Learning to snowboard
March 14, 2005 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Is learning to snowboard inherently dangerous? Is there anything you can do to make it safer?

I went for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and spent the whole first day nearly breaking my wrist, nearly shattering my elbows and nearly getting a concussion. It felt like it was just dumb luck I wasn't badly injured, and I'm wondering if that is normal.
posted by smackfu to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yes it's dangerous. The question is really, how dangerous is it? Most people their first few times get bumps and bruises on their palms/wrists/backside etc.

Having a good amount of powder, and limiting yourself to the slower runs is the best way to keep from getting serious injuries. Also, be sure to wear the saftey equipment (helmet) to keep your noggin secured. It's no different than any other sport, in that there are safety risks.
posted by stovenator at 9:20 AM on March 14, 2005

Wear a helmet. By gods, wear a helmet. You don't want my experience with head injury.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:23 AM on March 14, 2005

Please take a lesson from a paid instructor. Friends, I've found, are so interested in getting you up to speed on their favorite sport that they pay inadequate attention to the important basics.

Make sure that within the first 15 minutes, you learn how to fall, frontwards and backwards, and practice falling. Learning to fall safely will pay off big time right away. Bad falls cause lots of injuries.

In the interest of full disclosure, my first day out I caused a hairline fracture in my clavicle. It hurt for a long time, but that was the worst result. Also, it didn't deter me from absolutely loving snowboarding.

I also have a friend who broke his back snowboarding. He spent a year in bed recovering. However, he was doing fancy schmancy stuff in the half pipe. Start slow and stay within your skill level.
posted by Miko at 9:23 AM on March 14, 2005 [2 favorites]

Yeah, learn to fall, for sure. I went out for the first time this year. I fell every 20 feet or so in the morning, but by the afternoon, was able to go down hills with absolutely no problem. Biggest problem was falling and wanting to put my hands out and hurting my wrist (fortunately not breaking, just bruising a bit).

A paid instructor helps, but I didn't have the moolah at the time. Might have made it quicker for me to learn, though.
posted by adampsyche at 9:31 AM on March 14, 2005

I second the instructor and also throw in wrist guards.

I did neither and, at this moment in time, am typing this with my right hand in a splint.
posted by ralawrence at 9:32 AM on March 14, 2005

To reiterate: learn to fall. Falling backwards is better than forwards (you're more in control when you fall backwards) - you kinda slide off to the side onto your butt, keep your hands out of it.
Also, for the forward falls (it will happen), get some kneepads. Learn to "plow" on those scarier hills until your comfortable.
posted by hellbient at 9:56 AM on March 14, 2005

The thing with snowboarding is that the learning curve is huge. Your first times out are going to suck and be painful. You are going to fall on your butt a lot and get the whiplash but once you learn how to link your turns together, things start coming very quickly. Wear a helmet, get a lesson, and don't give up if you really want to learn. Getting hurt is just part of the game. Just try not to get hurt too bad. If you were ever a skateboarder, you are probably more predisposed to understanding the pain to payoff quotient.
posted by trbrts at 10:01 AM on March 14, 2005

Oh yeah and wrist guards when you are learning is a REAL good idea.
posted by trbrts at 10:02 AM on March 14, 2005

I went snowboarding for the first time a few months ago and i didn't get close to breaking anything. Sure, i had some bruises and was extremely sore, but i never once thought i'd get seriously injured. There was a TON of snow, however, so that may have helped. I was going on the medium difficulty runs for most of the two days i went snowboarding, for what it's worth. I have a feeling that if i were to continue snowboarding and eventually get to the point where i would go on jumps, then the injuries would start to mount.
posted by escher at 10:10 AM on March 14, 2005

Wrist protectors are a really good idea, especially when learning.

I always thought wearing a helmet was silly, but after getting a small concussion at the beginning of this season I am highly in favour of them.

And stay off the jumping until you are sure you can land properly. Nothing more embarrasing and painful than making a nice jump and falling hard on your face because you can't keep the board straight when landing.
posted by sebas at 10:15 AM on March 14, 2005

Yes'ish,' there is inherently a probability for feeling terribly sore the first times you go, and then again the first time you feel cocky. But the risks can be mitigated.

My first instructor advised me to avoid breaking your fall with your arms by folding my arms and kind of hugging my body, if/when falling forward. For me, it was almost impossible to override this instinct. I ended up with super-sore forearm and wrist tendons.

Then someone gave me the best advice on falling: 'punch the ground.' This meant, use your arms if you must, but keep a closed fist: this robs the leverage off of the wrist joint, because your fingers aren't splayed out to be bent back. This helped me enormously.

I'll be interested to see what others have to say on the safety of this technique, but I feel like it really reduced wear and tear on my tender tendons. I am sure if you have superhuman control of your subconscious actions, retracting your arms as you hurtle towards the ground is possible. Also, I heard that if you can force yourself not not blink for a couple of minutes at a time, you can totally stare down a rabid dog.
posted by BleachBypass at 10:18 AM on March 14, 2005

Some others may disagree with me but I find that learning on a slope with a slight incline is easier than the flat beginner slopes. The flat slopes prevent you from staying on an edge, lack cushioning powder, and get crowded with other beginners. With a slight incline, the distance to the slope isn't as great when you fall on your rear and if it's soft you can bounce right back up. It's also much easier to perform a turn with some incline.

Also, like some of the others said, learn to fall properly (on your butt when backwards, on knees then arms - not hands - when forwards).
posted by junesix at 10:21 AM on March 14, 2005

When I was learning I used not only wrist guards, but the armored knee and elbow pads they sell for hardcore rollerblading & skateboarding. I've retired all but the knee pads -- as I prefer to drop to my knees to rest, rather than sit. More comfy with the pads.

I never heard the "punch the ground" method. Sounds useful.

Also I'd suggest that you go to a slope alone, and work with an instructor who will help you master the very basics before moving on to each next step. It's tempting to rush things, especially if you're on a trip with friends who are all whooping it up.
posted by Tubes at 10:29 AM on March 14, 2005

i will now repeat my snowboarding horror story to a fresh set of ears.

long story short, i was snowboarding for the 2nd time in my life. it had been quite a while since the first time. getting off the chairlift, i caught an edge and fell forward (which is what *always* happens if you catch an edge on a snowboard, and depending on your kinetic energy at the moment, this can lead to a serious hard landing.)

as i was falling over, the chairlift came around and hit me in the back of the head. it was a glancing blow, but i needed 5 stitches. i'm just lucky it didnt hit me at the base of the skull. as i was recovering in the lodge and getting my head bandaged up (before leaving for the hospital), one of the guys who worked at the place told me that the previous week the same thing had happened, and that kid was still in the hospital with a serious head injury.

this was before the days of helmets, even for skateboarding. so wear a damn helmet!
posted by joeblough at 10:30 AM on March 14, 2005

...and then again the first time you feel cocky.

Very true, because while I did make it through the first day with only sore spots, I hurt my shoulder the second day when I was confident I could do anything. I could not.
posted by smackfu at 10:56 AM on March 14, 2005

Since everyone has said the bad stuff, I should point out that you're less likely to get a leg/ankle/foot injury than you are on skis, since your feet are both attached to the same board.
posted by lbergstr at 11:38 AM on March 14, 2005

Good pointers i got; In the beginning, turn constantly: lean towards the hill and bury one edge in the snow (with your center of gravity) and you will avoid those horrific stiff standing-to-faceplant falls. If you have to turn around and are going too fast, curve yourself up the hill to slow, then bury the other side. Repeat. ASAP get off the bunny hill which is usually the hardest snow! Even though the other trail's incline seems scary its the only way you will get better, it increases your learning so much faster than the bunny hill, and you can take it slow if you want to, and theres more powder! And despite what everyone tells you, getting wasted does not improve your abilities. WEAR A HELMET! Beware the flats at the bottom, turn through them, so your not crashed by a rut. The payoff is worth it..once you link some long turns speeding down that hill its like flying in heaven. BTW only the pro's go straight down the hill, you'll know them because...they go straight down the f' cliff. Also, I've seen some of the self proclaimed experts break their legs on skis ha ha. I second that fall advice: never put your hands straight down into the rock-hard oncoming ground, its coming like a freight train, and thats how i seriously f'ed up my wrist for 2 years. Just make sure to bend your elbows. Don't forget sunblock so you don't get raccoon face.
posted by uni verse at 11:59 AM on March 14, 2005

Wrist guards and a helmet are mandatory.

The learning curve is pretty brutal, but it's quicker and less frustrating than skiing. Expect to beat the crap outta yourself (just bangs & bruises), especially when you start building some speed, but the helmet/wristguards will protect you from the more serious injuries. Also, hit the gym at least a month before going to build up those quads, calves, and triceps (for lifting yourself up when you fall, heh) -- the muscle soreness can be a real butt-kicker.

FWIW, I ride double-black diamonds, and I still won't go without my wrist guards & helmet. (Then again, I'm a programmer, and a serious wrist injury would affect my livelihood.)

One more tip: Get a Camelback, cuz you'll need to be drinking plenty of fluids, and water bottles are pretty inconvenient.
posted by LordSludge at 1:38 PM on March 14, 2005

I'll tell my horror story, then: I was with a friend who was a snowboard instructor. It was perhaps my third time on a board. I had received copious praise a few weeks earlier during a ski instructor training weekend, where we had to try out snowboards. Everything was groovilicious.

I was linking turns, feeling pretty hotdoggy. I could do this!

Then something happened. I do not know what: there is a significant gap in my memory.

What has been reported is that a guy standing in line at the lift was watching me come down the blue run, making a beeline for the trees. "Huh," he figured, "Must be a track through the woods!"

When I did not reappear out the other side, he commented to the fellow beside him that he hoped the snowboarder was okay. That fellow was my boarding buddy/instructor.

I was apparently not unconscious by the time the rescue crew arrived: I argued quite a bit that they shouldn't be cutting off my neck tube, that they could pull it over my head. I have no memory of this.

I do have a faint memory of being rattled up the mountain on a body board, and thinking that I should recommend they put some nice cushioning on the thing, 'cause it was gonna shake my teeth outta my head. I have a faint memory of a bright light above me, then a kind female face looking at me and assuring me that things would be okay; this was in an ambulance. I have no memory of admission to the hospital. I have no memory of my wife and buddy showing up. I have a faint, faint memory of stitches and xrays and such.

I do have a very distinct memory of the IV drip and the single-unit room I was kept in, with plenty of monitoring equipment attached. The drip was like ice water, and it felt gut-queasingly nasty as it entered my vein. Horrible, horrible feeling, so very, very wrong.

The concern was that I might have fractured my skull significantly, which creates the possibility of meningitis or worse. Hence the massive antibiotics, the MRI, the private room, etc.

After a few days in private care I was shuffled into a four-bed unit. It was godawful, with wheezing, farting, dying old people giving up the ghost overnight. Ugh. I demanded to be released two days early, simply 'cause I couldn't take it any more.

I suppose what must have happened is that I got going too fast, target-fixated, failed to fall over to stop myself, and just launched into the creek valley and straight into a tree. A few years later I learned all about the danger of target fixation during my motorcycle rider training course: it is something that one needs to be vitally aware of and in control of. If you target fixate when riding -- or, in all likelihood, while snowboarding -- you're gonna get injured or killed.

Moral of the story: WEAR A HELMET!
posted by five fresh fish at 1:47 PM on March 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

1. Find a good instructor. Go with a class so you can understand it's hard for everyone else at first too. Once you get better take a few private lessons.
2. Wrist Guards & Kneepads (rollerblade ones work well)
3. Helmet
4. Sunscreen and water. It's easy to get dehydrated in the snow.
5. Dress in layers so when it gets warm you can cool off but not get too cold.

My friend wanted to learn how to ride switch (backwards) a few years ago. He was also a motorcycle rider. I learnede that there are all kinds of very strong and effective pads that they make for motorcyclists that you can wear under your clothes that will make you nearly indestructible on the snow.
posted by edmo at 3:52 PM on March 14, 2005

What's the learning curve for someone with skiing and skateboarding experience?
posted by raster at 4:02 PM on March 14, 2005

What's the learning curve for someone with skiing and skateboarding experience?

I grew up skateboarding, surfing, and skiing. I learned how to snowboard when I moved to Utah about 10 years ago, I was 20. I was turning the first day.

Riding groomed runs on a snowboard is a lot like skateboarding, where as riding powder is nearly identical to surfing except that you're strapped to the board which makes it even easier. But, there are some pretty specific skills you'll need to learn and adapt to. If you have a lot of skateboarding or surfing experience, you'll be way ahead of the game though.
posted by trbrts at 7:39 PM on March 14, 2005

A friend of mine broke BOTH wrists while learning. Take it slow!
posted by allpaws at 12:06 PM on March 15, 2005

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