Introduction: How to Snowboard for Beginners
Snowboarding is difficult. Unless you have a background in skateboarding or surfing it will take hours to avoid falling while on the easiest slopes. Don't worry though, falling is part of the learning process and there's usually a nice cushion of snow. However, It is highly recommended to wear wrist guards while snowboarding, one wrong fall on a patch of ice can lead to injury. By the end of your first day your backside will be soaked through with water and your legs will be sore, but I promise it will be worth it.
Before we begin even looking at the equipment we must determine whether you ride regular (left foot in front) or goofy (right foot in front). This will be helpful knowledge when you go to buy or rent equipment.
Determine Your Stance
The easiest way to learn your style is to think back to when you have kicked something. If you feel more comfortable kicking with your right foot you are right leg dominant and most likely ride regular. The same goes for the left leg, if you kick with your left leg you probably ride goofy.
While this is a good starting point, if you think you are more comfortable facing the other way do not hesitate to re-angle your bindings and try it.
Step 1: Learn the Equipment
- Aim for a chin height board when it is stood on end. Shorter boards are easier to maneuver, but are also easier to lose control of but a board that is too long is simply too hard to control.
- Boots should be snug, but not uncomfortable. Snowboard boots are more flexible than ski boots as the binding has the job of a ski boot. Some rentals have bars on the bottom of the boot that click into special bindings. These boots should be far more stiff than other snowboard boots.
- Most boots rely on laces, but you may have boots that rely on a pull string or a tightening dial. Pull strings work like many coats, pull the string to tighten it and slide the locking mechanism down to keep it tight. Dial boots are very simple, just push the dial in and twist clockwise to tighten. Pull the dial out to let the boot loosen.
- With boots with an extremely long lace you can sometimes wrap the lace around the boot once before tying the knot so it stays out of the way.
- Bindings are always angled on a snowboard to allow for more comfort and control. There are many different types of bindings so I cannot cover how to angle your specific binding. However in the picture above you can see this binding is angled just below 15°.
- The front binding is usually angled around 15° forwards, this can be adjusted to personal preference.
- The rear binding is usually angled 0° for beginners, but it can be angled from 0° to -12° depending on preference.
- Safety first. Buy or rent a helmet to protect yourself. Even when going slow bad crashes can cause injury.
- Wrist guards
- Many snowboarders have injured wrists from simple falls. It is always best to catch yourself using your arm or elbow when falling, however instinct causes us to try with our hands. In this case wrist injuries are common. Wrist guards help prevent injuries from these falls.
Learn the board
- The bottom of the snowboard, usually black or with some decoration. This is the part that allows you to glide straight down the slope. Try not to hit any rocks or sticks as these will damage the base.
- Also on the bottom of the board, these small metal strips are sharpened to allow you to "grip" the snow. They cut into the snow allowing you to turn and stop while protecting the base. The edges are the most important part of the board because they allow you to stay in control and stay safe.
- The parts of the board that your feet strap into, the backside of the binding allows you to put backwards force from your legs into the board.
- Straps: The part that holds your feet into the binding. These usually utilize an alligator clip. The straps are what allow you to supply forwards force from your legs to the board.
- Stomp Pad
- Not every snowboard has a stomp pad but it is highly recommended, especially for beginners. It goes between the bindings towards the back foot and gives your back foot traction when riding with only one foot strapped in.
Step 2: Put the Front Foot On
If this is your first time putting on a snowboard make sure to find a nice flat area where you can practice before encountering any hills.
Alligator Clip Bindings
- Open the binding. Lift the back panel of the binding up and undo the straps if they are closed.
- To undo alligator clips usually you can just lift the front side up and pull towards the center of the board. Some have a little lever that must be pushed towards the center of the board before pulling the strap apart.
- Place your front foot into the front binding. That is the left foot if you ride regular as in the pictures, or the right foot if you ride goofy. Make certain no straps are under your foot.
- Line up the alligator clips with their correct "tongue" (the ribbed plastic on the outer portion of the binding).
- Put the largest strap on. Slide the tongue into the opening of the alligator clip, if you hear clicking it is properly inserted. Lift the back side of the alligator clip to tighten the strap, tighten it until it is snug, but not uncomfortable.
- Put the toe strap on. Some boards lack a toe strap and instead have a massive single strap but the technique is the same. If your toe strap is flat it goes on top of your toes, if it is curved as in the picture it goes around the toe of your boot. Again, tighten this strap so it is snug, but not uncomfortable.
Click in Bindings
These bindings are far more simple, but are usually only on rental equipment and generally have a poor performance compared to strap in bindings. To put these on make sure the locking mechanism of the binding is clear of snow and clean the bar or other clipping material on the bottom of your boot. Then simply line the two mechanisms up and step onto the board until you hear a click. To take these bindings off there is usually a little lever on the binding that releases the boot.
Step 3: Start With One Foot
Before you start on any sort of slope it is important to learn how to move around with your board attached to one foot. The first picture shows a type of movement called stepping and the remaining photos show sliding.
Stepping is the first time you experiment with the edges of the board. Keep your free foot (the back foot) in front of your board and take a step forwards uphill or on a flat surface, then take a step with your foot attached to the board to lift it and put it back down behind your free foot with enough force to drive the edge of the board into the snow. The board should have enough grip doing this that as long as you are perpendicular to a hill or on a flat surface it will hold your weight without sliding down. Repeat this stepping motion to slowly walk uphill. However if you are not perpendicular to the hill the board will have a tendency to slide.
Sliding is the first way that you feel how the board wants to move. Staring on a nice flat area of snow put your free foot (the back foot) behind the board. Then, keeping your weight on your front foot, push with your back foot to propel yourself forwards. You can take multiple steps this way and cover a good bit of ground. Make sure you are looking where you're going as this helps with balance and allows you to avoid obstacles.
After you feel comfortable pushing yourself around it is time to actually slide. Give yourself one large push and then put your back foot onto the middle of the board. This is why the stomp pad exists, without one your rear foot can slip and cause you to fall.
While sliding like this keep your shoulders over the board, your knees slightly bent, and your eyes in the direction you're going. From this position it is possible to slow and stop yourself using the board, but for now just take your back foot off the board and use it to stop yourself. We will cover one footed stops shortly.
Step 4: Ride the Lift
Now that you are somewhat comfortable moving around with one foot strapped in it is time to get up the hill. Almost every ski resort has a beginner friendly area, the lifts here can be any of these three types:
- The most well known lift
- The chair lift can seem daunting the first time you want to ride it, but I promise it is the most comfortable and fastest lift you will have access to as a beginner snowboarder. Double check that the chair lift you are using leads to a beginner friendly area.
- Getting on
- Before getting in line make sure your front foot is securely strapped into the board and that the back binding is in the down position. If you are riding with other people regular riders want to sit on the right and goofy riders on the left to avoid your boards touching. If you are a very short person you will want to ride with someone tall enough to reach the safety bar after sitting down.
- Approach the entrance to the ski lift, it should be clearly designated, don't hesitate to warn the lift attendants that this is your first time, they want to help you get on the lift and can usually slow the lift to make it easier to sit.
- When you are next in line wait for the incoming chair to pass, then slide forwards to the marked position, where the lift attendants tell you to go, or where you have seen most other riders go.
- Look towards the approaching chair over your right shoulder if you are regular, or left shoulder if you are goofy. If you are sitting as listed in step 1 this will guarantee you can see where the chair ends.
- When the chair gets close enough grab onto the arm rest or back of the chair and sit down. Allow your board to slide on the ground as the chair continues forwards with you on it.
- When you are securely on the chair life PUT THE SAFETY BAR DOWN. This is the most important step. Chair lifts can be tall enough that a fall can cause injury or death.
- As you approach the end of the chair lift you may put the safety bar back up, but not too early as it is dangerous.
- Regular riders will want to grab the back on the chair with their right hand, and goofy riders with their left, rotating your body towards the arm grabbing the chair.
- Once the board touches the snow stand up while putting your back foot on the stomp pad in the middle of the board. Let the chair push against your legs propelling you down the exit ramp of the lift. If you fall here that is fine, just try to get out of the way before the next chair arrives.
- The easiest to use lift
- The carpet lift is safe and easy, its downfalls are its slow speed and the need to stand the entire time. The carpet lift acts much like moving walkways you may have encountered in large high pedestrian traffic buildings like airports, however these are not designed to be walked on.
- Getting on
- Strap your front foot into your board and line yourself up with the moving carpet.
- When it is your turn slide forwards towards the carpet. When the front of your board makes contact you may jerk because the carpet is designed to prevent your board from sliding.
- When your front foot and board are over the carpet move your back foot onto your stomp pad in the middle of the board and let the carpet drag you the rest of the way on.
- Stay standing in this manner all the way up the lift.
- Getting off
- Make sure you are standing with your back foot on the board, the exit to any lift is usually a small downwards ramp.
- Let the carpet push you down this ramp then use the sliding technique discussed earlier to get further away from the exit to allow people behind you off.
- The nightmare of lifts
- J-bar lifts are mostly gone now, but there are still some in beginner areas and terrain parks. They are uncomfortable and tiring to use.
- Getting on
- Strap your front foot into your board and get near the entrance to the lift.
- When the bar in front of you passes move to an area where you can intercept the bar. Some prefer to hold the bar in front of them to let it drag them while sliding on their board, while others will put the bar behind them and allow it to pull them with its force.
- On your first time grab the bar while it passes by and use it to drag you while putting your back foot in the middle of your board. On a snowboard it is much easier to use this method then to put the bar behind you and have it pull you.
- Keep hold of the bar the entire time up the slope. Try your hardest to remain standing and sliding.
- When you get to the exit area simple release the bar and slide away. If you are being dragged by the bar you will have to push it out of the way while pushing yourself off and away from the bar. This is difficult to do and can make the most experienced boarders fall.
Step 5: One Foot Stops Heel-side
Congratulations you made it to the top of the beginner slope!
You should already have your front foot strapped in, if not strap it in. DO NOT put your back foot into the back binding. Until you can stop using just the board with just your front foot it is not safe to have both feet strapped in.
We will begin with what is known as a Heel-side stop. This stop is when you turn the board perpendicular to the slope facing downhill and use the back edge to bring yourself to a stop.
Begin by pushing yourself down the hill and putting your back foot onto the stomp pad. Make sure to keep your knees slightly bent, your shoulders over the board, and your eyes looking up in the direction you're going while sliding. Most of your weight should be carried by your front foot. The front foot is what controls the actions of the board. When sliding under the force of gravity some may become frightened and lean onto their back foot causing a loss of control. When you are going walking speed or faster it is time to begin to stop.
Start by rotating your shoulders so your chest is oriented downhill while keeping your head and eyes looking downhill in front of you. When your shoulders begin to rotate your front foot's toes should start to lift into the air and the board will begin to rotate to match your shoulders. As the board rotates underneath of you gradually lift up your back foot's toes while leaning slightly backwards. With your toes in the air the back edge of the snowboard will dig into the snow. Leaning backwards will allow you to brace yourself against the board, supplying force to it, and bringing yourself to a stop. It feels like you are pushing down on the board while stopping.
A helpful rhyme to remember or teach kids the heel-side stop is:
Toes in the air. Sit in a chair.
The reason why rotating your shoulders and lifting your front toe cases the board to turn is that the board is actually bending like a corkscrew. This bending force brings the back foot around, but make sure to lift your back toes as well and supply force to the board while leaning back to come to a stop.
DO NOT let yourself lean forwards when doing this. If your toes touch the ground while the board is sideways to the hill the front edge will grab the snow like and the board will stop without you, flinging you into the ground face first.
When you first start the board may rotate too much. This is fine, with only one foot strapped in it is hard to prevent this. If you get turned around don't hesitate to fall safely on your backside.
When attempting the heel-side stop you will fall over and over. Don't worry if you are going slow and are in a soft area of snow the risk of injury is low. But it is always good to wear a helmet and wrist guards to avoid any injuries in case of a loss of control, a patch of ice or any unforeseen events.
Once you can stop yourself multiple times in a row, possibly ending on your butt, move on to the next step.
Step 6: One Foot Stops Toe-side
Still only on one foot we will learn the other way to stop, the toe-side stop. This stop leaves you with your back down the hill while using the front edge to stop.
The toe-side stop is the harder of the two stops to learn. This stop can be more scary as well, because you lose sight of what is downhill from you while coming to a stop.
To begin, start sliding down the hill with only your front foot strapped in. Make sure your shoulders are over the board, your knees are slightly bent, and you are looking ahead of you. When you are going walking speed or faster it is time to stop.
Start by twisting your shoulders so your chest is facing uphill, when you rotate your shoulders like this your front foot's heel should come off the ground causing that same corkscrew motion mentioned earlier. This will begin rotating your board perpendicular to the hill with you facing up hill. Lift your back foot's heel while the board is rotating and lean forwards, bending your knees and pushing against the board. This will allow your front edge to dig into the snow and bring you to a stop.
DO NOT lean backwards when doing this stop. This will cause your heels to touch down and your back edge will grab the snow, throwing you onto your backside quite forcefully.
A helpful rhyme to remember or teach kids the toe-side stop is:
Toes in the snow. Knee over toe.
This stop is hard to master with only one foot strapped in. You will over rotate far more often doing a toe-side stop than a heel-side. This is fine, just fall safely to your knees and try again.
After you feel comfortable stopping yourself with the toe-side stop it is time to move on.
Step 7: Two Feet and Stopping
Now you will strap your back foot into your rear binding. It is the same method as described for the front foot, I recommend strapping your rear foot in while sitting on the ground, with your front foot in, and the board's back edge dug into the snow. Do this at the top of the hill because you will no longer have an easy way to move around. Unstrap your back foot every time you reach the bottom of the hill or are going to ride a lift. If for any reason you need to move in a direction that is not downhill unstrap your back foot and use the stepping and sliding techniques discussed earlier.
With two feet strapped into the board the first thing you will notice is you can't easily stand up. The best way to stand with two feet in is to roll onto your stomach, orient yourself perpendicular to the hill with your body uphill of your board, dig the front edge of the board into the snow, push yourself up onto your knees, and then finally push yourself up onto your feet, standing as if you had just completed a toe-side stop.
From here you may have to hop to rotate yourself downhill and to begin moving down a gentle slope. Keep your shoulders over the board, knees slightly bent, and look downhill from you Once you get moving at a walking speed or faster it is time to do the same motions to do a heel-side stop. Rotate your shoulders downhill, lifting your front toe to rotate the board underneath of you. As it is rotating pick up your back toe, lean backwards, and push into the board to come to a stop. You will notice it is easier to control the board now and if you learned how to stop with one foot strapped in you will quickly pick up how to stop with both.
Once you can do the heel-side stop move on to the toe side stop. Repeat the same motions learned earlier. Rotate your shoulders uphill, lifting your front heel. When the board begins to rotate lift your back heel and lean forwards, pushing into the board causing the front edge to dig into the snow. Again you will notice the board is far easier to control and you can resist the board over rotating, however there is still a chance that that this will happen. If you end up riding down the hill the wrong way just fall safely to your knees and flip yourself over to try again.
Step 8: Skidded Turns
Now that you can both heel-side and toe-side stop with two feet in the board it is time to learn how to turn. Turning is rather simple after mastering the stops, because it is the same motion, just not to completion.
Rotate your shoulders in the way you want to turn, lifting your toes or heels, leaning uphill of the board, and pushing into the board. When the edge starts to dig into the snow this is where you supply less force than you are used to when stopping. Allow the board to dig into the snow, but not enough that you stop, and you will start turning in the direction your front foot is pointed. After allowing yourself to move across the hill like this you have completed a turn and can stop before going back down the hill. You can imagine it as a prolonged stop. Practice both heel-side and toe-side turns that lead into stops.
Turning is the way you manage your speed and stay in control when snowboarding down steeper slopes. It allows you to avoid obstacles and explore the mountain. Being able to stop may be the most important skill, but being able to turn becomes the most fun skill.
Step 9: Linked Turns
Now that you can turn both heel-side and toe-side it is time to remove the stops. Get moving a little faster than walking and start with a heel-side turn, as you slow down and cross the hill start to rotate yourself into a toe-side turn. The transition between heel-side and toe-side turns will take longer than starting a turn from going straight but is done with the same motions as the stops and turns. This transition can be tricky to do without allowing yourself to go straight down the hill between turns. Linking your turns allows you to enjoy the sport of snowboarding while keeping your speed in check as you progress to steeper slopes.
Step 10: Summary
Congratulations! You now know the basics of snowboarding. You know how to get around the hill, stop and turn in both directions, and can possibly even link your turns into one graceful art. Even if you are still falling that's perfectly fine, snowboarding is extremely difficult, even professionals fall on beginner slopes from time to time. I hope you had a fun time learning to snowboard and will continue with it in the years to come!