Ski/snowboard swap
Two snowriders reflect on switching disciplines

Are you a skier who wants to try snowboarding? Or a boarder curious about skis?

Reporters Markian Hawryluk (a lifelong skier, pictured in back) and David Jasper (a dedicated snowboarder, in front) decided to switch disciplines for a day, with the help of a Mt. Bachelor ski and snowboard instructor. Read what they learned about transitioning to a different snowriding sport.

A boarder on skis

“You OK?” one snowboarder in a small group called over after I almost took a fall.

The shame of it was, I hadn’t even hit the slope yet. I was just departing the West Village rental area and had a little trouble negotiating the last step in those cruelly stiff boots.

“My first time in ski boots,” I explained. I felt more than a little humbled as I moved like some kind of newly birthed Bambi-Frankenstein hybrid.

It wasn’t just the awkward gait that humbled me. As a skateboarder, snowboarding seemed like the natural way to go when I moved to Bend just in time for the 2001-02 season. Like every snowboarder I know, I just found it intrinsically cooler than skiing. Skiers in clunky boots vocally complaining about and maligning snowboarders only adds to the appeal.

Then I tried cross-country skiing for the first time last year, and I was hooked. (Those boots are like wearing a pair of cushy slippers!) I ended up going to Virginia Meissner Sno-park more than I snowboarded last season, and I confess that when I did snowboard I began looking at skis — at least the wider ones that resemble snowboards in shape, replete with raised tips in the front and back — with curiosity.

Nevertheless, I did not foresee myself donning a pair of them and taking a lesson. Yet here I was standing on skis on a late December afternoon.

Cross-country skiing gave me at least one advantage for my first-ever alpine skiing lesson. I could sort of snowplow, which is when you turn your toes inward, dig in the inside edge of the ski and pray that, along with screaming, it’s enough to overcome gravity’s attempted torture and slow you down, maybe even bring you to a stop.. Screaming isn’t necessary, but that’s how I do it.

A second slight advantage over switching from skis to snowboarding: According to snowboard and ski instructor Nate Edgell, as well as a few other Mt. Bachelor employees, snowboarders generally have an easier time migrating to skiing than skiers do moving to a snowboard. A comforting notion that I clung to it like a security blanket as I clicked in.

Edgell gave me great tips about keeping an athletic, bent-kneed stance and my upper body inclined forward, keeping pressure on the front of my boots at all times, and my poles in front of me. I skeptically tried it, and sure enough, I did not fall. At least, not yet.

Neither of the supposed advantages I had as a newbie made me feel very confident when the time came to turn. I still don’t think I understand the physics of how one can turn on skis simply by shifting weight and pointing toes — at least not without falling — and yet I managed to make three trips down the short stretch of the Bunny Slope without falling once. There was stopping, and that cowardly plowing I do, but no falling. I was as shocked as anybody.

Nevertheless, as I was turning, at least half of said turns felt incidental, even though I was following Edgell’s advice and it was working. I was merely along for the ride. This feeling was confirmed when, on my last run, I headed toward a small orange fence, leaned back, panicked and took a dive. Edgell slid over, plopped down on the snow and showed me how to return from my sprawled position to a standing one. Once again, it worked well.

And then I was back down at the bottom, and it was Markian’s turn to snowboard. I ran to the car, gleefully shed the concrete blocks — er, ski boots — and fetched my board.

Wisely, I think, I paid close attention to the snowboard lesson Edgell gave my colleague. I’d never taken a snowboard lesson before, and as he explained snowboarding to Markian, I realized I’d forgotten as much as I’d never learned.

The next day at work, a coworker asked if I’d liked alpine skiing. I had to think about it for a minute. I did. But still, I think I’ll stick with the snow devil I know.

— David Jasper

A skier on a board

I’ve finally figured out why snowboarders don’t have to wear those heavy plastic ski boots: If it weren’t for the comfortable shoes, you might never get past the first day of boarding.

As a lifelong skier, I’ve gotten to the point where I rarely fall down. At the start of each day, I line up my skis on the snow, plant a pole on each side, elegantly step into my bindings and I’m off.

As a snowboarder, you get up close and personal with the snow just to get your board strapped on. And I spent more time my first day on the board on my keister than flying down a slope.

That’s why I’m convinced things are so easy in the rental shop. They give you a pair of marshmallow-soft boots that lace up like proper footwear — no heavy metal buckets or hard plastic boots. Instead of carrying four separate pieces of gear, you have only the one board, leaving a hand free for a cup of coffee or a water bottle.

My instructor, Nate Edgell, of the Mt. Bachelor Ski School, told me he made the switch from skiing to snowboarding years ago. Now he does both, often choosing the board for deep powder days and skis for firmer snow.

It’s somewhat easier to switch from one discipline to the other, he told me, because you already understand things like the fall line, how the lift works and how to properly engage in apres-ski activities.

But any illusions that this would be easy were dispelled when I couldn’t even buckle my boots. I’m long on leg and short on flexibility, and just reaching down to the buckles was hard. Edgell helped me out the first time, expecting I’d soon be able to stand on my own two feet.

That, too, was easier said than done. Once you get your boots strapped in, you must engage in an acrobatic maneuver to get yourself upright on the board, a move probably better suited for those younger than 45. The technique involves bending your knees and positioning your rear close to the edge of the board. Then you launch yourself upward so that your center of gravity lunges forward over the top of your feet, making sure to halt your forward progress so as not to fall face-first onto the snow.

It’s not nearly as simple as I’ve made that sound.

Eventually Edgell took pity on me and helped me up onto my feet. Failing to pass the most rudimentary of tests didn’t bode well for the day’s lesson.

We started out on nearly flat snow, with just a hint of incline. As I shimmied forward, the board began to slide slowly. It was rather easy to stay balanced and even to come to a relatively smooth stop.

In fact, I had done so well Edgell decided to take me up to one of the most feared slopes on the mountain, the run that evokes more screams, causes more falls and bruises more egos than any other slope on the mountain. It should probably be named Devil’s Cliff or ER Fast Track, but I think formally it’s called the Bunny Slope.

Unlike skiing, where you direct your skis by shifting weight from one foot to another, boarding involves more of a rocking motion from heel to toe. It’s a game of balance and a game I was rapidly losing.

Edgell consoled me, telling me the learning curve for snowboarding is harder. If you can persevere through the first three days, you can get good quickly. Skiing might be easier on day one, but it takes more time to progress to higher levels.

“You know the difference between a snowboard instructor and his student?” Edgell asked. “About three days.”

I had a few runs down the slope that didn’t involve falling down, but they were the exception rather than rule. I never did quite get the hang of getting up on my own or controlling my speed on the board. Eventually, my weight would shift too far forward or backward, and I’d go down hard.

I suppose with another couple of days of trying, I’d get better and maybe figure this thing out. It just seemed like a high price to pay for comfortable shoes.

— Markian Hawryluk

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