It's cool, hip and it's snowballing in the UK. All on board ...

Ditch those skis and become a rider. It's a breeze once you've learnt, and it's 'rad', says Rupert Isaacson

Snowboarding is the new face of winter hip: everybody wants in. More than any other sport at the moment, snowboarding seems to have crossed the line between outdoor people and fashion folk.

Here, as in America where snowboarding began 10 years ago, city denizens who would not usually go near anything sporty are flocking to the ski shops to buy gear and to the slopes to learn the frustratingly difficult sport. Many downhill skiers are also converting to the board. They say snowboarding, although harder to master than skiing at the basic stages, is much more versatile and gives access to steeper, rougher terrain than can be tackled by the average skier.

Several ski schools in Scotland now offer snowboarding along with the more traditional ski instruction. Although the sport is a relatively recent phenomenon this side of the Atlantic, the standard of instructor skill here is said to have reached a new high. If you are thinking of giving the sport a try, head for the most reliable (ahem) snow area in Britain - the high Cairngorms.

Cairnwell, at Glenshee ski resort, has access to some of the best Cairngorm snow. With a pool of instructors up to BASI Grade 1, the school offers snowboarding either by the day (not much use - you'll just fall down a lot) or over weekend or week-long intensive courses. Should there be no snow when you arrive (this is Britain, remember), Cairnwell also offers a variety of other mountain sports, including hang-gliding, paragliding and mountain biking, so there will be enough to keep you going if the weather lets you down.

The first thing to try to master is committing your weight to your rear leg (you stand sideways), and therefore on the back of the board, which then acts as a rudder to turn you through the snow. This is hard to do without falling over backwards, but if you don't do it you will fall forwards. It's all a matter of practice. At least - as you plump down on the hard- packed snow for the umpteenth time - you have the compensation of getting fit as you learn: there are no handy lifts for the baby slope snowboarders. When you're down you have to lumber back uphill through the snow in your heavy boots.

However, once you have learned to hold your weight to the back of the board and have carved that first turn, you will feel extraordinarily pleased with yourself. It's a beautiful feeling - all the more so as the early stages are so hard-learned. Be reassured, though, that once you have the basics more-or-less mastered (allow a week's intensive tuition, or several weekends, for this) the learning curve becomes much steeper - unlike skiing, which offers easy basics and then a long plateau of bad skiing that can take years to escape.

And then there's always the gear. Ever eager to make a buck, the ski- wear companies have realised the sheer fashion cred of snowboarding and put out entire ranges of clothes that look like scruffy but expensive skateboard threads. Unlike the more flashy and naff salopettes, jackets and ski-suits that look awful enough on the slope but would get you laughed off the streets, snowboard gear looks good in Soho. Not that you're a fashion victim, of course...

Beyond the cool clothes, if you decide to go for snowboarding seriously and buy a board, boots and the rest, you can expect to pay quite serious money for the equipment. Fortunately Cairnwell, like all Scottish ski schools, includes equipment hire in its general tariff so you don't have to splash out until you have decided whether you actually like the sport and have discovered whether you have the required leg-body co-ordination.

Finally, if you are already a seasoned snowboarder and want to brush up on some specific, more advanced techniques, Cairnwell coaches snowboarding right up to international competition standard - although this, as usual, can be limited by poor snow conditions. See the accompanying tariff section (right) for prices.

fact file

Snowboarding in the Cairngorms

Cairnwell Mountain Sports,

Gulabin Lodge,

Glenshee (near Blairgowrie),

Perthshire PH10 7QQ.

Tel: 01250 885238, winter 013397 41331.

Fax: 01250 885238.

Season: Open all year.

Accommodation: 12 beds on site. Camp site nearby, and other local accommodation can be arranged.

Food: Breakfast, dinner available - not in tariffs.

Children: All ages accepted.

Insurance: Clients should provide their own winter sports holiday insurance.

Safety: All instructors are trained in first aid.

Affiliations: British Association of Ski Schools.

Tariffs: Rates for group snowboard lessons - half day, pounds 10; one day, pounds 17; two days, pounds 28; three days, pounds 37; four days, pounds 46; five days, pounds 60. (Discounts for youths). Private instruction - pounds 20 an hour for one person, pounds 25 an hour for two, pounds 30 an hour for three, pounds 40 an hour for four. Race or specialised instruction - pounds 120 per half day; pounds 200 per day. Five-day package (including hotel, equipment and instruction) about pounds 200.

Booking: 50 per cent deposit, balance paid on arrival. No charge for cancellations four weeks in advance. Loss of deposit if cancellation between one to four weeks; full balance due if cancellation within one week. Bookings normally made in advance, but late bookings accepted if space availablity.

Access: Off the A93 between Blairgowrie and Braemar. Trains to Pitlochry, Perth and Dundee. Buses between Aberdeen and Braemar, or Dundee/Perth and Blairgowrie. Taxi fare to centre is about pounds 20.

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