Sexier than skiing, with its club-friendly clothing and thrill-seeking, danger-thirsty associations, snowboarding is more than just a sport for those participating. It's a whole lifestyle. Like surfers, snowboarders are obsessive about perfect conditions, using the right equipment, wearing the right labels and finding the right parties. But unlike the vacuous impression given by style magazines such as i-D and Sky, there is more to all this than a flippant new fashion fad.
Yes there are still hardcore factions of snowboarders attempting to keep the sport underground and exclusive, as if snowboarding were a precious subculture not fit for sharing with ordinary people. And yes, the images of perfectly formed twentysomethings back flipping through the alpine air, and of models cluelessly zipped into hi-tech boarding gear, might well give the impression that snowboarding is off limits to the over 30s, bank clerks, parents or anyone who isn't completely gorgeous. But the truth is that whether you work on the stock exchange or run a drum'n'bass club in Hoxton, once you've tasted fresh air and fresh snow at high speed, the addiction is the same.
And in fact, for the most part, snowboarders are a friendly lot, happy to help and willing to encourage, and this is reflected by the industry which operates more like a self-supporting network than a calculating business. Snowboarding turns out to be one of the least pretentious, most accessible activities on offer, as anyone who is serious about taking up the sport will undoubtedly discover. Getting past the image problem is one thing. But it's getting to grips with the basic moves which really matters. How do actually go about learning the ropes?
If you're a city dweller, you might be tempted to try out on a dry slope. This will supply you with the basics, but Dendex is much slower and stickier than snow, and also much harder, meaning your chances of injury are higher. During my second dry slope lesson I managed to break my hand, so be warned. Then there's the Snowdome at Tamworth, a sort of indoor mountain, but again, it's pretty hard to fall on, so pad up and keep your fists clenched.
The very best way to introduce yourself to snowboarding, is to find some snow. There are now plenty of cheap package deals to choose from, with tuition from local ski schools across Europe, but this can be risky if you're a complete novice because you may end up in a large group with a bad teacher. Specialised snowboard holidays are growing in popularity, but again make sure you know what you're getting because you may find yourself staying in a party of skiiers.
Snowboard camps, such as Neil McKnab's Kommunity Kamp and the Boardwise Scottish Camp, are worth checking out, as are trips laid on by snowboard shops such as Oxfordshire's SS20 and London's Low Pressure. But following the highest recommendations both from nationwide retailers Snowboard Asylum and Britain's leading snowboard magazine, Snowboard UK, I decided to go with Chalet Snowboard. It was set up in 1995 by Ian Trotter and offers chalet-based trips to Les Deux Alpes and Avoriaz in France, and Lake Tahoe in America. The basic idea is to provide first-time and experienced snowboarders with comfortable accommodation, excellent guiding, top-of-the-range Burton boards, and (last but by no means least) social activities. As an almost complete beginner I didn't really know what to expect, but with guides to take care of both fast and slow riders, Chalet Snowboard caters for all standards, and I needn't have worried. My first three days were spent unlearning all my bad habits under the supervision of Martin Drayton, the British Snowboard Association's Chief Snow Instructor (he instructs instructors), and was then left to practise by myself for a couple to days.
This wasn't nearly as daunting as I'd anticipated. I was told where to find the gentle runs, and despite feeling initially frustrated, especially with the chairlifts (designed for skiiers, not people with huge great boards strapped to their feet), ended up having a great time twisting and tumbling through the snow, surrounded by numerous other beginners, all collecting as many bruises as me. On the final day, I was in Simon Nicholl's group. Like Martin, Simon videoed each of us individually, and talked us through it later. "Lazy surfer moves" was how he described my turns, although he reckoned that given another four days, I should be breezing along.
While Chalet Snowboard's main aim is to improve people's riding skills, their philosophy is built around the pleasure principle. Les Deux Alpes is one of France's busiest resorts, with enough bars and clubs to challenge even the most hardened party animal. Following the customary beer after a hard day's boarding, and a hearty meal provided by Annie, the cook from Brighton, Martin was on hand every single night to drive us into town, where all manner of silly behaviour ensured at Smokey's, The Brasilienne and The Opera. Most nights didn't end until 4am, particularly for Erik and Mark, the two pharmaceutical sales reps from London, who survived two weeks of no sleep, too much beer and all-day, everyday snowboarding.
No doubt the image of snowboarding will continue to attract rich kids but it's one thing lounging around town in Fishpaw and Chiemsee clobber and quite another executing a toeside turn without falling bum-over-nose. If you want to snowboard, forget about the hype, and take a tip: just do it.
1 Forget about being cool. There are everyday people with everyday jobs who really get into snowboarding and really enjoy it. It's their escape and their hearts are in it no less than the hardcore people. And the industry needs their money.
2 Get the right board. Burton make the best boards available, but it's worth shopping around to see what you can get for your money. Don't buy anything shorter than your shoulder or taller than your chin, or one that doesn't flex in the middle.
3 Get fit. But it's worth thinking you're going to get fit while you're doing it because you're at high altitude, and you're doing a physical activity for five or six hours at a time."
4 Get the right clothing. Always wear man-made fibres to let your skin breathe (this includes thermals, so get yours from Low Pressure of Marks And Spencer) and stick with the reliable brands, like Burton, Dope Sessions, Fishpaw and West Beach rather than designer labels like Daniel Poole and Armani. Also, if you're starting out, it might be worth investing in knee pads, wrist guards (from skate shops) and a bum pad. Good goggles and a hat are both essential.
5 If you're a woman, buy women's clothes. Women have a narrower heel, a lower calf and a narrower foot, so they need women's boots. Boyfriend's cast-offs are no good. Burton and Northwave make women's boots, and Deep, Minx, Burton and West Beach all design clothing with the female shape in mind, while the Dope jacket is hi-tech, but very stylish.
6 Get insured. This is essential, unless you're very rich or very stupid.
7 Check out some snowboard movies. Exploding Snowboarding is a useful beginner's video featuring Martin Drayton, Mark Webster, Becki Malthouse and numerous other top Brit riders. The best films you can buy are Odd Man Out and the just released Day Tripper. Both made by Christian Stevenson.
Don't imagine that your chance to go snowboarding will disappear with the winter snows. At resorts such as Les Deux Alpes snow sports are available throughout the summer on a glacier.
l Chalet Snowboard runs summer camps in Les Deux Alpes from the third week in June until the third week in August. Prices vary from pounds 425-pounds 450 and include half-board accommodation, tuition and lift pass. You'll need to arrange your own transport. The nearest airport is Lyons (call Ian or Robbie on 01235 767182 for details).
Kommunity Kamps run for three weeks from 3 July, also in Les Deux Alpes. A week's self-catering accommodation, guiding, lift pass and activities costs pounds 439 (call Shelagh McNabb on 01484 680133).
Ice Ripper camps hold two sessions in July in Saas Fee, up in the Swiss- German Alps (call Claus Zimmerman in Zurich, Switzerland, on +41 (0) 1 291 0440).
Boardwise are running three camps up in Aviemore, Scotland from 30 March for three weeks. The price is around pounds 250 and includes self-catering accommodation, a five-day lift pass, five days worth of coaching and instruction, demo board and boot hire, transport to and from the hill, (call Ross on 01479 810336 for details).Reuse content