With knee pads and wrist guards in place beneath the requisite baggy clothes, I headed out with a snowboard under my arm and apprehension in my heart. I had learned to windsurf last summer. Now my assignment was to use that stance on a board that rides atop the snow, to prove snowboarding is so easy to learn that in no time anyone can rip down a mountain.
The first task for Brian Delaney, my mentor at Colorado's Beaver Creek, was to decide if I was "goofy" or "regular." Some might disagree, but in fact I am regular, meaning that my left foot is forward, leading the board downhill. After learning to skate on flat ground with one foot in the board's bindings and learning how to fall (a skill I mastered in the first hour, face-planting in the snow each time my speed accelerated beyond tortoise pace), I hit the bunny slope.
For a beginner, getting off the lift is daunting because the front foot is strapped to the board while the back foot theoretically rests on the sweet spot between the two bindings. My back foot, though, often wandered off the board, and I'd slide to a stop on my butt instead of on my board. This had advantages: Once seated, it was easy to strap my back foot in.
That accomplished, I learned to traverse the mountain first on my heel-side edge, which burned the quads, then on my toe-side edge, which worked the calves. Switching from one edge to the other through a turn is the key to snowboarding. It is a fine line, much like walking a tightrope. In the course of seven runs and a tumble so nasty that I momentarily forgot my name, I learned to cautiously dance from edge to edge. I was ready for the proverbial prom on the slopes of Aspen.
My dance partner was Brian's brother Kevin, the International Snowboard Federation overall champion. He took me to the mountaintop—no more bunny hills—and refined my technique by stressing bent knees and a relaxed upper body. And there was that speed barrier. It is very easy to go fast on the edge of a snowboard, and I gained so much speed on one run that I accidentally took out a stationary two-planker.
In three days I developed aching muscles but also an appreciation for the feel of the smooth edge of a board flying through a turn as you become parallel to the mountain, followed by a yearning to catch big air. I've ditched my skis forever. Look out below.