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A Snowboard as an Extension of the Self

Instruction
Every time I teach someone who is new to snowboarding, I tell them that as soon as they buckle a foot onto their board and move around on the snow, they’ve done it. They have gained a new part of themself, a new appendage. “You’re snowboarding!” I shout as they nervously glide down the hill. In the last decade, as a snowboard instructor I have been a part of hundreds of people’s first day snowboarding. I have taught little ones who have just learned to walk, folks who are nearing retirement, and everyone in between. Introducing people to a new way to navigate the world is an honor and a privilege. The beautiful thing about snowboarding is that there is no right or wrong way to do it; it is about what is efficient. This is something I explicitly tell each one of my students. Keeping it low-key and celebrating the small accomplishments creates a positive learning environment on and off the snow.  
 
As a child growing up in Central Vermont, I was outside as often as possible. As soon as a few inches of snow stuck on the tree-flanked hill next to my house, I was off with a sled in hand. It did not take long for me to try standing on my sled as I precariously made my way down the hill. Soon after, I discovered a “snurfer.” Picture a snowboard without bindings but with a grippy surface for your feet and a drawstring handle to hold onto. Snurfing came easy to me, given my sledding experience. I tried getting air off jumps but could never figure out how to keep the board under my feet. When I tried spin tricks, the landing would usually involve a face full of snow. Then, one fateful day, my mom came home with a snowboard and boots.  
 
“Honey! A co-worker was getting rid of this. Do you want to try it out?”
 

I did not give it a second thought as I squeezed the boots on, grabbed the board and strapped in at the top of the hill behind my house. The sensation under my feet felt so much smoother and faster than the snurfer!

Snowboard3

I was hooked after the first run and did not stop riding until it got dark.

I share this story because so many of my students ask me, “So, how did you get into snowboarding?” My humble beginnings demonstrate that learning at a ski resort is not the only way to do it. However, there does come a time when the expanse that a ski resort offers can be beneficial for growth. I tell them it can be intimidating to spend a bunch of money, find parking, and brave the cold. On top of that, you also have this foreign piece of equipment strapped to your feet that is consumed by some of the biggest boots you have ever worn. It’s no wonder most people who are new to the sport try it for a few days and never get back into it. The learning curve, like the hill, can be quite steep.

For a lot of adults, it is also hard to be bad at something again. This is why it is important to get some context from your students. Ask them- what have you done before that’s similar to snowboarding? I taught one young man who had never snowboarded before but had been longboarding for years. In two hours, he was carving down steep terrain but could not come to a stop without falling on his face. I have also taught people who hardly move on the board by the time the lesson is finished. I tell timid riders- Sometimes, you just have to send it! Speed and space are your friends. Like most skills, making mistakes on a snowboard is how you learn its limits as well as yours. After the first lesson, seeing an eager and excited student march up the hill to the lift line after a quick hot chocolate break is always awesome!

SnowBoard

I had the distinct privilege of working with these Burlington High Schoolers one winter. Some of these
students could rip on a skateboard, so snowboarding came easily. Others were starting from square
one and brought with them a healthy dose of perseverance.

When I begin a lesson with my students, we first get used to how our boots feel. I ask my students to start in an athletic stance. An athletic stance can mean different things to different people, so this is another one that is fun to watch. I often ask my students if they have ever done martial arts, as those skills can be quite transferable when thinking about balance. Then, we start by rocking back and forth like a rocking chair, using our feet to represent the bottom of the chair- all while keeping that athletic stance. I ask my students: “What does it feel like to lean onto your heels versus your toes?” Most people notice their boots feel softer in the front by their shins and experience more of a stiff feeling against their calves. These feelings, when internalized, can support muscle memory for students early on. My students have gained some of the most fundamental skills they will need to ride down the mountain without even strapping on the snowboard. Then, it is time to strap in!

One of the biggest inhibitors of success on a snowboard is believing that you, as the rider, are not in control of your board. I emphasize to my students that one of the quickest and most efficient ways to control your board is with your feet. That is what is strapped to the board. Of course, there are many other ways to control the board, and it’s fun for students to figure out the nuances of the sport. A rider’s knees, hips, shoulders, and even head can all manipulate what the board does, but only if the feet are part of the process. When in doubt, think from the ground up.

When the going gets rough, new riders tend to position their bodies far away from the board. Being far away from the threat is a natural response if there’s danger. When the rider feels genuinely connected to the snowboard it becomes clear that to manipulate the board in a way of your choosing (and not gravity’s), you need to maintain that centered and athletic stance. Of course, there is a sweet spot that takes time to figure out. Standing too tall on the board or similarly getting so low that you are sitting on the snow may not be “wrong,” but it may make controlling the board more difficult. Similarly, as difficult as it may be, you must lean into it by lowering your center of gravity to start a turn. I urge students to consider that their two feet have independent and complimentary ways of moving despite being attached to the same snowboard. In other words, the front foot can engage the board to turn, and the back foot can follow that movement.

It can be difficult for new riders to emphasize their front foot, but if you think about it, it is the foot going down the hill first. This can be an especially tough adjustment for surfers who tend to ride with more weight on their back foot. For many, it becomes a shift in a habit they have already formed rather than creating a new one. This too, can be a difficult mental and physical hurdle to overcome. It is important to recall the sensations your feet feel as they engage different areas of the boot.

Once my students get the basics of snowboarding, I think about what more I can offer to continue their learning. Whatever it may be, if I am teaching my students a new skill, it is important to keep the terrain familiar. Similarly, if I am introducing my students to new terrain, we will practice familiar skills. I consider this an important framework for pacing my lessons as an educator. Despite being an employee of a ski resort, I tell my students to find a snow-covered golf course or park to practice their skills, especially if the resort vibe is too stressful. If they ever need a new challenge, I tell them to try learning to ride with their back foot as their new front foot (riding “switch”). It is not an entirely new skill but a new way of thinking about snowboarding. Finally, it is important to incorporate the practice of interleaving when learning to snowboard. In other words, focus on one skill briefly and then switch to a different complimentary skill. Then, revisit that skill that you started with after a break. It’s more fun this way, too.

So much of what I do as a snowboard instructor carries over to other realms of my facilitation skills. Efficient ways to learn that promote further growth apply to being a student of any subject. When considering a new lesson to engage in with students, I consider what they are already familiar with. If we take our class to a new learning environment, can students use familiar skills? Which learning environments will be most conducive to my student’s learning? A classroom? A larger space like a snow-covered golf course?

Teaching snowboarding incites a sense of touch that I bring into other sensory experiences for students. What does rolling the spruce needle between your fingers feel like? The inherent elements of challenge and joy involved in freestyle sports encourage me to incorporate these same elements in other realms of my teaching and facilitation. Where can my students and I “send it?” and learn along the way?

Being a snowboard instructor has shown me that if I can teach something, I can better understand how to do it myself. If I can walk through the steps with a student on how to do a 180 or ride switch, I have a much better understanding of how to do that on my own board. In this regard, as I think about what I want to teach in the future, it must be something that I can internalize, and it must be something that I enjoy. Otherwise, I will not be invested in my work or in my students in a way they deserve.

It doesn’t get much more intimate than strapping a plank onto your feet and leaning into the hill of discomfort. Wherever you go, the snowboard goes with you. It will not fall out from under you, or dribble away. It is truly an extension of the self. And when the rider sees the board in this way, snowboarding becomes much more than a sport or a hobby. The snowboard becomes an extension of the self.

 

Every time I teach someone who is new to snowboarding, I tell them that as soon as they buckle a foot onto their board and move around on the snow, they’ve done it. They have gained a new part of themself, a new appendage. “You’re snowboarding!” I shout as they nervously glide down the hill. In the last decade, as a snowboard instructor I have been a part of hundreds of people’s first day snowboarding. I have taught little ones who have just learned to walk, folks who are nearing retirement, and everyone in between. Introducing people to a new way to navigate the world is an honor and a privilege. The beautiful thing about snowboarding is that there is no right or wrong way to do it; it is about what is efficient. This is something I explicitly tell each one of my students. Keeping it low-key and celebrating the small accomplishments creates a positive learning environment on and off the snow.  
 
As a child growing up in Central Vermont, I was outside as often as possible. As soon as a few inches of snow stuck on the tree-flanked hill next to my house, I was off with a sled in hand. It did not take long for me to try standing on my sled as I precariously made my way down the hill. Soon after, I discovered a “snurfer.” Picture a snowboard without bindings but with a grippy surface for your feet and a drawstring handle to hold onto. Snurfing came easy to me, given my sledding experience. I tried getting air off jumps but could never figure out how to keep the board under my feet. When I tried spin tricks, the landing would usually involve a face full of snow. Then, one fateful day, my mom came home with a snowboard and boots.  
 
“Honey! A co-worker was getting rid of this. Do you want to try it out?”
 

I did not give it a second thought as I squeezed the boots on, grabbed the board and strapped in at the top of the hill behind my house. The sensation under my feet felt so much smoother and faster than the snurfer!

Snowboard3

I was hooked after the first run and did not stop riding until it got dark.

I share this story because so many of my students ask me, “So, how did you get into snowboarding?” My humble beginnings demonstrate that learning at a ski resort is not the only way to do it. However, there does come a time when the expanse that a ski resort offers can be beneficial for growth. I tell them it can be intimidating to spend a bunch of money, find parking, and brave the cold. On top of that, you also have this foreign piece of equipment strapped to your feet that is consumed by some of the biggest boots you have ever worn. It’s no wonder most people who are new to the sport try it for a few days and never get back into it. The learning curve, like the hill, can be quite steep.

For a lot of adults, it is also hard to be bad at something again. This is why it is important to get some context from your students. Ask them- what have you done before that’s similar to snowboarding? I taught one young man who had never snowboarded before but had been longboarding for years. In two hours, he was carving down steep terrain but could not come to a stop without falling on his face. I have also taught people who hardly move on the board by the time the lesson is finished. I tell timid riders- Sometimes, you just have to send it! Speed and space are your friends. Like most skills, making mistakes on a snowboard is how you learn its limits as well as yours. After the first lesson, seeing an eager and excited student march up the hill to the lift line after a quick hot chocolate break is always awesome!

SnowBoard

I had the distinct privilege of working with these Burlington High Schoolers one winter. Some of these
students could rip on a skateboard, so snowboarding came easily. Others were starting from square
one and brought with them a healthy dose of perseverance.

When I begin a lesson with my students, we first get used to how our boots feel. I ask my students to start in an athletic stance. An athletic stance can mean different things to different people, so this is another one that is fun to watch. I often ask my students if they have ever done martial arts, as those skills can be quite transferable when thinking about balance. Then, we start by rocking back and forth like a rocking chair, using our feet to represent the bottom of the chair- all while keeping that athletic stance. I ask my students: “What does it feel like to lean onto your heels versus your toes?” Most people notice their boots feel softer in the front by their shins and experience more of a stiff feeling against their calves. These feelings, when internalized, can support muscle memory for students early on. My students have gained some of the most fundamental skills they will need to ride down the mountain without even strapping on the snowboard. Then, it is time to strap in!

One of the biggest inhibitors of success on a snowboard is believing that you, as the rider, are not in control of your board. I emphasize to my students that one of the quickest and most efficient ways to control your board is with your feet. That is what is strapped to the board. Of course, there are many other ways to control the board, and it’s fun for students to figure out the nuances of the sport. A rider’s knees, hips, shoulders, and even head can all manipulate what the board does, but only if the feet are part of the process. When in doubt, think from the ground up.

When the going gets rough, new riders tend to position their bodies far away from the board. Being far away from the threat is a natural response if there’s danger. When the rider feels genuinely connected to the snowboard it becomes clear that to manipulate the board in a way of your choosing (and not gravity’s), you need to maintain that centered and athletic stance. Of course, there is a sweet spot that takes time to figure out. Standing too tall on the board or similarly getting so low that you are sitting on the snow may not be “wrong,” but it may make controlling the board more difficult. Similarly, as difficult as it may be, you must lean into it by lowering your center of gravity to start a turn. I urge students to consider that their two feet have independent and complimentary ways of moving despite being attached to the same snowboard. In other words, the front foot can engage the board to turn, and the back foot can follow that movement.

It can be difficult for new riders to emphasize their front foot, but if you think about it, it is the foot going down the hill first. This can be an especially tough adjustment for surfers who tend to ride with more weight on their back foot. For many, it becomes a shift in a habit they have already formed rather than creating a new one. This too, can be a difficult mental and physical hurdle to overcome. It is important to recall the sensations your feet feel as they engage different areas of the boot.

Once my students get the basics of snowboarding, I think about what more I can offer to continue their learning. Whatever it may be, if I am teaching my students a new skill, it is important to keep the terrain familiar. Similarly, if I am introducing my students to new terrain, we will practice familiar skills. I consider this an important framework for pacing my lessons as an educator. Despite being an employee of a ski resort, I tell my students to find a snow-covered golf course or park to practice their skills, especially if the resort vibe is too stressful. If they ever need a new challenge, I tell them to try learning to ride with their back foot as their new front foot (riding “switch”). It is not an entirely new skill but a new way of thinking about snowboarding. Finally, it is important to incorporate the practice of interleaving when learning to snowboard. In other words, focus on one skill briefly and then switch to a different complimentary skill. Then, revisit that skill that you started with after a break. It’s more fun this way, too.

So much of what I do as a snowboard instructor carries over to other realms of my facilitation skills. Efficient ways to learn that promote further growth apply to being a student of any subject. When considering a new lesson to engage in with students, I consider what they are already familiar with. If we take our class to a new learning environment, can students use familiar skills? Which learning environments will be most conducive to my student’s learning? A classroom? A larger space like a snow-covered golf course?

Teaching snowboarding incites a sense of touch that I bring into other sensory experiences for students. What does rolling the spruce needle between your fingers feel like? The inherent elements of challenge and joy involved in freestyle sports encourage me to incorporate these same elements in other realms of my teaching and facilitation. Where can my students and I “send it?” and learn along the way?

Being a snowboard instructor has shown me that if I can teach something, I can better understand how to do it myself. If I can walk through the steps with a student on how to do a 180 or ride switch, I have a much better understanding of how to do that on my own board. In this regard, as I think about what I want to teach in the future, it must be something that I can internalize, and it must be something that I enjoy. Otherwise, I will not be invested in my work or in my students in a way they deserve.

It doesn’t get much more intimate than strapping a plank onto your feet and leaning into the hill of discomfort. Wherever you go, the snowboard goes with you. It will not fall out from under you, or dribble away. It is truly an extension of the self. And when the rider sees the board in this way, snowboarding becomes much more than a sport or a hobby. The snowboard becomes an extension of the self.

 

About the Author
Dylan Hancock

Dylan Hancock is a current graduate student in the Islandwood Education for Environment and Community Program at the University of Washington. He has been teaching snowboarding for a decade at Stowe Mountain Resort and Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont. Snowboard instruction has given Dylan time to hone his instructional skills when working with any age group and in any setting. When there is no snow on the ground, Dylan finds other ways to slide boards across paved surfaces and water.