At the spritely age of seventeen, whilst in college, I learned to snowboard as an enrichment program to my studies on a dry ski slope in High Wycombe. Fast forward nine years later and I haven’t stepped foot on the slopes since, let alone boarded on real snow; which is why I was so incredibly excited to visit the Snozone, which is situated within the Xscape building in the heart of central Milton Keynes.
With ample parking all around the giant glass Xscape building, I purchased a car parking ticket from the coin machine for three hours and forty-five minutes for £3.00, before walking through the main automatic doors, past the many clothes shops and restaurants to the back of the building and into the Snozone. I had telephoned a few hours beforehand to book in for a £29.99 ninety-minute Lesson 1 adult snowboarding lesson, as you’re not permitted to use the public access slopes unattended if you haven’t got sufficient skills. With it being so many years since I’d last boarded I definitely needed a refresher course! I was greeted at the reception by a friendly member of staff who asked for my name and found my booking on the computer, before printing off my lesson pass and laminating it. With it being my first visit to the Snozone he showed me where to find my instructor, the check in desk for my board and equipment and the changing area and toilets. I had arrived forty minutes prior to my booking, as was advised, so that I could get my equipment ready, go to the toilet, get a drink from the vending machine, stow my bag in a locker and sit in the foyer area ready to be called through by my instructor.
As I had no equipment of my own I used the venues supply of a waterproof jacket and trousers at the additional cost of £5.00, with the helmet, boots and snowboard already included in the price of the booking. The only items that I didn’t have were a pair of waterproof gloves, which aren’t available for hire due to hygiene reasons, but are sold in the shop for around £16.00. As I wasn’t looking to purchase any equipment of my own I didn’t wear any gloves, but when I got onto the -5 degree snow I really wish I’d invested in a pair!
My instructor Jeremy greeted me moments later and explained that Lesson 1 focuses on how to control your speed on the toe edge of the board, meaning you face backwards down the slope. Walking onto the snow at the bottom of the tutor slope, which is sectioned off next to the larger public boarders and skiers slope, Jeremy talked me through the health and safety of boarding. He covered everything from how best to stand, securing and releasing the bindings, how to use the conveyor lift, how to turn over, steer, stop and start on the snow amongst other things. He answered all of my questions and gave me great tips on how best to find balance by turning my knees outwards, standing with my hands behind me in the small of my back, lifting my shoulders and looking up straight ahead of me. I board goofy, which means that I lead with my right foot, and as such I had a different board to those that lead with their left.
After taking the lift to the top of the slope and being shown how to safely approach the edge, I sat down in the snow, rolled over on my shoulder to flip my board onto my front, and stood at the peak to begin my first toe-edge run. To start moving I had to lower my heels to the snow, and to brake I stood on tiptoes digging the edge of the board into the snow. Gradually I edged my way in fits and starts down to the level centre reservation half way down the slope before taking the lift back up and going again. After a few runs I was able to board down the slope in one go without stopping, so we then moved onto the diagonal sideslip, which consisted of gliding from left to right whilst descending. I was shown how to put my weight onto one leg whilst looking in the direction I wanted to go, and pointing a hand to steer; the harder you lean and the further round you look, the more your board will turn depending of the extent of the angle you desire. In order to go backwards in a straight line again I simply had to centre my balance and look up ahead. With each run my balance became better and I felt the tension and stiffness release from my legs as I really got into it and had the biggest smile on my face as I mastered each step.
At the end of the lesson I’d managed to board down the entire slope on my tow edge with a diagonal sideslip, although I took a few tumbles at the end because my legs started to ache from squatting on the board, and the weight and control of having your feet fixed in the bindings really gives you a workout. It didn’t hurt to fall, as when you lose balance you simply drop forward onto your knees, roll over on one shoulder to flip your board and get straight back up again. And towards the end of the lesson, instead of sitting on my board and rolling in the snow to turn myself over I was able to stand up and jump with my feet in the bindings to turn myself around, just as you would on a skateboard.
I had a fantastic first lesson and Jeremy said I’d progressed really well. Even though I’d boarded years ago, I wouldn’t say that I was skilled, so having a lesson certainly helped to get me back into the swing of things and gave me back my confidence. Boarding on real snow was far quicker and harder than on a dry slope but a million times more fun and incredibly addictive. After the lesson was over I was issued my achievement record card, which Jeremy filled out and signed. Once I’ve completed Lesson 4 I can book onto the public slope unattended whenever I like, and will receive a one hour free pass for completing my card. Fast-track lessons and one-to-one tutorials are also available, as well as family bookings, child classes and advanced, and you can learn to snowboard from scratch on real snow for around £100 which is amazing value. I had a fantastic time on the slopes and can’t wait to come back for my next lesson, maybe I’ll be good enough to compete in the winter olympics one day! If you’ve been to the Snozone for a skiing or snowboarding lesson please feel free to comment below on how you found it, what you enjoyed most and what level you’re at.
UPDATE: 10/04/14 Lesson 2
Finally I found childcare to make it back for lesson 2, a little later than I’d hoped but just as enthusiastic nonetheless. The second lesson focused on the heel edge of the board, and there’s no prize for guessing it involves facing out down the slope and resting back on your heels. The instructor stressed the importance of being lazy, squatting like you’re sitting in a chair and sinking back into your boots and chilling out, releasing all tension and enjoying the ride.
I only fell a few times this lesson, and I felt like a duck returning to the water within minutes of getting back onto the slope. Instead of chopping into the snow and stopping and starting, each run got smoother and smoother, and looking back up at the snow when I reached the bottom looked like someone had ran a knife over butter instead of chopping carrots; that’s progress and control for you! We practised a diagonal sideslip on the heel edge by controlling the board with feet instead of leaning the body. Me being the speed demon that I am, I have a pretty heavy accelerator toe which clearly isn’t my fault, so instead of doing a gradual sideslip facing straight on and gliding to one side, I overcompensated and spun my board side on doing doughnuts right the way down the slope as I switched from toe to toe screaming, whooping and fist pumping with sheer excitement. The adrenaline and freedom you feel when you pick up speed and master a move is out of this world and I am beyond hooked. My instructor said that I can catch a video next time so that I can chart my progress and show you all how much fun it is. Although I forgot to bring my lesson card along with me to get signed off, as I was in the system they kindly started me off with a new one and I invested in a pair of waterproof gloves too. I’m so excited for my next lesson as I’m already half way through until I can board unattended. I’m buzzing with energy, my legs have had a great workout and I’m daydreaming about winter holidays.
If you’ve been to the Snozone please feel free to leave your thoughts and feedback below, do you already snowboard or ski or are you thinking about it? Have you had lessons and is there an instructor you would like to recommend? And how often do you visit Xscape? If you have any questions for me just ask and I will do my best to help.