyle – In Freeriding, you do as you please. With freestyle you do tricks. The rails, jumps and other natural and man-made objects that were optional in freeriding are mandatory in freestyle. This is creative snowboarding in which, if you think you can get air time, then hot dang, you go for it.
Freecarve/Racing – This is a race, as the name implies, down a downhill course in which the boarder quickly barrels around turning navigators. You’ve likely seen snowboard racing on the Winter Olympics.
Half Pipe – You’ve seen this too. Half Pipe is a semi-circular (man-made) ditch with walls typically 8-28 feet high on both sides. True to that name, it’s a ‘half-pipe’ for snowboarders to criss-cross and get more height as they hit each wall.
While purists might say otherwise, the snowboarding in Point Break (2015) was generally freestyle. Granted, it was insane freestyle – as we saw when Chowder slipped and met his end while Bodhi and his crew did Life of Ice.
You can probably conclude you need a snowboard for this sport. You’ll also need snowboard boots and bindings. The latter attach your boots to the board and assist with weight distribution. The better they are matched to your board and style, the more fun you’ll have.
You’ll also want to dress for the hill. That means goggles, mid-weight gloves with liners and a (preferably) merino inner thermal base layer (for warmth). And don’t forget your outerwear – that’s a waterproof jack and pants combination.
So, the Cliff’s Notes version of snowboarding gear you’ll need:
A Non-Cotton Thermal Base Layer
A Water-Proof Jacket and Pants
Oh yeah – and unless you’ve got your own helicopter, you’ll probably want a lift pass.
Read this article at White Lines for more information about how to choose the best snowboarding gear. Note you can usually rent a board, bindings and boots at your local ski hill. You’ll have to get the rest on your own.
When You’re Starting Out…
Snowboarding has risks like all extreme sports. While it’s probably not wingsuit-dangerous, you’ll take a few spills here. Many of those fails will be upper body – especially wrist fractures. You’re also two-to-six times more likely to have a head injury with snowboarding than you would while skiing.
For that reason, you may want to have several years’ skiing experience before giving that gnarly snowboard the old college try.
If you’ve cleared that hurdle, and/or understand the risks of snowboarding, think about these tips that could make your learning curve a little less bumpy:
Wear Protective Gear – Wrist guards and lacrosse shorts can be a noob’s best friend. They’re both cheap, and you can get them at most sporting goods stores. If/When you fall, the former give your wrists support. The latter protect your hips, crotch, thighs and tailbone. They both blend easily under your outer gear and won’t hurt your mobility.
Diagram of a snowboard. Photo Source: Wikipedia.com
Go Easy – I get it – it’s tempting to embrace the whole ‘sink or swim’ mindset and hit the slopes no matter what the conditions. Don’t do that. Wait for fresh snow because it’s both safer and easier than snowboarding on ice. If that means waiting until afternoon to start your lessons, or even another day, so be it.
Follow the Powder – As a snowboarder (and skier), ice is bad and snow is good. Powder is even better – it’s magic, with weightless turns and accentuated movements that make learning this sometimes daunting sport a lot more fun.
Look Where You Want to Go – You’ve heard this before, right? It’s a common mantra in motocross and motivational speaking. Well, it applies to snowboarding too. Set your sight on something and a funny thing happens: your shoulders will turn and your feet will shift. Hop on your board and try it. Turn your head 90 degrees to the left. Now spin it 180 degrees and look the other way.
Practice In Your Home – I doubt you’ve got a ski slope in your home unless you’re the Sultan of Brunei. Still, it can’t hurt to practice the former point in front of your afternoon Gilligan’s Island reruns. Get out your board, bindings, boots – everything. Now put them on and get a feel for how they interact. Bonus points: do it outside. You’re such a rebel!
Look For Banks and Walls – We’ve already talked about Half-Pipe. No, I’m not suggesting you go full-on hot dog as you’re starting out, but I am suggesting you start turning when you see them. Banks and walls are a great place to practice your weight shifts, balance, and slowly climb the wall of awesomeness.
Stay Warm & Look Cool! – It’s easy to get cold while snowboarding (or skiing for that matter). Be sure to pay a little more for a good non-cotton base layer and ventilated parka with hood. Why non-cotton? Cotton soaks your sweat, which can make you colder than a polar bear’s lunch on a frigid morning in February
We just talked about ‘Look Where You Want to Go’ It’s good to aim high in life, and snowboarding qualifies nicely for that process. These are some of the most resourceful snowboarding forums, for tips, camaraderie, and goals to set as you climb the wall of snowboarding awesomeness.
Wait, I already used that analogy. Bear with me dude, it’s too late to think.
A snowboarder gets air time. Photo Source: Creative Commons, Wikipedia, http://www.dmitrimarkine.com/
Snowboarding Forum – Now THERE’S a creative name! Kidding aside, the accurately named snowboarding forum is exactly that – it’s the leading snowboarding forum on the internet. Go here to meet other stoked dudes (and presumably a few dudettes), for gear reviews, trip reports, heck, even snowboarding playlists.
This is where you check in on your journey to stardom.
GoneBoarding.Co.UK/Forum – If you’re across the pond in the UK (or mainland Europe), here’s your spot. You’ll get Euro-specific advice on snowboarding here, with gear reviews. reports and all that fun stuff.
10 Snowboarders to Watch
Got a phone? Get on Instagram – these are some of the best snowboarders on the planet at the moment. Each has a large social media following and you can live vicariously through their sick tricks and half-pipes…
@Torah Bright – Aussies are good surfers, but Down Under has its share of good snowboarders to go with them. Case in point, Torah Bright, who’s a stud on a snowboard and pretty cool chick when she’s not on the slopes.
@Stale Sandbech – He’s got an Olympic medal and bragging rights among boarders at the X Games. Some wicked shots too – his brother is a pro photographer. Sandbech is less about selfies and more about shredding.
@Torstein Horgmo – It’s no coincidence that Scandinavians are some of the best snowboarders out there. Torsten Horgmo is one of them. Plus, he’s got a puppy.
@Hannah Teter – Every list needs a little eye candy. Hannah Teter fills that role nicely. Of course, she’s also got two Olympic medals to go with it, so she can more than hold her own among the best snowboarders on the planet.
@Silje Norendal – Another blond! Another European! Shocker, but here’s why Silje Norendal is on this list – she’s also got two back-to-back X Games women’s slopestyle golds. And, of course, a little glamour to go with it.
@Sage Kotsenburg – Olympic gold, dude. Need I say more? Sage Kotsenburg is one of the more intense shredders on the planet.
@Travis Rice – Travis Rice played a starring role in Red Bull’s action sports documentary, ‘Inside The Fourth Phase‘. He’s also known to interact with his growing number of followers on social media, and put their shots right up there with his own adventures. Nice guy.
@Jamie Anderson – She’s the most decorated female snowboarder in history, with an Olympic Gold to cap her resume. You may also have seen Jamie Anderson on The Celebrity Apprentice. Like rad snowboarding? Follow Jamie Anderson.
@Shaun White – Hot dang this dude has some awesome shots. Granted, they’re done in part to promote his fashion line at Macy’s, but, WOW.
@Mark McMorris – The King of Snowboarding – at least on Instagram – Mark McMorris is the most-followed athlete on this list. That’s in part for his Olympic success and commercial ventures, like a Wal-Mart clothing line and video game to go with it. The fact that he’s got more snowboarding medals than, well, pretty much anyone, gives him that right.
In the Movies
Snowboarding has largely gone unnoticed in feature films. Granted, we saw some awesome shit in Point Break and xXx (Vin Diesel) some 15 years earlier, but most snowboarding films will be documentaries known primarily to folks in the community. Still, they’re worth a boo if you’ve got snowboarding on your radar.
G.N.A.R. (2011) – Gaffney’s Numerical Assessment of Radness. That’s G.N.A.R. – a skiing/snowboarding game concocted by Canadian snowboarder (and poly extreme athlete) Shane McConkey before his end in 2009. His friends made the film in his honour, with awesome tricks and sometimes-silly tasks like snowboarding naked and calling Mum while navigating steep pistes. The reward? A cool $25,000 – and a legendary snowboarding film for kicks and giggles.
The Crash Reel (2013) about snowboarder Kevin Pearce.
The Crash Reel (2013) – American snowboarder Kevin Pearce knows a thing or two about the dark side of this competitive sport. The Crash Reel documents his rise and fall (literally – as in a head injury that almost killed him), and why his love for snowboarding keeps pushing him forward.
Point Break (2015) – You’re forewarned. The Point Break remake will be on pretty much every extreme sports film list ever written. Well, at least on this blog, because the snowboarding scene is arguably the best ever in a Hollywood feature film. #LifeOfIce.
Snowboarding/Winter Sports Tours
Finally, remember that snowboarding is not a spectator sport. At least, not if you’ve assessed your risk tolerance, you’ve hit the slopes previously and, darn it, you’re bit by the snowboarding bug. Consider these two organized ski and snowboarding tours if that’s you. Note these are affiliate links, and I’ll get a small commission if you book them, but if you’re serious about snowboarding, this is where the journey begins.
Ski, Snowboard – Beginners & Improvers Trip – An 8 day ski and snowboarding trip in a small group across Switzerland. If you’re starting out, or want to improve, this is a lot of fun.
11 Day British Columbia Ski/Snowboard Safari – This is 11 days of ski/snowboarding in the Canadian Rockies intermixed with hot tubs and, well, OK, a little partying to go with it. You’re an athlete, not a monk. Bonus: you’ll snowboard at Red Mountain Resort – the crowdfunding ski resort in beautiful British Columbia.