Snowboarders do it sideways

Alister Morgan takes to the indoor slopes to try his hand at the fastest-growing winter sport
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The Independent Travel
SNOWBOARDING evolved from ski-ing and surfing in the late 1960s and now it is the world's fastest-growing winter sport. Its clothing fashions are worn by hundreds of city kids who have never set foot on a snow-covered mountain and its youth appeal is such that sponsors of the calibre of Sony, Honda and Red Bull pour millions of pounds into snowboarding every year. But behind the hype, the manufactured fashions and the indecipherable jargon, snowboarding remains one of the most addictive winter pastimes - quite simply, it is great fun. Whether landing a "1080 stalefish" or just "carving powder", one try is enough to get you hooked for life.

Despite the relatively meagre amounts of snow in Britain, the sport has become hugely popular here. Although the majority of skiers and snowboarders head abroad for their winter excursions, there is at least one place in Britain where a good covering of snow can be relied upon. The Snowdome in Tamworth, Staffordshire, offers a groomed snow slope where enthusiasts can learn to snowboard all year round. Everything takes place indoors and the equipment, rental and tuition is for all abilities. And its artificial snow is more realistic than that used on most ski slopes. The UK has plenty of artificial slopes suitable for skiing, but very few lend themselves to snowboarding.

From the outside, the Snowdome resembles a large swimming pool. On entering you get your first glimpse of the snow through a set of large windows. The slope is about 1,500m long with varied gradients, so both beginners and experienced riders are challenged. Once inside, there is a distinct chill in the air. Constant sub-zero temperatures maintain the snow cover but once the lessons begin you soon warm up. To ride a snowboard you must face sideways as you speed downhill. More importantly, the design of a snowboard makes it difficult to ride on any surface other than snow. Snowboarding is, indeed, life on the edge: riders cannot simply point the nose of the board downhill and take off as if on a skateboard. To ride safely, snowboarders must slide predominately on one side of the board - the heel or toe edge - before transferring their weight on to the other side. As weight is transferred from one edge to the other, riders make their way down the slope. The route curves rather than following a straight line. If anyone does attempt to go hurtling forwards, they are liable to catch an edge and "wipe out". Snowboarding on an artificial slope is harder to master - and the fall is more painful if an accident happens.

The best thing about learning to snowboard at the Snowdome is the snow; it is a little wet but nice and soft if you fall. The instructors can turn a trembling wreck into a competent snowboarder. The first thing you are taught is how to fall properly. By putting your weight on the heel- edge, and pointing the nose of the board across the downward slope, you can control your speed. The first technique beginners are taught is "leafing". This involves sliding across the slope using the board's edge to control direction. Once a snowboard is pointing down a slope it will pick up speed at an awesome rate. The teaching is literally hands-on, as you slip and slide and find your balance. It is a bit like learning to ride a bicycle - just substitute a wet bottom for grazed knees.

Anyone who has been surfing or skateboarding will be familiar with the required techniques. Once you can control the board on both edges the fun really starts. Part of the appeal is leaning head-first into the slope and simply going for it. It is a test of nerve but an addictive sensation that will have you saving up for your own board.

One of snowboarding's best features is the soft boots favoured by most riders. Skiers use hard boots made from tough plastic but snowboard boots are as comfortable to wear as a pair of trainers. One undoubted drawback is the cost. Paying for a week's holiday is only the beginning. A snowboard can cost between pounds 120 and pounds 400, bindings around pounds 100 and boots between pounds 80 and pounds 200. Riders will also need protective, waterproof trousers, jacket and gloves which can cost anything between pounds 150 and pounds 700. (Remember, prices quoted below for the Snowdome include boots, board and bindings, so all you need to bring is a jacket and waterproof gloves). Anyone booking their first holiday should rent a board, bindings and boots and borrow as much protective clothing as possible.

For more information, contact the British Snowboard Association (tel: 01492 872540). Snowdome, Tamworth Ski and Snowboarding, Leisure Island, River Drive, Tamworth, Staffs B79 7ND (tel: 0900 000 011).