Balancing on the Edge
An interview with Pete Rees
Some people like their jobs. Other people love their jobs. Then there are people that live their jobs. Nonstop Ski & Snowboard's marketing director Pete Rees is one of those people.
Sometimes these people can be smug and self-righteous. We love to hate them, but Pete isn't smug. He's honest, passionate and enthusiastic. He's impossible to hate. Damn him.
Having cut his teeth on the indoor snow slopes of Milton Keynes, snowboarding has been a large part of Pete's life for over a decade. He was part of the team that helped Whitelines magazine become one of the world's most respected snowboard titles, before moving to Chamonix in France for a couple of years to ride the legendary Mont Blanc Massif.
But for the last three years Pete has been discovering the wonders of Canada's challenging mountains, and working for Nonstop to promote awesome snowboard and ski instructor courses around the world. I caught up with Pete to find some snowboarding advice for newbies from a man who lives and breathes snow...
Hi Pete. Let's start with an easy one: can you give us a great tip for starting out as a snowboarder?
Wow, where a start, there are tonnes of tips. How about using protection - wearing a helmet, bum pad and wrist guards will make your first few days on the slope far more bearable. Don't worry about "looking cool" most people wear helmets, etc. now - they have become the norm.
Makes sense. Can absolute beginners ever just teach themselves to snowboard - just 'pick it up' as they go?
Not really. I'd say get a lesson or two first.
Snowboarding isn't intuitive. You're going to have a painful time and will end up with very bad technique if you try and teach yourself.
Can anyone become a snowboarder?
Yes, but get fit before you go - you'll enjoy your snowboard trip far more if your thighs aren't burning with pain after five minutes on your board. Work on the fitness of your legs before you get to the mountains. The more you do the better.
How do you do that? Hit the gym?
Yep. Things like rowing and cycling are definitely going to help. Also, try to incorporate things like squats, static wall sits and maybe even balance board work.
So it's all about the legs?
No, don't neglect the upper body; in your first couple of trips in particular you'll spend a lot of time pushing yourself up to a standing position, so working on your press-ups, dips and core strength will pay dividends.
What's really important when learning to snowboard?
Committing - when you're learning to snowboard there will be certain steps in your progression that will be quite scary to make. For example, the first time you point the board directly down-hill during a turn, you'll pick up speed quickly.
It's a fight or flight thing?
Sort of. In those situations you need to commit to what you're doing. If you bottle-out or go into any manoeuvres half-heartedly, you'll end up making life a lot more difficult for yourself and will end up falling over a lot more.
What about technical tips?
Try to keep your shoulders aligned with your board - if your body is twisted and your shoulders aren't aligned with your board it's going to affect your balance and your board will feel far less secure under your feet. This is particularly important when you're riding long flat sections, cat tracks and button lifts. A good exercise is to point your front hand at the nose of your board and your rear hand at the tail of your board.
What happens if I accidentally end up on a slope that's too steep for me?
It's good to push yourself within reason, but you should try to stick to terrain that's suitable to your ability level and making sure that you always stay in control, for your own and other's safety. If you do take a wrong turn and accidentally end up on a black run, you will have the tools to get out of it if you relax and think rationally.
So novices shouldn't panic about being overwhelmed on the slopes?
Exactly. Remember you can get down any slope; one of the first things you'll learn in snowboarding is how to balance on an edge. This very simple technique is something that will get you out of many tricky patches throughout your entire progression. If you ever find yourself on a slope that seems a little too steep for you to ride confidently, remember you can just slide down on your edge or do a falling leaf pattern.
Awesome. Let's go back to equipment - any other good tips for newbs?
Get well fitting boots - the way that you communicate with your snowboard is almost entirely with the souls of your feet. No matter how good your technique is, if your boots aren't allowing your feet to communicate affectively and painlessly, you're not going to have a good time.
What should I pack my backpack with for a day on the slopes?
You don't need a backpack unless you're going into the backcountry or doing some serious off-piste. As a beginner it is unnecessary and will affect your balance and ultimately give you bad technique. While you're learning you'll never be far away from the nearest cafe and water tap, so there's no need to carry tonnes of food or water.
What about people that get moody and irritable if they don't eat every three hours?
If you like you can carry snacks in your pockets to keep you going, but that's all you need.
Can you give us any classic pitfalls to avoid?
Avoid flats. Unlike skiers, snowboarders don't have poles to propel themselves on flats. Try to build the confidence to look a few hundred yards ahead. Always try to head towards downhill areas. If flats are unavoidable, try to build up enough speed before to clear them without stopping.
What's your advice for snowboarding beginners that aren't traditional traveller types?
Appreciate your surroundings. Sometimes when you're learning you can be a little too focused on what's happening down at your feet. Take a look around every now and then and take in the spectacular scenery.
Because it's like living in an Instagram?
Err... Yes. Mountains really are a wonder of nature; try to enjoy their beauty. Also, you'll find that by looking at the floor often you'll end up on it. (Where you look is where you'll go in snowboarding.) Look up and in your direction of travel and you'll find your stance improves.
You've been around a bit, Pete; what are your all-time top five ski resorts?
I'd have to say Fernie and Red Mountain in British Columbia have joined Chamonix, Banff and Serre Chevalier for me.
That's great, Pete. Can you give us one final tip?
Get ready for snowboarding to take over your life, there's no going back once you've caught the bug!
If you're interested in getting into skiing and snowboarding then head over to Nonstops website for more advice and information on some of the thing's that you can do on your gap year.
Feel the need for some adrenaline? Head to our Extreme Gap Years section.
If you're thirsty for more winter adventure, read Lulu Little's article on Skiing in Argentina.
About the Author: Andrew Tipp
Andrew Tipp is a writer, blogger and editor. On his original gap year he volunteered in a rural South African school, teaching English to teenagers. In total he's spent more than a year backpacking around the world, and has worked as a travel editor for gapyear.com. His favourite continents are South America and Africa, and he cites Bolivia and Sri Lanka as the most interesting countries he's ever visited. Outside travel Andy is also a film geek, news junkie, pop culture noodler and social media dabbler.
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