The first, and absolute most important thing to learn when it’s your first time snowboarding is how to stop! It’s quite important to know how to stop before you go.
You will see many beginners picking up a lot of speed, panicking they can’t control their speed or slow down when needed. The only solution to this, while gaining speed hurtling ever closer to the group of ski school kids, is to fall over.
If you have enough speed and the hill is steep enough however, you will continue traveling, possibly still taking out the cluster of 5 year olds. So before you get to this stage, be sure to find out how to stop!
To learn how to stop you will need to understand how to use your edges as brakes, the positions you should stand on your board to engage these “brakes” and how to increase or decrease pressure on the edge to speed up or slow down.
It is good to have an understanding of this before strapping in, however this will be learnt out on the slopes. Before we get to that stage what are some other key things to learn?
Proper Snowboard Equipment is Important
Like all sports your equipment is very important. The difference with most sports and snowboarding, is if you get your equipment a little wrong, in tennis or running for example, it might make you a little slower or a little less comfortable.
It will most likely hinder your performance a little, but not endanger you. However with snowboarding, out in the mountains, at altitude, battling the elements, the wrong equipment can make or break your day.
As a beginner you’re most likely not going to be out in extreme conditions at the top of a blizzardy peak, but remember the nursery slope next to the caffe within the resort is still outdoors on top of a mountain, generally. Be sure to have the correct clothing, as a beginner you will spend a lot of time on the snow.
Sitting down to strap in, pushing yourself up and likely taking the occasional tumble, if you don’t have proper water proofs your equipment is going to get wet and cold very quickly.
If you are new to snowboarding, probably best not to dive in, buying all the latest and greatest equipment. I would instead, advise renting your board and boots for a couple of sessions, while you figure out if this is the sport for you.
Borrowing a friend’s equipment can also be a good introduction to your snowboarding, however this could also hinder you. If your friend’s snowboard is a relic from the 90’s, along with their old snowboard boots that they retired many moons ago, then this is going to make your introduction to snowboarding a lot more challenging and most likely less fun. Good equipment will massively help you figure out the basics, and progress past beginner.
Unlike skiing, once you’re strapped in you lose your mobility. As both feet are strapped into one plank of wood, if you don’t have a hill to slide down, moving around can be very difficult.
When moving around flat terrain, we keep our front foot strapped in, and use our back foot to skate around. This technique will be used a lot more than you think. Have a look online before heading out, it’s best to understand what you’re going to be doing before getting onto the snow and seeing it for the first time.
If you are a skateboarder this should come with ease as it is much the same as skateboarding. If you are not a skateboarder, the one tip I can give is to keep your back foot behind your snowboard when pushing. For some reason most people will push with their back foot in front of the snowboard, this is a lot more awkward. Snowboard Addiction has a nice tutorial about how to skate on a snowboard.
How to take the lift
The dreaded lift! We have two types of lifts in ski resorts, most larger resorts will have chairlifts. These are relatively simple to use, you will need to have your back foot out and skate through to the lift. When the chair comes around to you, sit down.
Quite simple, when you get to the top there will be a download ramp. For this, you stand up – gently stand on your board and glide down with one foot strapped in. Relatively simple, but can be a little tricky when you are new.
The drag lift! This can be a little tricky for beginners. When learning, the beginner slope will normally have a drag lift, so you will most likely have to learn this before progressing onto the chairlift. This is a relatively simple thing to learn, however some people will really, really, struggle with this. The lift will extend as you grab it.
So to take the lift – you grab it, put it between your legs and the line the lift is on will extend. Once fully extended, the lift will start to drag you up. So in theory all you have to do is stand there, your front foot strapped in, back foot resting against the binding and allow the lift to slowly pull you up.
DO NOT SIT DOWN. If we teach a group of say 6 snowboarders how to get the lift, and we tell them repeatedly “do not sit down on this”. At least 1 will sit down. Stand up and allow the lift to slowly pull you.
Like all snowboarding you are going to fall down in the process of learning, don’t be discouraged if you struggle with the lift. Most instructors will often leave the lift until the second lesson, it is not crucial in the very early stages. Walk up, get as many laps in as possible, have fun.
This is hugely important, and from what is regularly seen on the slopes, it seems to be often ignored. If you are in a new environment it is good to have an understanding of the rules and what’s expected. Here are some basic things to keep in mind while out on the slopes.
Always stop in a safe place
Always stop to the side of the slope out of the way. Remember you will not be the only beginner out there, if you are stopped in the middle of the slope it is quite likely someone will crash into you. Never stop under the brow of a hill where you can’t be seen.
The downhill rider always has right of way
If you are slowly trundling down the slope in your own little world and no one is in front of you, you have the right of way. You can carry on taking up the whole slope, doing your thing. However if you are starting to pick up speed and see a beginner slowly doing big long turns in front of you, they have the right of way.
They can not see up the hill behind them, so this means they can not see you. Once you are uphill from other skiers and snowboarders the rider down hill has right of way, it is your responsibility to manoeuvre safely around them if you want to pass them.
General mountain etiquette
It will always be best to go with a more experienced snowboarder, someone that can show you the ropes and keep you right. There will be many little things you are unsure of, many small questions that an experienced rider can fill you in with.
You can of course learn these as you go, and most people with common sense will learn these fast. The mountain however is an alien environment for many, therefore it will be a little daunting and intimidating at first.
How to stop On a snowboard
Now we have covered all the basics, back to the most important one. How to stop?? As mentioned earlier we use our edges, and this puts the “breaks” on. If you have skied before this will make some sense. If you are completely new, this will take some time to learn and to understand.
Basically we turn the board across the slope, and we put pressure on our edge causing it to bite into the snow slowing us down. This is called side slipping. As we have two edges there are two different ways to do this:
- Toe side – while balancing on your toe edge, facing up the mountain.
- Heel side, balanced over your heel edge, while facing down the mountain.
Although the principle is the same for both methods, the body positions is completely different. Toe side requires you to be balanced on your toes, and heel side on your heels. To get a feel for this, stand on the balls of your feet putting pressure on your toes. Now try the same with your heels.
You will notice there is a distinct difference between balancing on your toes versus heels. As a beginner this is what you will be focusing on for the majority of your time, learning how to balance and have control in these two positions. To control speed it all comes down to increasing or decreasing pressure on your edges.
As you get more comfortable with this you will be able to ease off of the breaks and start to pick up speed, using this breaking system to slow down and change direction. Once you have control of this you will be able to use this technique to maneuver around the mountain.
I would advise watching some videos online about this before heading out to the slopes, or better yet take a lesson. If you get the fundamentals right at the start, then the rest or your snowboarding will fall into place with ease.
If you learn the fundamentals all wrong, and are just surviving to get down the slope, then it will be very difficult to progress past this. I can not stress enough, spend time learning the basics; the correct way.
If you aren’t so eager on lessons, or don’t have the money, there are many good tutorials online, Snowboard Addictions being a very good one. The way you stand on your snowboard can be quite alien to start with.
If you have an understanding of this before going out, and practice these positions the whole process will come a lot easier and more naturally. Snowboard lessons are worth it, so consider taking a few lessons to get the basics down.
Do your research before going out to the mountains. If you know what you are getting into before arriving, you will be in a much better position to learn. Make sure you have adequate equipment for your session and if possible go with friends or family that have some experience and can help.
Like anything it takes time and repetition to learn snowboarding, don’t be discouraged if it takes you longer to figure things out, than you first thought. Enjoy the process and remember you won’t be a beginner forever.
At 21, I left Scotland to travel but ended up becoming a snowboard instructor instead. For 4-5 years, I worked internationally in many countries. As my passion for park riding grew, I transitioned into building snowboard parks. I’ve gained sponsors for my snowboarding, won rail jams and small competitions, and contributed to building X Games courses. I’ve also been involved in significant park events like The Stomping Grounds project.