I started skiing back in middle school, about five years before snowboarding was making its way onto most slopes. By the time boarders were finally finding a welcoming seat on the chairlift, I was already heavily invested in skiing in both gear and guts.
I wasn't a great skier, but I was good enough. Fearless youth, a little experience and the need to impress girls can get you down a mountain really fast - dry and pain free most of the time.
But as much as I've enjoyed skiing, back surgery and a series of knee injuries over the past 15 years combined to scare me off the mountain. I no longer had the fearlessness or the need to impress girls, and even my gear (Stormtrooper boots bound to 6-foot-long razors) had lost its edge.
I wasn't scared of the mountain, the snow and ice, or even the speed. I was scared of my knees going two different directions while going down the mountain on the snow and ice at a high rate of speed.
As my son, Eli, has become interested in trying out the slopes over the past year, I've been trying to make my way back up the mountain. The more I considered it, the more convinced I became that my next trip down a ski slope would actually be on a snowboard.
The only problem was that I had no idea how to snowboard.
Most of my old skiing friends still ski. Most people I know who started skiing, kept skiing. They never looked back at boarding. Most people I know who have tried snowboarding after years of skiing were adamant they just wasted a great day on the slopes when they could have been skiing.
Maybe since I was no longer really even a skier, plus the fact that I had this overriding aversion to the idea of skiing again, gave me a different perspective when I first strapped into the bindings of a rental board at Beech Mountain Resort a few weeks ago.
If I was getting back on the slopes, it was going to be on a board, where your feet are secured to the same foundation even if it is a slippery and unstable one. I backed up my theory with some information from my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Todd Bonvallet at Spine Surgery Associates, who is an expert skier in his own right. He clarified that snowboarding puts a lot less stress on the knees by reducing the amount of torque and twisting that is required of your knees and legs while skiing. The bigger risk to snowboarders, Dr. Bonvallet explains, is to wrists while preventing falls.
My knees honestly felt comfortable from the moment I first tightened the bindings. I was fairly uncomfortable with everything else, especially watching 5-year-olds blow by me as I tried repeatedly to find my balance point on the toe and heel edge of the board.
I had never taken a skiing lesson in my life, but I was glad to have one of Beech Mountain's best instructors, Jared Peters, teaching me the basics of balancing and even just moving around with this 5-foot-long, 12-pound board strapped to my foot. I highly recommend newbies taking a lesson because I believe without one you might spend the entire day trying to figure out a few key tips that took me less than an hour to grasp (at least sort of).
While I liked the fact the my legs weren't going to run off in different directions, the mobility on a board is much more limited than on skis where you still have the ability to take normal steps. With the board you mostly keep one foot free while working yourself around with the board trying to trip your free leg over and over. I did find that anytime I needed to get 20 steps or so away, it was easier to just take out both boots, walk regularly, then bind back in.
Another difference from skiing is that your upper body actually does most of the driving on a snowboard. Opening your right shoulder will send you in that direction. Point left, go left. You can ride the toe edge, the heel edge, set your front shoulder straight down the mountain and ride the board fast down the slope like a skateboard, or turn totally perpendicular to the slope and glide down like a snowplow.
Within a few hours I was making my way up the lift and down the slopes with relative ease. I fell plenty of times and I was still getting blown away by children, but I could go where I wanted to, gain speed and slow it down and most importantly stop when I had to.
Each run I felt like I learned a little more. Each run made me more confident and made me want to go again. Each run made me glad I was back doing something I loved, even if I was doing it a slightly different way.
I won't be on X Games, but I will be back on the slopes - going kind of slow on a snowboard.
Learn more about North Carolina skiing & snowboarding opportunities at:beechmountainresort.com