SNOWBOARDING Board to be wild

Lately, many Winter sports enthusiasts are abandoning“ t

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two skinny skis in favour of one broad board. Self- confessed two-plank man Robert Alstead finds himself on the slippery slope to white powder addiction.

You see them everywhere. ()r at least pictures of them everywhere. carving great S-shapes through acres of glistening virgin-white powder or making death-defying leaps off rocky clifftops. The media might have been a little slow on the uptake. considering the sport has been around in Britain for more than ten years. but snowboarding has never been more cool. sexy. or hip.

But beyond the glossy images is snowboarding that great? How much is just hype? l was sceptical. l‘ve been skiing virtually since l could walk. so the idea of going back to the drawing board to learn a new winter sport on my limited resources was not a particularly attractive one. What was the point in floundering around on one board most snowboarders i noticed on the slopes when l was skiing floundered

. when you could descend with style and panache on two?

What I didn't realise is that. unlike skiing, with a little instruction you can pick up the skills of snowboarding in a matter of hours. No harm in giving it a go. I thought. See what all the fuss is about.

The Snowboard Academy in Aviemore seemed to be the place to go. They were friendly and obliging, fitting me up with boards and boots when l arrived in Aviemore at the crack of dawn one Sunday. While snowboarders

don‘t like to be linked with skiing. comparisons are inevitable. and the first thing i noticed is that the gear is a lot less awkward. Where skis and poles are a hassle to carry. your board can be slung over one shoulder with a strap. while the soft boots are luxury compared to hard-shelled ski boots. Maybe not such a big deal. but it makes an appreciable difference by the end of a tiring day.

My instructor from the Snowboard Academy looked the part. with a trim beard. rings puncturing various parts of his face and a huge baggy knee-length jacket. like something your mum buys for you to grow into. i was feeling seriously uncool in my tight-fitting ski pants (fashion tip baggy is in).

My instructor Simon. it turned out. is I

one ‘seriously rad' boarder. He once broke his back. almost paralysing himself. while doing ajurnp off a cliff- top for a magazine photograph. His back had to be put together with metal plates. He gets the odd twinge. but says it hasn't slowed him down. Fortunately. there was no chance of that happening to me. My lesson involved running up and floundering about on a gentle lSyd slope. trying to get over the weirdness of being permanently strapped into this board. A mistake commonly made about snowboarding is that it is a spin-off


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Natural high: 'snowboarding has never been more cool. sexy. or hip'

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from skiing a real no-no as far as snowboarders are concerned -— and that if you can ski you’ll automatically be able to snowboard. The reality is that while you still move your weight to steer the board as in skiing. the technique is different. It‘s more akin to surfing than skiing.

Snowboarding also has a lot more radical. youthful attitude. which is good i remember some of my ski lessons being as exciting as learning Latin. but you won’t see snowboarders forming orderly queues on the hillside. You might see them introducing the domino effect to orderly hillside queues. but that’s another story.

Almost as it it was second nature, I carved a series at beautiful arks. It was like being able to fly. Perfect. I broke out laughing.

Simon showed us the basics: sliding. stopping. turning one way. then the

, other. ‘That‘s all there is to it. Once

you've got that you can board.‘ he . assured us. He lied. Getting the knack is a painful process involving lots of falling. The board never goes the way you want it to. especially when you try to force it. A lot of time is spent slapping around on the snow like a delinquent seal.

Your wrists take a real battering with all the falling over. but Simon encouraged me to do it over and over again. until things clicked. You begin to get a feeling for the movement. It’s a kind of rhythm thing. By the end ofthe two-hour session l was getting most of my turns in. and was ready to take off by myself.

Much of the rest of the day was spent ‘eating snow' obviously quite dramatic considering the concerned skiers who stopped to see if I was alright and falling off tow bars and lifts. it is belittling and irritating being told to get off the tow because you are crap. More than once i looked up through a cakeful of snow and enviously spied the two-plunked breed breezing down the slope.

By the end of the day it was difficult

to say what part of me ached most. lt

seemed i had fallen on every part of my body and used every muscle. but there was no time to rest. Aviemore. a place i had always written off as soulless and dull. has a night-life. While it was tempting to stay in the cosy, fully- functional base of the youth hostel. even on Sunday night apres-snowboard is always full-on and not-to-be-missed. On our instructor‘s recommendation. I went down to Chevvy's bar. under the Snowboard Academy, where some of the Academy posse were hanging out. We drank lots. exchanged board bonding stories and genned up on technique with some of the more experienced boarders.

Something must have happened to me overnight because on my second run the next day l suddenly experienced the indescribable sensation of being able to snowboard for the first time. The slope was gentle, the snow fresh and shin- high. Almost as if it was second nature. l carved a series of beautiful arks. it was like being able to fly. Perfect. I broke out laughing.

it was fantastic. until in a rush of blood to the head I tried ajump offa small bump in the piste at speed. and had my first big spill. ldidn’t even get ‘big air'. but it still felt like a sumo wrestler had jumped on my chest.

I packed in as much as I could. but eventually the weather brought things to an abrupt end. By 3pm. the wind had reached 50 mph. the temperature had dropped to —9°C. and the visibility was lousy. The ski patrols politely kicked me off the slopes. Not exactly full value for the £l6 day pass. but i was happy. I could snowboard. Now I have to decide what to do with those two planks of wood in the garage. Information: Scottish Snowboarding Associatitm. 01224 252067. Instruction: Cairnwell Ski School. Glens/tee. 01339 741331. (£8/£15). Freedom Sports. Aberdeen. 01224 212931. (£16 per day).

The Snowboard Academy. Aviemore. 01479 810336. (£15 per day.)

The Snowboard Asylum. Aviemore. 01479 810175. (£12 per day). Equipment Hire: Mach Enterprises. Edinburgh. 229 5887; Glasgow. 334 5559.

See Sports listings for Scottish Snowboarding Championships.

m The List lO-23 Mar I995