This is what happens when one rusty—but determined—snowboarder tries to get rad with her son and husband at a Woodward Copper private lesson.
Back in the day, I happily followed ripper friends around Lake Tahoe resorts and attempted little tricks like 180s and hucking off tabletops. I even taught snowboarding at Homewood Mountain Resort part-time during one of the three winters I lived on the North Shore of the lake (cue the joke about the difference between a beginning snowboarder and a snowboard instructor being four days). Though I’ve never been a pro on my board, I got pretty good at riding powder. I also mastered weird skills like riding fakey to teach regular-footed students as a goofy-footer and being able to make turns with my back foot out of the binding and on a stomp pad (also a good instructor skill).
But that was before 8,000 injuries, birthing two kids, and getting sidetracked with endurance sports pursuits—and, yes, all of those things are related. These days, my only trick is not eating it on my board. I’ve become soft, cautious, overly controlled. I ride slowly. I make turns while watching my sons (a 10-year-old skier and 13-year-old boarder) follow my 54-year-old husband. I’m the caboose with candy in her pocket who makes sure everyone gets down the hill OK. I sit down a lot.
Needless-to-say, I don’t rip. In my late-40s, I’m old—for a snowboarder. And I value my working body parts. But last winter, my husband, older son and I were in for it one day at Copper Mountain: We were doing a Woodward Private snowboarding lesson.
Woodward Copper is where shredders go to up their shred-game and wanna-be hucksters learn to huck. Aside from the 19,400-square-foot “barn”—a state-of-the art indoor training facility with trampolines, foam pits, ramps, and rails that’s open year-round—Woodward Mountain Park consists of 10 featured terrain zones interspersed among regular runs on the hill. The combination makes for a winter action sports junkie’s dream.
Woodward Private lessons gives groups of up to four people for half-day (starting at $619) or up to six people a full-day (starting at $849) lesson with a certified Woodward instructor all to themselves. Lessons suit abilities from intermediate and up, and cater to groups of skiers or riders. Copper advises against combining disciplines within your group, so Mark, 13-year-old Sam and I drop off 10-year-old Ben, our lone skier, for a day of regular ski school. “It’s better for all of us,” I think.
The Big Day
The three of us throw our boards under our arms and walk through Copper’s West Village en route to our half-day lesson. I taught Sam how to ride when he was 6. Over the years, he’s learned to make really nice, controlled turns, but, recently, he’s wanted to head into the terrain park—which is out of my realm.
Mark rides faster than me—aggressive, even. I’m nervous but reluctantly optimistic. Can I learn new tricks? Can I ride a box or a rail, get some air, maybe even pull off a grab? Can I do anything rad without hurting myself, which would keep me from all the sports I love, and, therefore, my sanity?
It’s a powder day, with 3 to 4 inches of fresh on the ground and more falling.
“At least the landings will be soft,” I assure myself.
We meet our instructor, Theo. He’s a 20-something, jovial kid with a smiling eyes and long brown hair catching snowflakes out the bottom of his helmet. His Buff covers his mouth and nose, and he has a Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure-quality to him as he greets us and says he’s “stoked” to ride with us and teach us some cool stuff. The four of us board the Woodward Express Quad and connect it to the Timberline Express Chair, heading up the mountain to take a few powder runs. I’m guessing it’s so Theo can assess our riding levels, but also because: powder.
After the four of us spread some butter, we hop back on the Woodward Express Quad and Theo talks to us about riding half-pipes. “We’ll start with small turns on the wall and then progress to getting higher and higher each time,” he says. “We’ll see,” I think. We unload and ride into the top of Pipe Dream—a park with small to medium jumps and rails, plus a mini-pipe with 13-foot walls (better for not scaring the shit out of us than Copper’s 22-foot-high Superpipe). Before we drop in, Theo tells us to keep our boards flat on the icy walls or we’ll eat it. (He probably used a verb from this decade.)
We watch Theo cruise through before waiting for us at the bottom. Sam goes first and makes some nice turns up and down the pipe walls. Mark musters one or two, and I cruise up and down the walls, not yet willing to commit to turning on the nearly vertical wall of ice. “Next time,” I think.
We proceed to a series of small jumps. “Lift the nose of your board and pop off your back leg,” says Theo. I heed his advice and get some air. Not a lot, but some. I feel a little bit like my a younger version of myself.
Throughout the morning, we hit the mini-pipe again, and, this time, I inch a tad higher up the wall than before, and even make turns. I’m getting more confident, and have a cheerleader in Theo. We then hit another one of Woodward’s parks, the Family Cross Zone, which is set up like a boarder cross course with burmed turns. This is fun. I enjoy getting low and carving deep, imagining myself to be riding a real boardercross racecourse. “Good job, mom,” says Sam. “Nice!” says Theo, who adds that the key is “staying small” and “absorbing the bumps.”
The snow continues to fall, and in between pushing my comfort zone on increasingly large jumps, I sneak in carving quick, smooth S-turns on the sides of the runs. Grinning. This feels playful, like all the terrain I need. But, back to the park.
Theo has us approach what he calls a “plateau feature.” From our vantage point above it, the feature resembles a table-top jump but has a lip at the far end. “You want to keep up your speed and stay kind of low,” says Theo, before going first and disappearing out of sight. Sam goes next and also disappears. Mark drops in, and in my mind, lands next to the others in a soft powder field. Turns out, Mark rolled down the windows midair, yelling something like “ah-yiowww-ahhh!” and ate it. Had I heard him, I would have known the back side of the “plateau” is anything but…
I exhale and drop in, riding up the first bit of the feature with speed. I glide across the top of it, and immediately get way more air that I’d anticipated and am staring down a drop. I do my own version of a wing-flapping chicken, yell “#!*%” and land hard on my rear end, my spine sending rattles from my tailbone to my neck. It hurts. A lot. The impact also causes me to pee a little.
Theo gives me the big thumbs up and says, “SWEET! That’s what it’s all about! Trying new things, sometimes sticking it, sometimes not.” Um, not. At the bottom of the run, we’re in front of the West Village Café. “Anyone need to get a drink or use the bathroom?” asks Theo. “Uh, not anymore,” I think.
Back on the Woodward Express, I unrattle my brain enough to rally for a couple more runs. At the top of the so-called Peace Park, we’re instructed how to ride boxes and rails. “Keep up your speed; lay the board flat,” says Theo, who encourages me to go first. Sam smiles and says, “Grandma’s going.” Thanks, kid.
I muster some mojo and nail the box, cruising across it in control and popping off the end to land it smoothly before carving into a toe-side turn.
In retrospect, I should have yelled back, “How do you like me now, Grandson?” But, alas, I was a grown-up. Heck, I drive carpool and do separate loads of laundry for gentle items and regular.
This confidence carries over into our evening session in the barn. On our own, without Theo, I strap a skateboard platform to my socks and get some air on a tramp. I ignore the shredders and other families there who likely fear they’ll soon need to call me an ambulance, and do a grab midair. I don’t know that I’ll ever repeat this much air (on purpose) or do a real grab on snow, but, hey, older dogs have learned harder tricks (I think?).
OK, so maybe this old lady can get steezy. Maybe I can hang on to an adventurous spirit. Most importantly, maybe what I learned today will buy me time to hang with my kids and almost-cool husband and still try to be rad once in a while. As Theo would say, “That’s what it’s all about, ma’am!”—without that last part.
The author of two running books, Trailhead and Running That Doesn’t Suck, Lisa Jhung is a freelance writer and editor who’s work has been seen in Backpacker, Men’s Journal, Mountain, Outside, Runner’s World, and more.
Cover photo: Woodward demystifies the experience of catching air. Photo courtesy Woodward Copper