When I was 14 a buddy of mine showed me a free video he got from a Transworld Snowboarding magazine. It was called Simple Pleasures, this was the first time I saw how fun snowboarding could be.
At the time I was skateboarding everyday but after watching this video I had an itch and started to learn how to snowboard.
Being in the UK we pretty much only had dry ski slopes to go to. These artificial slopes are so unforgiving, I highly recommend real snow. Your butt will thank you.
I had a one hour long lesson with an instructor which helped a lot with the basic concepts. After that I just practiced with friends as I seemed to pick it up quickly. Although I did have many a savage fall trying to learn linked turns on the artificial snow.
Not everyone will have experience in other board sports and be as comfortable on the board for the first few times. When it comes to learning how to snowboard as a beginner knowing where to start and what works for you is key. In this article I hope to point you in the right direction.
(Note: this article is long, feel free to use the jump to links skip bits –>)
- How Long Does It Take To Learn How To Snowboard?
- How Much Will It Cost To Learn?
- Online Snowboarding Coaches
- How To Teach Yourself To Snowboard
How Long Does It Take To Learn How To Snowboard?
The amount of time it will take to learn snowboarding is really down to you. It also depends on your definition someone that can snowboard. I’d say you can snowboard if you are able to descend a slope in a controlled manner. I think this includes turning, slowing down/speeding up when needed and being in control of exactly where you are going.
If you are young, athletic and have experience in other board sports like surfing, skateboarding of wake boarding you’ll likely learn much faster. This may only take as little as a day on the slopes with some instruction.
On the other hand if you’re risk adverse, have no related experience and maybe a bit out of shape it could take you much longer. It may take a week or more with some lessons before you feel confident and in control.
For everyone else it’s some where in between, more than one day and probably less than a week.
How Much Will It Cost To Learn?
This will again depend on you and what methods you use to learn. Most people know snowboarding isn’t a cheap hobby. Not including gear and travel, If you’re able to learn quickly it may only cost you a few hours worth of lessons.
Learning from free videos, articles or friends won’t cost you anything extra but may take longer.
If most people take around a week to get the basics and you wanted to learn at:
Whistler, Canada 3 Full days is $498 (cdn) at the moment. This would give you 3 full days with instruction and you could use another few days to practice on your own.
Mount. Bachelor, USA $80 for 2 hours. A week of 2 hour lessons would cost $560.
Online Snowboarding Coaches
For those that don’t want in person private lessons an online coach is now an option. I don’t have any experience using one but I can see some benefits from going this route. Such as learning off the mountain and when you want. Being able to re-watch a video in case you miss something.
Some offer a library of video lessons for free or paid. Others give a more personal program.
As I’ve not used or know any online coaches I don’t feel right recommending them at the moment. I’d do some Google searches and try and find someone that is recommended a lot on forums or social media.
How To Teach Yourself To Snowboard
Although for many learning with an instructor might be the fastest way some people prefer to figure things out on their own. If you want to learn how to snowboard yourself I hope you’ll find this information useful. I’ve linked to articles and videos that will help explain things in more detail where needed.
Getting the right gear
First of all you’ll need to consider what items of gear you’ll need. Some are essential to ride safely but other bits of gear and just good to have. Ideally you’ll find a place where you can hire out everything or most of what you need. Although most places generally only hire out boards and boots.
Gear you’ll need to go snowboarding:
- A snowboard – Goes without saying but most people will end up hiring a board on their first time. Almost all the destinations will have a hire option. Unless you’re confident about sticking with the sport for sometime in which case buying a board would be best. Find out what size board you need here.
- Boots and Bindings – These will usually come with the board hire if you are hiring.
- Gloves – Your hand will inevitably touch the snow at some point and you’ll need to keep hands warm and dry. You should be able to find a decent pair of snowboarding gloves for around $20-$50.
- Jacket – A good snowboarding jacket can be expensive but an item I’d consider essential. Your upper body is one of the most important areas to keep warm. You’ll want to have a warm and water proof jacket. Some venues may other clothing as a rental option. Otherwise you’ll have to buy one. Even if you visit an indoor slope it’s still very cold inside.
- Pants – They’ll keep your lower body warm and dry. As with the jackets you may be able to hire them although I don’t often see it.
- Helmet – In some destinations they don’t require you to wear a helmet but I highly recommend it.
- Goggles – These are needed to protect your eyes from wind, snow, debris and the sun. Almost all of them will come with sun protection. As you are usually up in the elements with no shade on a white piste the sun can damage your eyes at worst and at best make it very hard to see.
Stuff that is nice to have but not absolutely needed:
- Layered clothing – If you already have a good jacket and pants the lower layers aren’t that important in my opinion. That is unless the weather is particularly bad. You should be able to get away with an ordinary t-shirt and jumper without any worries. Most of the times I’ve been out on the mountain I tend to get overly warm more than to cold. But if you are going out in particularly bad weather finding good base and middle layers will keep help a lot.
- Cold weather socks and underwear – Another nice to have but not needed. Unless it’s extremely cold you can get away with ordinary socks and underwear, try and use a thick pair. Then again these items aren’t all that expensive so you might as well get them if you can.
- A hat – As you’ll have a helmet this will offer some protection from the elements. It will not be as warm or insulating as a beanie though. It’s not always essential however if it’s particularly cold I’d recommend wearing a hat.
- Protection – Kneed pads, Elbow pads, wrist guards and butt pads are all nice to have if you are still learning and expecting to have a few falls. Although if you are like me you might find these extra pieces of gear more restrictive. On the other hand they can give you more confidence to help push yourself and learn faster.
- A Snowboard Bag – If you buy a snowboard then you’ll want a bag for storage and travel.
- Stomp pads – These are very helpful for riding the lifts or anytime you have one foot out of the bindings.
- Hand warmers – These could be a good shout if you are out in very cold weather. I’ve personally never felt the need to them.
- Small bag – If you want to keep your phone, camera, wallet and keys ect. on you having a small back pack or fanny pack might be a good idea.
- Sunscreen – On the mountain you will end up getting a lot of exposure to the sun. Unless you wear a balaclava it’s probably a good idea to apply some sunscreen to your face or any exposed areas.
Making sure you’re in shape
You don’t have to be in triathlete shape in order to snowboard but it is a very physical sport. Having some reasonable level of fitness will be a big deal when it comes to learning.
You’ll be able to go for longer without having to take a breather making learning faster. I found my legs tend to be the thing that let me down the quickest. They get sore for the constant bending down and pushing.
Something that might not be apparent until you get out there is your arms and shoulders will get a hard work out. Your arms are going to be moving around a lot as you are constantly making adjustments for balance.
I did write an article about how to get in shape for uphill hiking and a general fitness tips but much of the same concepts can be used to get into shape for snowboarding.
If your planning to learn to snowboard and you’re not that physically fit take a few weeks before you go to hit the gym, do some home work outs and build up some cardio.
Doing this a few weeks before hand you won’t have bad DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness) the whole time. You’ll also be less likely to pull something or injury yourself.
I’m not a world class snowboarder but I can certainly help explain some of the basic techniques needed.
Goofy or regular stance
Before you get out on the slopes it would be a good idea to know what stance you prefer. Most people will have a dominate stance, regular or goofy. It’s rare to find someone that doesn’t have a preference and can ride confidently in both directions.
Knowing what direction you prefer will make things easier whilst learning. Learning things in the opposite stance will obviously be much harder. If you want to know how to tell if you’re regular or goofy footed read this.
If you prefer your right foot forward facing the direction you are going you ride Goofy stance.
If you prefer your left foot forward facing the direction you are going you ride Regular stance.
Most people are regular and one stance isn’t better than the other, it’s down to personal preference.
Riding the lifts
It’s a wise idea to understand how to get on and off the lift without face planting. I still get slightly anxious before getting on or off the lifts. Be that a button type lift or a chair lift. Although it has been years since I’ve had any mishaps riding them. But you don’t have to be anxious about it. It’s really not that bad once you know how.
Before using the lifts it’s a good idea to learn how to ride your board with your rear foot out of the binding. Both chair and button lifts will require you to have one foot out of its binding and be able to control you board.
To do this just find some relatively flat ground or mellow hill to practice. Use your rear foot to push like on a skateboard. Once you have some momentum put your rear foot on near your rear binding and slide a bit. Keep practicing for a while until you get comfortable doing it.
Button lifts – First of all you’ll need to approach the lift with one foot out of its binding and the other foot strapped in. It’s usually your front foot that remains strapped in.
Once at the front of the line, stand stationary just ahead of where the lifts rotate to start traveling back up again. If you’re not ready and a lift comes past just let it go and wait for the next one. It’s better to wait and be in position than to rush and fall over.
Place your loose rear foot just in front of your rear binding. If the button part of the lift is small you may need to squeeze it harder by moving your loose foot closer to your front binding. This is where having a stomp pad really helps for some traction.
Make sure you’re standing almost in line with where the lift will be heading. Once one of the button lift is in arms reach grab the arm of it but don’t move yet wait for it to move slightly ahead of your body while it is in your grasp.
Once it is slightly ahead of you pull the extending arm and aim the small button chair under your backside. You should still be in the same position and waiting for the lift to do the work. At this point you should be leaning slightly in anticipation for the small shunt as the lift starts to pull you up.
Once riding up allow the lift to do the work. Try to keep your balance as central as you can. Your board may stray from side to side depending of the surface but it will recenter eventually as the lift pulls. Try to keep your loose foot on the board.
This video will help visualize it better:
Chairlifts – I think are are much easier to ride as once you are on you don’t have much to worry about. The main issues with riding chairlifts is getting on and off of them.
Getting on the chairlift – most of the time there will be a line and you’ll get to see others in front of you getting on. This will give you a good idea about where to position yourself. Often there is a marking of some kind showing you where to wait. Once in position look back and wait for the lift to come to you. As it comes to you you’ll need to lean back / squat into it a bit.
Now you’re sat on the lift safely don’t forget to pull the bar down in front of you. Make sure if others are with you they know the bar is coming down so you don’t take their heads off. A good tip to save energy supporting your board is to place the loose end on top of your loose foot.
Getting off the chairlift – The exits of chair lifts tend to be much longer and can be more tricky then getting off of a button lift. Chairlifts tend to be used for larger slopes and button lifts are often used on beginner or smaller slopes.
Make sure you practiced your snowboard skating with one foot out. Once you are close to the chairlift exist start to move the lift safety bar up and away. Just before you touch down angle your body slightly by moving sideways in the chair.
Place your board on the snow and make sure your it’s straight. Keep your rear foot on top of the board and slide straight down away from the lift. Once safely away from the lift stop by turning or dragging your rear foot.
Watch this video for a better visualization:
Standing up on the board
Setting up at the top of the slope and standing up on the board is one of the first steps you’ll need to take before you can ride. This is something you can practice before you get to the top of the slopes on a flat surface.
Once on a flat surface with both boots out of the bindings sit down with your feet out in front of you. Make sure your board is also in front of your feet and the right way round. Strap into your bindings as you are sitting down.
The tricky part is standing up once both feet are strapped in. Try and get your hips as close to the board as possible then in one quick motion use your hands to push your body up.
Being on a flat surface this isn’t to bad but when you are on a slight slope your board can start slipping down as you are trying to get up. This is why you’ll want to push off with your hands quickly. Another tip is to grab your board before standing up and use to keep your body close.
Once you’ve manged to get the hang of this you should give standing up a go when facing the other way on your knees. If you happen to take a tumble and land on your knees instead of having to turn your board around each time you’ll be able to get up right away.
Standing up from this position is actually pretty easy, just keep your toes edge dug in and use your hands to push your body up.
You will need to learn to do this even when on a slope. If you need to stop for any reason and sit down half way down the slope you’ll obviously need to get up again.
This video is particularly helpful from Snowboard Addiction:
If you’ve heard any snowboard lingo before you’ve probably heard the term “edge” thrown around. An edge refers to the edge of your snowboard, toe side or heel side. A snowboarder uses the edge for control when sliding.
You don’t just ride straight down the mountain, you need to control your speed by turning and sliding at different angles using edges for control and slowing down. Generally, the more you push into an edge the more you will slow down.
The term “caught an edge” refers to when your snowboard edge digs into the snow on the wrong side and causes you to lose control or fall over.
For example if you are sliding down with your back facing down the slope you want to control the slide using your toe edge. If your heel edge digs into the snow in this position it will stop you sliding very quickly, most likely causing you to be bucked over the board.
The falling leaf move is the snowboard equivalent to the “snowplow” in skiing. It’s an essential snowboarding skill to learn. You’ll need it for turning, slowing down and stopping. This was a big “ah ha” moment for me once I learned to master the falling leaf.
You’ll learn to slide down the mountain like a falling leaf, diagonally side to side while facing in the same direction.
You’ll need to learn heel side falling leaf and toe side falling leaf. Make sure to start out on a beginner slope or the most mellow one available.
Toe Side – Starting with toe side, begin at the top of a mellow slope facing up the slope with your back facing directly down the slope.
Dig in your toe edge so you are at a complete stop. Slowly releasing pressure from your toe edge and pushing your heels down slightly will cause you to slide. To slow down or stop push into your toe edge again. Just make sure not to push into your heel edge to much, you don’t want your heel edge to dig in and catch an edge. Keep your head straight and shoulders even using your hands out to the side for balance if needed.
Repeat sliding down slowly and stopping using your toe edge to get the hang of it. Once you feel good start to slide longer without stopping. Keep some pressure on your toe edge the whole time and practice controlling the speed of your slide without stopping. This will get you used to how much pressure needs to be applied to stop, slow down and maintaining speed.
The next step is to start riding diagonally across and down the slope in a zig-zag. At a stand still with your toe edge dug in start to lean on one foot and look in the direction you want to go. A good tip is to point in the direction you wish to go. At the same time release pressure from your toe edge and start to slide.
If you find yourself going almost straight instead of sideways, look back up the slope or point in that direction until your board is sideways again. Use the same method to stop, looking back up the slope until you’re facing that direction and dig into your toe edge. Once stopped start sliding in the other direction again on the toe edge.
You’ll slide leading with the nose (front) of the board than the other direction with the tail (back) of the board.
Keep practicing this until you get very confident with it. You might even want to ride the whole slope down this way.
Heel side – Essentially the same thing but opposite, facing down the mountain and using your heel edge to control your speed.
Follow the same method used for the toe side and progress to until you get very comfortable.
Once you have some practice and feel good on going down on both edges it’s time to start learning to turn.
Backside and Frontside
These are terms referring to the direction you rotate and perform certain tricks. It’s not essential to know which one is which in order to learn snowboarding but might be useful if trying to explain what direction you’re turning.
A backside 180 turn would be as you turn, at 90 degrees you’re facing up the slope
A frontside 180 turn would be as you turn, at 90 degrees you’re facing down the slope.
I think these terms come from surfing. If you are surfing facing the wave your are frontside, if you have your back to the wave you are backside.
If you’re now very confident with both heel side and toe side falling leaf it’s time to move on to turning. If you’re not confident riding on both edges go and practice more on whichever is weakest. With all that falling leaf experience turning isn’t that much harder.
Start with going straight down and turning 90 degrees to a stop. Do this for both heel side stops and toe side stops.
To do this start from a standstill and neutral position lean on to your front foot, look/point down the slope. Let your body follow and allow your snowboard to straighten out.
Now you are going straight down the slope it’s time to turn 90 degrees. Again look where you want to go and wait for you board to turn before applying pressure to your heel or toe edge and stopping.
Repeat this on both sides going back and forth something like this:
- Start from a stand still on your heel edge.
- Start sliding
- Face and point down the slope allowing your board to turn so you are going down in a straight line.
- Face and turn 90 degrees towards the top of the slope so you are on your toe edge.
- Stop and repeat starting from your toe edge.
To progress further instead of stopping each time you’ll keep the slide going and transition between each turn. Start doing this at a slow pace and eventually get faster over time.
To progress further, instead of turning a full 90 degrees try a shallower angle which will allow you to keep more momentum.
With lots of practice you’ll eventually be able to seamlessly link turns.
This video shares some good tips:
Get out there and practice
You can spend way to much time reading or watching instructional videos. The real learning comes from actually doing it. Once you have a good idea about what you need to do go and start applying it on the slopes.
Helpful beginner snowboard Bloggers and Youtubers
Hopefully there is enough info here to get you to a reasonably competent level of snowboarder. Otherwise here are some more resources:
- Snowboard Addiction – Offer a bunch of free tutorials and videos
- SnowboardProCamp – Easy to understand and high quality instructional videos
- SnowProfessor – They have been around for a long time with lots of good articles and videos. Some of the videos are older so might not be as high quality.