Words On Wednesday

Back on the Board – My Snowboarding Hiatus

After a break of roughly 4 years, I’ve finally gone snowboarding again.

Beginnings

I’ve always been interested in snowboarding. My older cousins have been either skiing or snowboarding since probably before I was born, and at least as long as I can remember. I played snowboarding video games, I stood on sleds like they were boards, I just never actually went honest-to-goodness snowboarding.

This finally changed on January 7, 2010. As an 18 year old freshman in college, I finally got the chance to go snowboarding at Sugar Mountain. I borrowed a board, boots, goggles, gloves, and pants from my cousin. The jacket I wore wasn’t waterproof, so I was soaking wet by the time we left. I wasn’t even remotely good (excuse the potato quality, I had to grab the video off Facebook), but I had fun.

The next Christmas after my first snowboarding trip, I got a board of my own, as well as all the proper gear. It wasn’t top tier, but it was something I could call mine. In subsequent years, I hit the slopes more and I got much better. Instead of falling every few feet, I started falling every few hundred feet. I spent more time upright and less time stumbling or outright lying on the ground.

Most of the time, I went to resorts that were fairly close to home. Sugar, Appalachian, and Beech were my stomping grounds. I learned which slopes were my favorites, and which I wasn’t so fond of. I finally took on my first black diamond, Southern Star at Beech. I wasn’t hitting huge jumps, but I could make my way around the mountains.

Eventually, it was time to step my game up to something a little more advanced. I went with a group to Snowshoe Mountain for a weekend trip on January 25, 2013. For a full weekend, we snowboarded as much as possible. We went to a bluegrass show in a sketch motel bar in West Virginia, we bonded with the locals, and we genuinely had an amazing time.

Hiatus

After the Snowshoe trip I felt confident in my abilities as a snowboarder. I wasn’t great, I couldn’t do cool tricks like the pros, but I could navigate enough to handle the slopes. But then I stopped.

My fiance (now wife) and I found out we were expecting in early 2013, with our oldest son being born in November, I couldn’t exactly do much in the way of snowboarding with a newborn, and I wasn’t going to leave her home alone with him. That meant that the winter of 2013-14 would have to be without any snowboarding trips. No biggie, I could just go next year.

As the winter of 2014-15 approached, I was stoked that I could get to go snowboarding again. Then we found out we were expecting another child. Though our oldest was old enough that I could justify a single day away, I certainly wouldn’t do that to my pregnant wife. Plus, having her on my insurance meant we would have to pay at least something for this second birth. Lift tickets are expensive, and I really just couldn’t justify the cost when I should be saving up for the medical bills and miscellaneous baby expenses. There went another winter with no snowboarding.

The bulk of 2015 came and went, and winter was approaching. Honestly, I started to be apathetic toward snowboarding. Instead of hoping that I would get to go, I just figured that I wouldn’t get to. We had a toddler and a newborn. Taking care of 2 kids is hard enough with both parents around, I couldn’t justify leaving for a weekend trip and not doing my share to give my wife a break from a busy week of stay-at-home solo parenting. Besides, medical bills were still hanging around and we had a surgery planned for early 2016 that was sure to put even more of a drain on our savings account. As much as I hated to pass on snowboarding, winter 2015-16 turned out to be another year with no time on the slopes.

As 2016 came to an end, I mostly wrote off this winter as another year without snowboarding. My gear was just collecting dust somewhere at my grandparents’ house, why bother getting it out now? We had just recently paid off the medical bills from the surgery, and we really weren’t in any place financially to splurge on a lift ticket. My cousin invited me to go with him on January 7th, 2017, but we were forecast to get quite a bit of snow at home. Even if I could comfortably afford it, I would hate to leave the kids at home to play in the snow without me. Ultimately, I’m glad that I could stay home and play with them, but that itch to go snowboarding was as strong as ever.

Return

In early January, I got a text from a friend, asking if he, a mutual friend, and I could go snowboarding together. He had already asked for January 26th off work, to make sure he got the whole weekend. Having never been before, he wanted to go with someone who could teach him.

Though I really didn’t know if I could go, I felt bad for him to spend vacation days to go snowboarding if I let him down. I talked it over with the wife, and she said that I should go. Sure, lift tickets are expensive, but I hadn’t been in 4 years and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal for her to keep the kids by herself for one Saturday.

We decided on Saturday, January 28th. It worked best for everyone, I would be back home by evening to put the kids to bed, everybody was scheduled to be off work. Still, I expected something to come up. Somebody would end up having to work, there would be an appointment or something that I had forgotten about, or some other unforeseen deterrent. I genuinely didn’t figure we would actually be able to go.

As the date got closer, things begin to get more concrete. One friend had to back out unfortunately, but we added my cousin to the guest list, and another friend of his was able to attend. We laid out an itinerary, started getting gear together, and all the pieces started falling into place.

Pulling all of my equipment out of my old closet at my grandparents’ house was a strange experience. As much as I enjoy snowboarding, it was almost unfamiliar. With 4 years of storage, everything had gathered a layer of dust. I found everything, fortunately, but the years have not been kind to my waistline. My bib fit, but just barely. My board had quite a few gashes in the wax from my last few trips, so those would have to be filled in.

I charged my GoPro and started gathering all the mounts and peripherals that I expected to use. I stuck mounting plates on the nose and tail of my board, emptied the SD card, and charged my batteries. When snapping the camera back into its housing, I noticed that the latch had cracked. Without the time or money to order a new housing, I super glued the broken pieces back together and left them to cure. Though I wouldn’t trust it to endure being submerged, my quick fix should at least keep the camera secured to my board.

Sugar Mountain Snowboarding – January 28, 2017

On Saturday morning, we all gathered at my house and made our way up to Sugar Mountain Resort. If you want to see our shenanigans in all their glory, check out the video on my YouTube channel.

Sugar Mountain Resort's Slopes and Trails

When we pulled into the parking area, we discovered that presumably the entirety of North and South Carolina had the same idea. Every single lot was packed out with skiers and snowboarders. I suppose a week or two of warm weather in the dead of winter has that effect when the temperatures come back down.

We got in line, bought our lift tickets, and geared up. With Bradley having never been snowboarding before, you would expect that we would spend some time on the bunny slope (dubbed the “Magic Carpet Area” at Sugar). You would be wrong. It’s always been the tradition within my circle of friends to hit a green circle right from the beginning, as a sort of trial by fire. Admittedly, beginner slopes aren’t that much harder than the designated learning slopes, and you usually have more space to play around with.

As we ride the double lift up, I explain what’s about to go down. Everybody falls when they first get off the lift, that’s just par for the course. The goal, I continue, is to get far enough out of the way that you won’t inhibit other people from getting off the lift. You will fall, it might hurt, but you get back up and keep trying.

Frankly, I’m a little unsure myself. It’s been 4 years since I went snowboarding. I remember the theory, but I haven’t put it in practice in a long time. If nothing else, I am tenacious, so I know I’ll pick it back up in time. There just might be a few bumps and falls before I get to that point.

Before we know it, the lift exit is just a short distance away. I get into position and explain again that you just stand up and let the lift push you off the ramp. This is about to be a train wreck, and I’m assessing the best way to mitigate any collateral damage. “Just get out of the way of the lift.”

We hit the platform and stand up. So far, so good. We’re scooting along the flat portion and coming up on the ramp. He’s been snowboarding before, he can at least balance well enough to get out of the danger zone. We start the inevitable descent and I’m just hoping we don’t make a scene.

When we hit the ground, I’m pulling over to my left and trying my best to record this ordeal while avoiding other people. Bradley cruises as gracefully as a swan across the snow and I am completely taken aback. He makes it clear out of the unloading area and onto the slope itself. He’s going, going… gone. And by gone, I mean he gets thrown over the board and falls face first onto the snow. Not perfect, but much better than I expected from his first time off a lift.

From this moment, we branched out a bit. Corey and I continue down the mountain, giving me an opportunity to find my groove again. At the bottom of the slope, we discover that Bradley’s binding has come loose, Blake is taking it to the repair table to fix it, and he’s walking down the mountain sans-board. Cool, I guess Corey and I will come down Easy Street again to give them time to make adjustments.

Without the inhibitions of maintaining a group and making sure a rookie finds his footing, we make quick work of the slope. At the bottom, we attempt to re-convene with our group. After a few minutes, we see Blake, but no Bradley. In order to make the most of our lift tickets, Blake and Corey decide to hit the big slopes while I look for Bradley, and I can have my turn once they get back down the mountain.

I look up through the line for the easy slope. Surely he wouldn’t have gone by himself, but I want to be certain. No dice. I figured the next logical place would be the bunny slope. If he couldn’t quite handle Easy Street, maybe he went down there to get the basics. Again, nothing. Alright, so maybe he went into the lodge for some reason. As I’m walking toward the lodge, I hear him call my name and look up to see him sitting at one of the picnic tables along the outside of the lodge.

After a brief discussion, I convince him to give it a go on the Magic Carpet Area. No judgement, we all suck at first, we’ll just take our time and learn how to handle the board. We get down to the bunny slope, strap in, and I try to show him how to maneuver just a short distance to the side. He’s getting it slowly, but taking those falls on Easy Street have clearly caused some pain and he’s not so willing to go balls-to-the-wall again right now. No worries, we’ll hang it up for a little while and come back later.

At this point, Bradley decides to sit it out for now, and I go over to Big Birch to try out a blue square before I go full bore from the top of the mountain. I’m definitely rusty, but it feels good to be back on the slopes. When I got back down to the bottom, I stopped by Bradley’s little camp to check on him. He’s still good, but no interest on getting back on the board yet. No problem, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

I ran into Corey and Blake waiting in line at the Summit Express lift. I could handle Big Birch, surely I could handle the other blue squares coming down the mountain. We get off the lift at the top and discuss the plan. Apparently, Blake and Corey wanted to hit Gunther’s Way, the “More Difficult” black diamond within a blue square that I’ve never seen before. Ehhh, I’m not keen on the idea, but I’ve done black diamonds before. I got this. We’re planning on meeting at the gate that splits off from Switchback.

On my way down, I’m scanning the slope looking for Blake. I hadn’t looked at the trail map, so I didn’t know exactly where Gunther’s Way started, but surely I would see them. No Blake, no Blake, no Blake, when suddenly I hit a dip in the snow, the nose of my board catches, and I eat it. Considering I was moving along pretty good, I’m grounded. I hit so hard that my GoPro got ripped out of the mount and thrown a few feet away. When I finally get my wits about me, I scoot over to the side, grab the GoPro, and take a minute.

Eventually, I think I’m good enough to go again. I hop back up and continue down Switchback. Once I reach the top of Upper Flying Mile, I stop on the side of the slope and try to look for the top of this mythical Gunther’s Way. Not seeing anything, I decide we can just meet up again at the bottom of the mountain and we’ll try again. Cruising down the mountain, I’m still a little beat up from falling, but I’m alright.

When the slope opened up a little more, I try to see if I can pick up speed and still maintain control. No, apparently I couldn’t. Before I reach terminal velocity, I lose it, slip, and take another fall. This time, the GoPro mount rips off of the adhesive completely. I’m sprawled out, sure that I look like a complete idiot. Again, I scoot over to the edge of the slope, grab the GoPro, and sit for a few minutes to ponder where I am in life.

I’m winded, I’m sore, and I’m not entirely sure I have it in me to get back up. Given that I have to get down from the mountain somehow, I finally get up and keep going. No more showing off, no more testing my limits, I just want to make it to the bottom without falling again. I take it slow and eventually cruise into the open area in front of the lodge.

Clearly, I looked about as bad as I felt, since Bradley was tremendously concerned for my well being when I walked up and sat my board beside his. I wasn’t done for the day, but I definitely needed a minute to compose myself. After a while, Blake and Corey waved for me to come up to the Summit Express lift again. Whether I was ready for it or not, I wasn’t going to pass on one more run before the end of the day.

We took the lift back to the top, again planning to hit Gunther’s Way. Was I ready for a “more difficult” run? Probably not, but we may as well go big or go home. Knowing where to look this time, I went through the gate to the slope and stopped at the top. I forgot how steep some slopes can be. Fortunately, a steep slope means you really don’t fall all that far when the board slides out from under you.

Weaving back and forth, I did surprisingly well given that I was still beat from falling on Switchback and Upper Flying Mile. At the bottom of Gunther’s Way, Blake and Corey were waiting at the GW lift. We were going again? Nope, not me. As much as I hated to be a buzz killington, I was tapping out. Blake decided to hit Gunther’s Way one more time, but Corey and I were done.

We came on down Easy Street, met up with Bradley, and made our way to the car. I was tired, I was in pain, but I had a lot of fun. Despite my 4 year hiatus, I could still make my way around the mountain on a snowboard. I’m not as good as I was in West Virginia, but I didn’t expect to be. However, I’m going to try my best not to let that sort of gap happen again. Even if I’m only going once a year, I want to keep snowboarding.

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Words: 2994 | Characters: 15649 | Sentences: 181

Paragraphs: 43 | Reading Level: 9-10th Grade

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