Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Switchfoot: Life as a Skier AND Snowboarder

For Vermont Ski and Ride

So let’s take the name of this publication literally.

Ski and ride.

A nice enough idea. But hardly a reality for most people who spend large parts of their winters at what used to be called ski areas and are now, thanks to the shredheads among us, known as “mountain resorts.”

Except at one particular Vermont ski area, where I’d ride it if I could.

Even a couple decades after Jake Burton Carpenter and others began to experiment, it’s either ski or ride. Skiers and snowboarder coexist on chairlifts and we share the slopes. We make nice.

But let’s face it. For the most part -- except when Mom and Dad are on skis and the kids are on boards -- we skiers and boarders go our separate ways.

Skiers wonder why you’d want to face sideways and strap both feet to an ungodly-wide piece of fiberglass that doesn’t even have release bindings. They try not to resent how boarders scrape the powder clean in their ignorant incompetence. They dream of the tight skier-made lines through the bumps that you can only find at Mad River Glen, the East’s last holdout against the boarding hordes.

And do you know how a snowboarder says hello?

“Whoa, dude! Sorry!”

On the other side of the divide, boarders just shake their heads at how skiers have no clue of what it’s like to sweep up the walls of a pipe, launch a 180, or carve powder as if you were riding a 15-minute wave. They try not to resent how skiers flash by their blind side and occasionally plow into their boards.

Why choose just one?

For a small band of us, though, it makes all the sense to ski and ride. We’ve discovered that both skiing and snowboarding have a place not only on the mountain, but in our personal experience.

After many years as a skier, I took up snowboarding in the late 1980s. I’d spent a lot of time surfing on the California coast, and boarding seemed like a natural extension -- minus the cold water, the long waits between waves, and the cutthroat competition for surf. (They say there are no friends on powder days, but powder days positively convivial compared to what happens on a big-wave day of surfing.)

Snowboarding was for me more than just a natural extension of surfing. By the late Eighties, skiing had reached something of a dead end, or at least a pause. Especially when it came to equipment. I was ready for a change from the sport that had sustained me since I was 4 years old.

At that time, the best thing ski manufacturers could come up with was sloppy rear-entry boots that still hurt as bad as any other.

Snowboardng was an exciting departure. The gear was radically different, the clothing was outrageous, the attitude was edgy. For a few of us skiers crazy enough to try something new rather than stick with the sport we loved, snowboarding offered a whole new way to experience the mountains we loved. Even if many of remained terrified of t the halfpipe

Whenever a skier asks me if it is hard to learn to board, I tell them the first two days are brutal. Then you suddenly get it.

On Day 2 of learning how to board, my instructor told me we were “just going to bro-out.” I proceeded to spend most of the afternoon falling on my face. This did not contribute to my feelings of brotherly love.

But after those first two days of lessons, I understood why I was out there on the broad beast.

The turns came easily. I was mastering a truly new skill, which I hadn’t done since I learned how to live with my girlfriend.

Even the easy green runs were fun again -- not something to schuss through on the way to the next bump run, but a genuine adventure. Resorts that had been limited to bump runs and a couple cruisers, on skis, suddenly seemed huge and again full of possibilities. Every run was in engaging (and yes, sometimes embarrassing) challenge.
In time even the steeper stuff came into play. I’m still not one to try big moguls on my board, but there’s a real pleasure in negotiating a black-diamond run that’s been groomed for intermediate snowboarders who don’t have a death wish.

Especially if there’s 12 inches of fresh on top of the groomed.

There’s little else on earth that compares to snowboarding in powder. Even powder skis just don’t float the way a board does. You feel invincible, in a total groove, sure that riding the steep and deep is absolutely the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

In time, though, I drifted back to skiing.

I couldn’t keep up with my speed-freak buddies who were on skis. The tougher bump runs were just out of the question on a snowboard. I grew tired of pushing my one-legged way across flats, as skiers went whizzing by.

You Say You Want a Revolution

With enough time on a snowboard, I could have overcome those shortcomings. But sometimes it still feels weird to be turned sideways.

What really brought me back to skiing was the shaped ski.

Like a snowboard, the shaped ski provides a tremendous bounce when it’s set at the right angle at the right time. They’ve got a liveliness and an ability to truly carve turns that was missing the old straight skis. You can bank into the slope with them in a way that had only been possible on a snowboard.

Besides, as I get older I find that physical mastery of a sport is something I prize dearly. I started snowbarding too late to ever have that sense of true mastery on a board. I’ll always be faking it , though the fun will be real. Half-pipes will always be foreign territory to me.

Yet I love being kidded about being “tool old to be a snowboarder.”

And on some days, only a board will do. When the snow is fresh and dry, or when I’m just cruising alone, a snowboard is still the perfect way to savor the mountain.

Gregory Dennis lives in Middlebury. When he’s not skiing, he’s riding a Nitro board with Burton bindings or waiting for it to snow. Email him at GregoryDennis@verizon.net.

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