As a child of the 90s I grew up with snowboarding culture, a bi-product of the Tony Hawks Pro Skater media machine. Since a young age I’ve subsisted on a steady diet of games and music geared towards extreme sports. When I think of snowboarding I see the angular player models of Coolboarders 2, and hear the chorus of ‘It’s Tricky’ by Run DMC playing in the archives of my brain. My hands move instinctively to trigger special moves in SSX, yellow trails spooling from the boarder in my mind’s eye as a kicker hurtles into view.
In these simulated worlds I have carved a hundred lifetimes of fresh pow, traversed atmospheres of altitudes, tearing through badlands of deep snow and tight race courses dotted with teal peaks and winding tracks of gates and fences. Shaun White’s polygonal glove has fist-bumped my avatar countless times over a decorated career as a videogame snowboarder. The trophy cabinet is full. The mountain is conquered.
As far as mental conditioning is concerned, I am ready. As our plane touches down at Calgary Airport to begin a snowsports trip across Alberta, perched in the Canadian Rockies, confidence is high. Now is the time to realise my potential as a shredder of the gnar IRL. It’s time to put those reflexes to the test, lest those hundreds of hours in front of the TV filling Special meters and squeezing off Uber tricks be for nought.
Alberta is often overlooked as a ski and snowsports destination for it’s higher-profile cousin in Whistler, despite being home to three – ‘SkiBig3’ – ski resorts: Mount Norquay, Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise. Each resort is unique in features and feeling, and each have their own takes on the optimum snowsports experience.
Mount Norquay appears to be the most compact of the three with regards to facilities, eschewing après-excess for a friendlier and more inclusive vibe. It’s an easy-going pace of life here, with a focus on enjoyment and fun, rather than shaving seconds off any PBs. The resort also hosts night skiing and boarding events regularly, which sound like both a spectacle and recipe for some slightly sozzled shredding.
From a straw poll of locals in Banff, Lake Louise just edges out ahead as the resort of choice. And it’s easy to see why: the place is buzzing with activity across its 4,200 skiable acres. Lake Louise aims to be all things to all people when it comes to its facilities, with an embarrassment of food and drink options, including Kuma Yama, a high-end slope-side sushi restaurant. It’s a novelty, but surely not for long, as tight turns are a match with tighter dragon rolls. There are plenty of burgers to be had and Caesars to be sunk if you’re a traditionalist, too.
At Banff Sunshine, everything is geared to getting you out on the slopes. The process is slick. From the gondola ride to the rental process, the goal is to get you strapped to the butteriest shred stick they can find and out on the mountain as soon as possible. One local man’s view of the resort – yelling “Fuck Sunshine!” while propping up the end of a bar in Banff – took issue with the slower courses and flats he had experienced there that day. Personally, from the modest crest of Sunshine’s bunny hill, the wind at my back, legs strapped trembling to the board, all instruction blown from my brain in the breeze, the pace seemed just fine. The blur of expert skiers and boarders tearing past me from higher peaks appeared to agree.
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The Ski Cross is looking pretty sweet? . . || #sunshinevillage #banffsunshinevillage #ssv #mybanff #banff #banffnationalpark #canada #explorecanada #narcitycanada #imagesofcanada #alberta #travelalberta #explorealberta #yyc #yycnow #yycliving #calgary #curiocitycalgary #mountains #mountainlife #snow #travel #nature #adventure #explore #sports #ski #skicross #skiing #skilife
Three resorts down, then, and my hours spent on a snowboard remain in the single digits. Still, my instructors were wise and efficient, and have imparted three pieces of novice advice to my bruised ego/coccyx.
Keep your weight central
The first time you step onto a snowboard will be characterised by doubt and unfamiliarity. Even on flat ground the board will feel like it is moving in alien and unnatural ways. General tension and arm waving is to be expected, but the first thing to focus on is your balance. Try to relax and pay attention to your weight distribution. Bent, loose knees and a low hand position will theoretically keep your weight centralised. By keeping your weight directly above the board, as opposed to pitching forward or backwards, you will be able to maintain more control.
Watch your edges
As well as the flat, slippery section in the centre of your board which makes you move involuntarily, there are also the edges to consider: front edge, which pitches you onto your face or knees if ignored, and the heel edge, which pitches you flat on your back. These front and heel edges are the key to turning and braking, and when you first start, finding a stable heel edge – so you can remain motionless at the top of the hill or slow yourself at the bottom – is key. The main advice here is to start slow and focus on the heel edge to remain upright and get acclimatised to the feeling of the board.
As with anything suddenly terrifying, the temptation to grasp for help in the void is strong. With snowboarding, this pin-wheeling results in over-corrected movements, sending you off course. Even after hours on the slopes I was exaggerating my motions like a speeding-snow-mime cleaning two very long mountainside windows. Three areas to pour that fear-adrenaline into: consider your feet, bend your knees, and keep your back straight. In the moment it will feel like the feet you have known all your life have become estranged to you. Your legs will become two tense iron bars filling with lactic acid, and pushing your chest out to straighten your back will make you feel vulnerably squishy as you consider colliding with the snowy slope. But it gets better. For me, once I was able to lose the tension in my legs it became easier to bring those flailing feet in line, meaning less wild hurtling and more control.
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Thanks to all the skiers and snowboarders who put on an awesome show for the Big Mountain Challenge today! The spectacle continues with the Freeride World Qualifier 2* over the weekend. Free to watch in our famous backbowls. #justlakeit #skilouise #lakelouiseskiresort ? @pagetwotravel
This might sound exhausting, and a bit frightening, and it is. It’s also the best fun you can have when it all begins to click.
And thankfully Alberta is well equipped with ways to recuperate after a thrilling day on the slopes, which is all to come in part two.
GET THERE: Head to www.travelalberta.com/uk to book your trip. Canadian Sky (01342 889355 / www.canadiansky.co.uk) has a seven-night alternative winter holiday in Alberta from £1,349 per person on a room only basis. Departing on 5th January 2020, the price includes return Air Canada flights from London Heathrow to Calgary, as well as eight days car hire and seven nights’ accommodation. (2 nights in Kananaskis at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, 2 nights in Lake Louise at Baker Creek Mountain Resort, 2 nights in Banff at Moose Hotel & Suites and 1 night in Calgary at Alt Hotel). Price based on two adults travelling and sharing accommodation.