The first time that I strapped into a snowboard at the ripe old age of twenty-three, I naively assumed that some magical birthright power possessed by all Colorado natives would activate once my boots hit the snow. I would gracefully rip down the mountainside, foregoing the bunny hills to shred the serious gnar with my group of friends who had basically been boarding since exiting the womb. In my mind, strapping into bindings and racing down a hill of icy snow on a thin board should have been a breeze. But it wasn’t. I fell. I fell a lot. And when I wasn’t falling, I was spending the day arguing back and forth with my frustrated friends whose teaching methods of “show don’t tell” were lost on me which was totally killing the vibe of their powder day. It was a tough day—mentally and physically. And as I tried to dodge other beginner snow bunnies on a busy Colorado mountainside, my excitement and desire to pick up the sport severely dwindled.
While friends and family members are some of the best people to hit the slopes with, they’re some of the worst people to place in charge of your education, safety and future passion for the sport. When it comes to tackling a new challenge on the slopes, a neutral party guiding your journey is a smart way to go. For one thing, they know what they’re doing—and chances are they’ve already converted seemingly lost causes like yourself into Olympic-style shredders—or something close to it. After a few failed attempts at snowboarding, a pretty epic knee injury that led to the sale of all of my snowboarding equipment, and a few years of recovery—I recently headed to Red River, New Mexico where I spent the day taking private lessons from one of the resort’s top snowboarding instructors and a Red River native herself. The nerves were all over the place as I made my way to the entrance of the Red River Ski & Summer Area, but the sky was blue, the snow was fresh, and the resort carefully helped me pick out some awesome rental gear for my day on the slopes. A weekday morning at the Red River Ski Area is appreciatively mellow. The larger crowds wouldn’t hit the resort until the weekend and even then the lift lines were still relatively short and the hills decently spacious. Attempting to blend in with the other accomplished snowboarders wandering the grounds, I gathered together as much swag as I could and followed my instructor over to the bunniest of bunny hills where we spent some time learning the very basics of strapping in and standing up on a board. Snowboarding 102 took place on the upgraded bunny hill where I shakily glided off of the chair lift, praying that I wouldn’t bite the dust and be known as “that girl” for the rest of the day. For the rest of the morning and afternoon, my instructor and I cruised from the top of the hill to the bottom and back up again—focusing on creating good habits and pushing me out of my comfort zone just enough to master the next move. When my form got lazy, my instructor called me out on it. When the balls of my feet felt like they were on fire, my instructor helped me adjust my boots. When I couldn’t quite connect my turns in the beginning, my instructor patiently waited for me to brush all of the snow off my face before going over the mistakes that led to my not-so-graceful faceplant. By the end of the day, I was riding a chairlift up to my first blue run—climbing higher and higher towards a brilliant New Mexico sky while the small town of Red River manifested beneath me. In true learning fashion, I fell down a few times, but each time served as a lesson at the hands of my patient instructor. During the rides up on chairlift, when we weren’t talking strategy, we talked about Red River—and I came away with a lot of tips for places to eat and see in the town. While my lesson with extremely helpful and fun, I watched couples, friends, and parents try to teach their partners, friends, and kids the basics of skiing and snowboarding. I could hear the arguments from the chairlift. I could see the tears as I rode by. I recognized the beginners defeat that I once felt on the faces of people all over the mountain. At the beginning of the day, I was barely surviving the comings and goings of the chairlift. By the end of the day, I had mastered my heel edge and toe edge and was confidently riding down the mountain. On my last run of the day, with the sun sleepily dropping from the sky and the lights of the small town below coming alive, I couldn’t help but kick myself a little for not springing for the lessons sooner. Chances are, I won’t be riding in the 2018 Winter Olympics, but because I learned the right way and the safe way to have some fun on a snowboard, you better believe that I’m on the lookout for a new board and bindings to replace the gear I gave away years ago.