My First Time: Death lifts, falling leaves, and other snowboarding adventures


(Photo by Christopher Hammock) Photo credit: Christopher Hammock

If you’ve ever seen “Bambi,” you might remember the scene where all the forest creatures congregate to watch him take his first steps. Bambi’s bumbling and awkward attempt at a grand entrance is pretty much how our first time snowboarding went down.

Having a general, and completely rational, aversion to steep cold slopes puts us in the minority of Utah natives, those who do not frequent “the greatest snow on earth.” Not afraid of a challenge, but unsure whether we would actually make it out in one piece, we prepared for our first snowboarding lesson. Luckily for us, it was a perfect winter day in Big Cottonwood Canyon. The temperatures were mild, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we made our way up to Brighton Ski Resort.

Strapping on

Forrest: I felt a bit out of place as I tugged on my snowpants in the parking lot next to some seasoned “snow bros” chugging Redd’s before hitting the slopes. This was mountain culture at its finest. We met our instructor, Kenny Barry, in the rental area, and he helped us gear up amid our awkward jokes about ending up in the hospital. I was given a Burton board as tall as I was, and I immediately began joking that I was going to be sponsored, like Shaun White, by the end of the day. I had to confirm with Kenny that Shaun White was, indeed, a professional snowboarder.

Kamryn: Already on edge as I pulled into the icy parking lot teeming with semi-pro homies ready to shred, my previously Googled “first time snowboarding advice” seemed obsolete — I would have to rely on animal instinct. I slipped into my snowpants and added another layer for good measure before we headed up to the ski school. I was told that snowboard boots are easier to handle than ski boots, but I had an impossible time trying to get the damned things on. Kenny took us over to the counter where I was given what I can only assume was a child-sized board.

Mastering Maneuvers

Forrest: The lesson started off slow, which is always helpful for a first time. We began without the board, just leaning, bending our knees, and jutting out our hips. Once Kenny was satisfied with our form, he taught us how to mount up. It is important that the bindings are tight as it gives you control and stability — a lesson I would learn very well later on.

We learned how to fringe snowboard down a very mild grade that had my heart pumping. For some reason Kenny kept alluding to the lift we would take to the top of the bunny hill when “we mastered the basics.” I glanced over to the hill, and it looked like Everest. I decided to fall a few more times in the hope that Kenny would deem me too amateur for the bunny hill and let me stay on mostly flat ground.

Kamryn: Going downhill, using muscles, having both feet strapped into something I hardly recognize, and being cold all make my list of things I never want to be involved with. But this is exactly where I found myself. Once we mastered the complexities of standing upright, we graduated from one foot strapped in to both.

Forrest went first, and I watched in despair as I saw my bleak future. When I got to the top I realized getting started was hard, stopping was hard, but going was easy. Toe-side and heel-side are easy enough to understand, but somewhere from ear to brain to muscle, I forgot where my toes and heels were and paid for it in pain. Pro-tip: toe means go, heel means stop.





Forrest: Even though I felt like I hadn’t stood up on my snowboard for more than five feet — unlike Kamryn, who looked like a damn natural — Kenny herded us toward the dreaded chairlift.

Kenny: “Have either of you been on a ski lift before?”

Me: “I have. Once.”

Kenny: “Great, Forrest you can go alone then.”

Me: “I take it back.”

I had only been on a ski lift seven years ago when my dad “taught” me how to ski. I wouldn’t exactly count tumbling once down a hill and calling it a day as a solid chairlift experience, but it was too late. Kamryn was hopping on a chair with Kenny, and I ended up on the lift with another newbie snowboarder, still more composed than me. I was just praying I could make it off the chairlift without breaking something.

As predicted, my dismount was far from graceful. I fell down right as my board hit the snow, and I lay crumpled on the ground until Kenny yelled at me to get out of the way. Turns out the chairlift does not stop moving if you fall on your way off.

Kamryn: The chairlift, which until now had been looming in the distance like Mount Doom, suddenly became a reality. All I could think was that we were on a mountain, and people die on mountains. Forrest made the mistake of telling Kenny she had been on a lift before, so she landed a solo spot on the death lift. Whether it was my petite frame or palpable fear, Kenny suggested he and I ride together. Once we got on the lift, I turned around to get one last glance at my beautiful best friend before we both met the same icy end. I had this idea in my head that chairlifts gently lowered you down so you could gracefully slide off at your own pace, but no. They’re not gentle, they don’t lower you, and they wait for no one.

The ‘Falling Leaf’

Forrest: After my near-death chairlift exit, I was ready to redeem myself on the way down the hill; however, the slope now seemed like two Everests, and I just wanted to be at the bottom. Not only was it steep, but it was also teeming with people: A collision seemed inevitable.

I finally got up on my board and tilted down to start a slow and steady descent. I fell on my ass every foot — so much for slow and steady. Chris, our friend capturing video and photo of the exploit, captured it all on camera for posterity. I tumbled so many times that I felt like maybe snow sports were better left to my imagination. My abs were on fire, and I couldn’t seem to stay upright for the life of me. I had no balance.

Halfway down the hill, after watching my brutal struggle, Kenny asked me if my bindings were tight. Oh. My bindings were far from tight, and as a result I was falling all the way down the hill. Once I reevaluated my strap situation, I stood up and instantly felt solid on my feet. I actually managed to make it about 50 ft. before spiraling out for another delightful blow to my tailbone. I was shredding some serious powder.

Kamryn: Time to face the cold harsh realities of the bunny hill. Kenny told us we were going to work on a move called “the falling leaf,” zig-zagging left and right across the hill. I had the falling part down, so I just needed to work on my leaf. Should be easy.

In all honesty, the bunny hill was probably roughly the same size as the slope we just were on polishing our maneuvers, but it somehow seemed impossibly steeper and miles longer. Run one was a wreck. I barely managed to make it to every one of Kenny’s checkpoints. I was wobbling and shrieking and squinting and flailing my arms, but dammit, I made it down. This gave me the shred of confidence I needed to hop back on the chairlift for run two.

Chris suggested I wear his GoPro to show off my skills. What a great idea, I thought. I mean, I was practically Shaun White. Whether it was because of my new found confidence, the pressure of filming, or divine intervention I managed to have a beautiful, uninterrupted run in round two. I made it to the bottom first,and turned to cheer on my friend. Forrest, who is usually the graceful one, was stumbling down the snowy hill towards me. I couldn’t look away. Of course, when I tried to get out of the way, I finally fell, face-first into the snowbank, but that’s just how the universe works.

At the end of any first time, you are bound to be sore, but it is worth it. If you’ve been putting off skiing or snowboarding because you think you can’t do it, you can. If we can make it off the slope in one piece, then anybody can. No matter how painful you think it might be, there is something gratifying about spending a day mastering new skills. If you do not frequent “the greatest snow on earth,” at least try it one of these winter days. Power through, feel the burn, and learn something new — or at least enjoy trying. Sometimes it’s just fun to fall down.

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