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Fast. Free. In flight. Full of life. These are all the things that snowboarding makes me feel.

However, it wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time I was a beginner and a bad one too. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t turn. I couldn’t go faster than a shopping trolley with a broken wheel being pushed by an eighty year old woman in the snow. And at first, for a long, long time I couldn’t enjoy this stupid sport that I’d decided to take up.

With hindsight the fact that I persevered for so long should give you a clue as to what personal quality you need most when it comes to learning to snowboard. Not endurance, no stamina, not good balance, but stubbornness. You need to be very stubborn.

Here’s what else you need to help you get started snowboarding.

Equipment

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Snowboarding is not a cheap sport although it requires slightly less gear than skiing (no poles and only one plank!) and is not as expensive (or as risky, I’d say) as many “extreme sports”. Aside from clothing (see below) you only need snowboarding boots, bindings and a snowboard. And a helmet. Always wear a helmet.

When you first try snowboarding I recommend hiring all of this gear as buying even a basic pair of snowboarding boots will set you back at least €150 which is a lot of money for something you do for one day and never again. Also hired gear is more “worn in” meaning the boots will be more comfortable, the board will be well-maintained and not too sharp on the edges (sharper edges make you go faster!), and the bindings should be fairly indestructible.

I bought my first snowboard, boots and bindings after three weeks of persevering with the sport, and I bought all three in an end of season package that was shockingly low-priced. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a decent kit. Only now, ten years in to my love of the sport, am I actually considering investing in a top range snowboard and boots because I’m finally at a stage where my current board is forcing me to go slower than I’d like.

Clothing

Depending on what time of year you’re going snowboarding and where, you will need decent, warm and waterproof clothing. The following lists should help you get all the essentials and a few extras for warm or cold weather.

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All-Season Essentials

Of course there are ever-changing snowboard fashions but I can’t keep up with them and I recommend you don’t bother either as this sport is about much more than looking good, although skiers may disagree! Instead go for function over fashion and these are the essential items you need.

Trousers

You’re going to be spending a lot of time sitting (and falling!) on your bum as a beginner snowboarder. Therefore don’t go cheap on a decent pair of waterproof, snowsports-friendly salopettes. Man I love that word; salopettes, salopettes, salopettes!

Jacket

Again, make sure it’s warm and waterproof – because snow is unsurprisingly wet and cold! – with pockets where you need them (you need at least one pocket in the arm for your ski pass) and make sure it’s large enough to go over several layers if needed. I would also recommend a jacket that has some “wind-proofing” and maybe ventilation zips so if you do get an unexpectedly warm day you have options to alter your temperature if needed.

Socks

Do get proper snowboarding or skiing socks and definitely opt for the ones made from wool. While they may be more expensive than synthetic socks, they are much better at keeping your toes warm, they won’t get wet as quickly and they don’t hold onto bad smells as much.

Try to avoid wearing another pair of socks under your snowboarding socks as this could mean your boots are on too tight, and they can actually make your feet feel colder not warmer. Every year I suffer from too-tight boots (more my own fault than the socks) and I lose a toenail as a result.

Gloves

Again, do go for snowsports gloves as opposed to a cheaper alternative. Good gloves can really make the difference between a good and a bad day as they will keep your hands dry, warm and protected. You will be picking up and carrying your board a lot and the edges can be sharp which would cut into a “normal” cold weather glove. Some people like mittens but I personally prefer fingers and to have a drawstring at the end of the glove so I can tuck my jacket inside them and stop a gap appearing that will let cold air in.

Helmet

Yes, I’m repeating myself, but this cannot be ignored. Get a helmet, a good one. It could save your life.

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Goggles

They protect your eyes from snow, wind and cold and will actually help you see the slope better depending on the weather conditions. To begin with, get a decent pair of multi-purpose goggles which will see you right in most weather types and when you’re a bit more advanced consider getting a pair with interchangeable lenses.

Personally, I always snowboard with goggles as I just feel they offer better vision and more protection but many people go for sunglasses, especially when the weather improves. It’s up to you, but needless to say having actual glass that close to your eyes is another risk you may not want to take.

Tissues

Not exactly clothing, but if you’re anything like me your nose will run as soon as you’re out in the wind and cold. Be ready for it!

SPF lip balm

Your lips will take a serious beating up on the top of a mountain so pucker up and protect them from the cold, wind and bright sun.  I recommend maybe getting one of these to attach inside a pocket of your jacket or trousers so you don’t lose it too!

Big, comfortable  underwear

Unlike skiers, snowboarders get wet bums quickly, especially as a beginner when you’re sitting down a lot. Do yourself a favour and get big, warm knickers. I’ve long heard that silk knickers and thermals are good at keeping your rear dry and warm but to be frank, no matter what I wear, I always get a little damp on my posterior; it’s just part of snowboarding. Either way, you definitely don’t want to be trying to sort out a wedgie from too-small panties through two layers of salopettes and thermals all the while wearing thick snowboarding gloves. Talk about mission impossible!

Cold Weather

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Early season skiing (December – early February in Europe/North America) is much colder than late season skiing (duh!) and of course resorts in the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere (Canada, Nordic Countries) will be cooler than those in the more southern half (e.g. the European Alps). The coldest I’ve ever snowboarded in was -25 Celsius in Finnish Lapland in January and the warmest has been a balmy +11 Celsius in Austria in early April.

Cold weather clothing essentials should include:

Thermals for your top and bottom. Again wool-based thermals will keep you warmest, driest and nicest smelling!

Additional layers – I normally wear another long-sleeved top and have a fleece on in coldest weather snowboarding

Face protection – As soon as the temperature drops below freezing you’ll need something to offer your face a bit more protection. In the past I have used a Buff and also a neoprene wind resistant mouth and nose cover, both of which I lodge in place under my helmet.

Hat – When it’s cold and you’re having lunch or taking a break from snowboarding, as soon as you take your helmet off you start to lose heat from your head. Stop that by popping a woolly hat on your head.

Bag – I have pretty much always snowboarded with a backpack on as I like to have the option to remove and put on layers during the day. I also carry a camera, snacks and water around with me. Some people hate snowboarding with a bag, but I’m now used to it and it does make my life a lot easier.

Warm Weather

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Leave the layers at home and maybe just wear your thermals on top, or just go for a long-sleeved sports top (you do sweat when snowboarding!). Then just wear your jacket over them. Depending on how warm you get you may want to leave bottom thermals off completely. While you’ll see lots of people boarding without a jacket, it’s my best advice that as a beginner you keep the jacket on so as to keep you and your clothes dry and avoid ” snowburn” on your skin if you have a nasty fall. Yes, snowburn is a thing; I have the scars to prove it.

Sunscreen – There’s a good argument to say you should put sunscreen on your face in cold weather too as you can’t underestimate the sun’s power up on the mountain but definitely be sure to apply it regularly when it’s a sunny day. I would go for a minimum of Factor 30.

Basics

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Of course, the best way to learn is have lessons and most ski schools in a resort will offer competitively priced lessons. I actually didn’t have lessons until I was at an intermediate stage and while it made me realise how many bad habits I’d learned, I also felt quite proud of how much I’d taught myself with the help of many a friend and my brother.

I’m not a professional teacher and I only speak from personal experience but here’s how to get started.

First of all you need to figure out if you’re normal or goofy. This doesn’t relate to your personality type but to which foot you “lead” with on your snowboard. There are a number of ways to test this but my favourite is making somebody do a cartwheel as the foot they put down first is the one they should lead with. Of course, they don’t have to actually do a cartwheel to find this out, but it’s good for comedy value. Unless they’re a professional gymnast in which case, the joke’s on me.

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So, now you know which foot needs to go forward. Next you need to make sure your board is set up for this with the bindings facing the right way. My best advice is to get it set up in the rental shop you’re hiring the gear from, or alternatively read this article which goes into a lot more depth. While the first few times you strap into your bindings it will feel strange, you will get used to it. If not then go back to the rental shop and ask them to adjust it.

The first thing you should know about snowboarding is it’s all about your edges (or sides). Both turning and stopping come from pushing the snow away with one of your edges. Your board has two edges; the heel edge (which is behind you where your heel is) and the toe edge (which is at the front of your board). Depending on where you’re at on the mountain you will stop by pushing down on either of these edges. You should learn how to use these edges very quickly as this is how you stop! This video is great and showing you how this is done and what the difference between the heel and toe edges are.

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To practise your edges, you may be asked by a teacher to do “falling leaf”. This is where you coast down a not-too-steep slope back and forth, as explained here. Most people prefer to do the falling leaf on their heel edge, but I actually often prefer the toeside falling leaf when I come to a steep or narrow part of a slope where I can’t turn normally. Yes, even experienced snowboarders still have to use falling leaf occasionally.

I would recommend not even trying to turn until you’ve mastered both falling leaf styles and also stopping on both heel and toe edge. The reason for this is once you’re happy with these moves you’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear that this is actually all you need to then turn properly. Turning is essentially the same as stopping, you just don’t “dig in” as much and you’ll find the board will turn without stopping. Of course, this is all easier said than done, and requires a lot of practise, but I hope by highlighting these key movements to focus on you can breakdown the learning process into chunks that aren’t as scary as strapping in and expecting to be able to turn like a pro immediately.

Oh and if I need to say it, but I hope I don’t, don’t even THINK about jumping or doing tricks until you’re comfortable with the basics.

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Tips

I have a number of tips that I hope will help speed up how quickly you learn… or at least stop falling over.

It’s going to hurt.

Snowboarding will give you bruises, and sometimes that can be from the gear alone, but if you ever want to know how nice snowboarding gear is, then put ski boots on for an hour and you’ll soon be crying for your softer snowboard boots. The first time you snowboard (or ski) you’re going to be using muscles you didn’t know you had, so I highly recommend making sure you have ibuprofen on hand during the day so you can keep some of the muscle ache at bay.

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You’re going to fall. Get over it.

Everybody falls. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last. Falling can hurt, yes – and when it hurts too much that’s possibly a sign to stop for the day – but if you get annoyed with yourself for falling you’re going to hate yourself and snowboarding infinitely more than if you get up and try again.

Believe me when I say that when you fall over you’re not hurting or annoying anybody but yourself. Neither does anybody find it embarrassing. However, when you throw a strop because you fell over (something I’m very guilty of!) that’s when you run the risk of  annoying your companions and also embarrassing yourself.

Don’t panic on ski lifts

I still hate coming off some ski lifts as a snowboarder as it really isn’t as easy as it is for skiers. When it comes to chair lifts, my best advice is to get ready early, knock the snow off the top of your board, wait for other people to get off first (if possible) and push your back foot up against the back bindings so it’s sort of wedged in and your feet are a good distance apart, like they are when you’re locked in your bindings. It’s also 100% my experience that if you panic coming off a ski lift, you’ll fall. If I actually tell myself I can do it and I focus on a good place to stop up ahead, then I rarely ever fall.

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As for drag lifts – yuk! – these just take some practise but I’ve definitely found that having my back foot again close to the back bindings and leaning most of my weight back helps on T-bar and drag lifts.

Of course, if you want to avoid drag lifts be sure to get to know the piste map for the resort you’re in well so you don’t get surprised by one! In the inevitable case of a T-bar lift ask an experienced skier to share the ride with you – a skier can give you a lot of stability on the way up.

Bend your knees.

Bending our knees is essential. Watch any decent snowboarder and their knees will be bent. Always.

Push your bum forward.

Unfortunately when I bend my knees I have this habit of sticking my bum out. It’s strange, unattractive and useless for snowboarding. To avoid this I have to remind myself to push my bum “forward” which effectively means slightly keeping my pelvis forward. You feel like you look like you’re coming on to everyone but you’re actually just looking like a pro snowboarder. Ish.

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Drink lots of water.

Skiing and snowboarding has developed something of a reputation for drinking. As in, drinking alcohol, and it’s true that enjoying a few gluehweins on the slopes is one of my favourite things about a day on the snow, however, you can quickly undo any happy feeling this gives you if you’re not properly hydrated.

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Keep a bottle with you that you can refill in bathrooms. Are you wrinkling your nose at me? Well, you’ll soon find out that the water in ski resorts is about as good as tap water gets!

Eat well.

Snowboarding is still a sport and you need lots of energy to get through a full day of boarding, even if you are just a beginner. Remember, you’re also learning something new and our brains need good food too.

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Never eat yellow snow.

I’m sure you can figure this one out…

It’s not just about snowboarding

A snowboarding or skiing holiday is not just about the snowsports although they are a big part of it. They’re also about experiencing a different way of life and getting some serious outdoors time and fresh air. I love snowboarding holidays just as much for the Alpine scenery and charm, the local foods, wines and beers on offer and just the escapism it offers.

To help take the pressure off why not consider going to a festival on the snow. I highly recommend Altitude Comedy Festival, which I went to last year. It combines snowsports during the day and comedy shows at night – a lethally fun combination. Read a full review here.

ENJOY!

Snowboarding is one of my favourite things in the world. And let me remind you how much I struggled to enjoy it when I first started. I’m not saying it’s a sport for everyone, but if you love the mountains, love the snow, and love the idea of how fast and free it feels to propel yourself down a slope, then I think snowboarding might be for you and I hope these tips helped!

If you have any of your own, please leave them in the comments. I’d love to read them!

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This post was written by Frankie Thompson who was a Travelette from 2012 – 2015. Originally from London, UK, Frankie was nomadic for several years before settling in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where she lives with her Australian partner and baby boy. She spends her time buying vintage dresses, riding a rusty old bike around the canals and writing books inspired by her travels. Frankie blogs about travel, writing and motherhood at As the Bird flies blog.

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