What You Need to Know if You're a First-Time Snowboarder

March 1, 2013

It’s not everyday that I get to hit the slopes with a professional snowboarder, so when Toyota arranged a private session with two-time Olympian Elena Hight in Breckenridge, CO, I was all over it.

It was my first time snowboarding so I hit the slopes with a mix of excitement and apprehension as I strapped one leg into my Burton board and stumbled my way to the bunny hill.


Training wasn’t easy but it was less mechanical than I anticipated. In fact, I realized that simply switching my gaze was all I needed to do to change the direction of my board. But there were a few lessons that weren’t as easy, like learning how to fall. My natural instinct was to put my hands out and catch myself—a move my wrists did not appreciate. To avoid a very painful break, I began moving downhill with my hands crossed tightly over my chest or behind my back.

Another tough lesson: Mastering my toe and heel-edge stances. I was lucky enough to have Elena around to hold my hands while I practiced both, but heading downhill with the wrong stance is the easiest way to face-plant in the snow.

By the end of the day I moved from the bunny hill to the beginner trail, accomplishing more than I ever anticipated. Yes, I fell a lot. But taking my first real run made it all worth it.

You may not be able to hit the mountain with a two-time Olympian, but Elena shared a few tips to help you prepare for a first-time snowboarding adventure that can be just as successful.

Build lower-body strength by doing squats
“Snowboarding requires a lot of quad strength and uses your glutes and hamstrings,” Hight says. “Do regular squats, lateral squats, or split squats.” You can also take a few yoga classes. "It doesn’t seem like it transfers, but the extra flexibility really helps when you’re on your snowboard,” she says.

Figure out if you're goofy or regular foot
“You have to have one dominant foot, which is your front foot,” says Hight.  To figure it out, do a cartwheel. “See which foot you would step on to go to your hands and that’s generally your front foot,” she says.  Step with your right foot and you’re a goofy rider. Step with your left and you’re regular.

Invest in a few must-have items
“Eyewear is a huge thing and gloves are a huge thing,” she says.  “If you’re a beginner, renting boots, bindings, and a board is totally okay. Read: The Hottest Ski and Snowboard Gear

Master the basics before hitting the trail
You’ll need to know how to strap yourself in and out of your bindings, how to stop on your own, and how to do Falling Leaf.  “If you can do these, no matter what kind of mountain you’re put on top of, you can get down,” she says. 

Elena’s Falling Leaf how-to: You’re either going to be on your heel or toe-edge, and instead of turning down the mountain you’re just going to stay on the one edge and drift from one side of the run to the other, so you look like a leaf falling out of the sky. It is a really easy way to control your speed and keep you from having to turn from one edge to the other.

Give it three days
“It is really easy to go out one day and give up,” says Hight.  “If you still haven’t improved at all over three days I would say it’s okay to quit, but I guarantee that 99 percent of people will be good enough after three days that they’ll be hooked.”

Already a pretty good snowboarder or skier? Sign-up for an Oakley Progression Session. The girls-only camp lets riders get personal coaching from professional Oakley athletes like Gretchen Bleiler.