It was a clear, bright 25th of December morning. A fresh round of snow no one had seen had fallen in the middle of the night coating suburbia in a thin layer of bluish white. Outside, the neighborhood was quiet and peaceful: no cars disrupted the unplowed powder in the street and no snowblowers churned in the driveways. But inside, anticipation hung thick and heavy in the air. Shouts and squeals punctuated a general murmur of excitement every time a new guess was made. Then a hush interrupted and silence quickly descended as another box was carefully shaken, the listener’s ear held closely against it. Then a burst of frenetic noise marked the cycle beginning anew. This scientific process was given much respect by the other onlookers; it was a solemn ritual repeated each year.
I was ten years old. And I was one of those children eagerly wanting to tear the wrapping off my presents, learning in those agonizing moments of waiting the meaning of self-control. But I didn’t need any shaking or guessing to know that the big vertical box next to the tree was exactly what I had wished for. It couldn’t have been anything else.
I had already started skateboarding at a young age, and I thoroughly relished plummeting down the hilly asphalt streets on a plank of wood (with the occasional scrape to show for it). So it only seemed logical to try the same thing on the snow, a much more forgiving medium. This was a time before snowboarding had appeared on the X Games or the Olympics, so I didn’t know much about it. No one I knew even owned a snowboard, so I had never inspected one up close.
When the moment finally came and the red wrapping lay scattered in pieces on the floor, I beheld my new vehicle with wonder. It was a black and neon-green rectangle two-inches thick with squared corners, a rope handle attached to the triangle nose, and two steel blades running along the underside like a pair of ice skates.
I loved the toy snowboard immediately.
When our schoolbus pulled up to the mountain I saw all the other snowboards. These were not straight-edged, inflexible chunks of wood! They were curved, and sleek, and made out of futuristic materials! While I stood there mouth agape, my friends were talking about the last time they “waxed” their boards, whatever that was. A thousand questions percolated in my brain. Where were the dangerous blades underneath? Where were the rope handles? And how could you steer without one? I had been talking up my skills, and now I feared I wouldn’t be able to live up to my own hype.
I tentatively got fitted for special boots that actually attached to the snowboard, trapping people to the board like an evil seatbelt. Once my boots were on I grabbed a snowboard from the wall in the shop, trying desperately to gauge where something as simple as the front was, to no avail. The ride up the chairlift lasted forever, my nervousness increasing proportionally to my elevation. At the top, I spoke briefly with a friend before he zoomed off, seeming to disappear over the rise of the snow. Knowing it was now or never I picked the smoothest trail I could see, and just went for it.
I was going so fast! Faster than ever before. I almost felt like I was flying. And I found that I could steer a bit, by shifting my weight back and forth, something I had unconsciously been doing with my own snowboard all along. Not having the handle there meant my arms were totally free to help balance, and not having the blades on the bottom meant I wasn’t confined to paths that were ruler-straight. I had been ready to denounce my parents for getting me that cheap imitation, and berate myself for ever believing it was the real thing. But I realized that like training wheels on a bike that unique snowboard hadn’t handicapped me, it had prepared me! I arrived at the bottom of the hill with so little momentum that there was no big whoosh of snow flying up, no danger of me not stopping. I just stepped out of the snowboard and turned around to see what I had come down.
It was pathetic. The smallest, flattest part of the whole mountain. There was so much more! And it was all higher! Every piece of terrain more treacherous than the last. But now, with that first little victory, I saw it all not as a threat, but a challenge.
What was your first skiing or snowboarding experience like? Share with us in the comments below!