Welcoming the Winter season on a snowboard

Getting ready to learn how to snowboard. Photo by Hunter Bryn

Getting ready to learn how to snowboard.
Photo by Hunter Bryn

Fall has ended,  leaves have fallen and winter is officially here in North Carolina. What better way to celebrate the winter season than to go learn a winter sport? With the optimistic idea of celebrating Mother Nature, I decided to challenge snowboarding.

At the beginning of November, the day arrived that I would learn how to keep my feet on a snowboard while gliding down a mountain. At 7 a.m. I woke up imagining myself on a snowboard, and my nerves started kicking in.

Nevertheless, I jumped out of bed to check the Cataloochee website to look for a weather advisory. The first thing I noticed was the temperature that showed 19.7 degrees and fair. Also, the Cataloochee area had snowed overnight and covered the sky cam in white images. This was the second time it snowed this year. The surrounding area around Cataloochee was white with snow but the resort had snow blowing machines on, making more snow on the slopes.

After all this investigation, I decided it was a good idea to make sure I dressed warm enough to even attempt to learn snowboarding. I put on three layers of clothing for upper and lower body, found a hat, two sets of socks and ended up borrowing pants and a jacket that kept me from getting wet when I would fall. I had made arrangements with a proficient snowboarder, Hunter Bryn, to teach me the basics. We met at his house, loaded up all of our gear, stopped for a Latte and donut, and set off on a 30 minute drive to our destination. We arrived at the Cataloochee Ski Area at 9:15 a.m. to find out how empty the place was. The entire place had maybe 50 people.

After a sigh of relief at the emptiness my trainer didn’t waste any time in getting us ready for the slopes. I bought my ski lift pass for $33 and a face mask for $13. The temperature and the fog scared me enough to get rid of my useless scarf and purchase a face mask. It also helped me blend in with the other snowboarders.

Bryn spent about 30 minutes getting me up to speed on snowboarding outside with the blow machines making it difficult to hear anything, shouting directions from afar.

“What you want to do is… foot strapped… and balance,” Bryn yelled. “Move back foot to…”

I nodded my head showing two thumbs up while only picking up on a few words. I am thinking, don’t lose the board and my balance.

After having a few accidents, I figured out what Bryn was trying to say. The idea of getting basic skills to work is to clamp the leading foot to the front of the board and have the back foot moving side to side for breaking. In the beginning, I missed the instructions on breaking. My trainer told me to look where I wanted to go and bend my knees during my ride down the slope. These steps allowed me more control over my board, which is the goal. Having control over the snowboard prevented me from experiencing brutal tumbles and broken bones.

Going through the process of trial and tribulation. Photo by Hunter Bryn

Going through the process of trial and tribulation. Photo by Hunter Bryn

In the beginning, I experienced a lot of falls when I was trying to step, raising my toes too much and I also had a few falls that were also self-inflicted because of the fear in gaining too much speed on an unknown board.

After a couple of hours of talking to myself and Bryn coaching me on the lift rides up, I started to feel more comfortable on how the snowboard worked.

I hopped sideways to get the snowboard moving downward. Slowly it started to go as I watched it accelerate in speed. I looked ahead and couldn’t see clearly, I need to brake! My left foot turned to the side and the board slowed down. It worked! I had control in this fog! I tried again, allowing my board to accelerate and brake. Accelerate, brake! I looked up and saw Bryn standing looking at me coming towards him. With a sigh of relief, I realized I just made it down a mountain without falling.

After we got done “tearing up the slopes” in true snowboarder fashion, I realized how wet everything was inside my clothes. All of my clothes were soaked which I didn’t realize until I started changing. I was warm snowboarding and didn’t feel the wet clothes, but after changing, I got really cold on the drive back home.

The experience of snowboarding was well worth the time it took to learn. One hindrance in my ability of learning how to snowboard were the snow blowing machines. I couldn’t see more than 20 feet around me going down the mountain. The Cataloochee Ski Area had the big machines that mix water and mist and blow out fake snow and the slopes are kept open during the process for people to ski or snowboard, but it makes it difficult to see.

The snow blowing machines were on at the time I was learning how to snowboard. Photo by Alina Voronenko

The snow blowing machines were on at the time I was learning how to snowboard. Photo by Alina Voronenko

Snowmaking relies on Mother Nature just the same as natural snowfall. Temperature and humidity determine if snow will be made. For example, a damp 30 degrees may not be suitable for snowmaking but a dry 34 degrees will allow snow formation.

Regardless of the obstacle, I still managed to get down the mountain twice without falling. My trainer ended up titling me the official snowboarder because I was able to get off the ski lifts without falling. It took me 2 hours to get the hang of snowboarding and another two hours to breath in the 19.7 degree weather as I welcomed the winter season.

North Carolina is known to depend on the kind of winter weather that the North Carolina mountains bring. All the resorts can make their own snow to keep the slopes open but the biggest challenge for any resort is making sure the temperature stays low enough for the snow to stick once it is made. If the temperatures are not low enough the snow will melt and make it dangerous to snowboard.

The best time to snowboard is in the month of January, on a clear day, without the blow machines making snow. Also, going snowboarding at a resort on a weekday is easier than going on a weekend. The costs are lower on weekdays and it is a lot less crowded with people and children that will get in the way.

For beginners, there are trainers on staff that can help with learning the basics. Resorts usually offer group lessons every couple of hours and one on one lessons to sign up for. All prices vary depending on the resort.

Other areas to snowboard

Western North Carolina is a good spot to learn the adventurous sport of snowboarding. There are six places in the state to ski or snowboard. Prices for the lift and gear rental vary depending on the day and time. Here is a list of six places around North Carolina to snowboard with a description of each resort. Keep in mind that a lot of these resorts have the same or similar options available.

I live 40 minutes from the Cataloochee Ski Area so I decided to learn to snowboard there. The lift ticket cost me $33 and have I needed a snowboard it would cost me $27.

The Appalachian Ski Mountain has nine slopes ranging from easy, middle, hardest. The resort also offers slope-side lodging for rates between $275 a day or $825 a week with prices changing on holidays. The snowboard rental is $27 and the lift ticket is $37.

The Wolf Ridge Ski Resort is another good area to go snowboard with a peak elevation of 4,700ft with a vertical drop of 700ft. The snowboard rental is $34 and the lift ticket is $40.

The Beech Mountain Resort is another good place to snowboard. When the weather conditions are at its finest, the resort opens up to 15 trails. The mountain has a peak elevation of 5,506 and an 830ft vertical lift. The snowboard rental is $35 and lift ticket is $37.

The Sugar Mountain Resort is another good place to go snowboarding offering over 15 different slope options when the conditions are at its best. This resort offers ice skating as well as tubing in addition to skiing and snowboarding. The snowboard rental is $37 and lift ticket is $32.

The Sapphire Valley Resort doesn’t have many options for slopes offering only 1 main slope for skiers and snowboarders. This resort is more for families to stop by and enjoy snowboarding and move on to tubing. The snowboard rental is $39 and the lift ticket is $36.

This article was written in November 2014 as part of a feature writing class.