Monday, February 06, 2006


When snowboarding burst onto the scene a while back, suddenly everybody wanted to board. Skiing was so last year, so unhip in comparison. The media was quick out of the blocks, hyping the new new thing, with the clothes, the music, the attitude to go with it. Many old-time skiers, myself included, felt compelled to try it out. Snowboarding, unlike skiing of old, is trivially easy to learn -- an averagely fit normal person will learn to link turns in an afternoon. Skiing the way it used to be on two-metre long, straight, narrow skis you could try for years and still suck at it. Of course, skiing got a cue off the snowboarding revolution to get its act in order, and over the last decade or more, technological progress in ski design has been furious, and learning to ski on the new parabolic, or carving, shorter skis is a different proposition altogether. An older pair of skis that I owned were 2.05m and straight and narrow, and skiing on them was hard work. My current pair of gorgeous technological freeride marvel from Rossignol are 1.70m with a radius of 16m. They basically turn themselves without much intervention from me, and are equally at home on and off the piste. After a brief period of snowboarding, I went back to my skis, never to look back.

Don't get me wrong, a skilled snowboarder is a joy to watch - the pencil-thin trace of perfectly carved turns, or crazy air manouvers off kickers too high to consider. Unfortunately, the majority of snowboarders belong to a different class altogether. Although boarding is easy to learn, it is actually quite hard to learn to carve properly on a board, much harder than it is to neatly carve your turns on a pair of parabolic skis. The result is that your average boarder, hip skate-styled clothes and all, doesn't really turn that much, but instead scrapes down the slope, alternating between heel and toe edge, and frequently, when encountering a slope fractionally steeper than the comfort zone, slides down sideways the complete length of the piste without bothering, or able, to turn. For a novice skier in the same situation the gut instinct is instead to repeatedly traverse side to side, slowly and gently weaving their way down on the edges.

The effect that a brace of mediocre snowboarders has on the state of a piste is extraordinary. Their wide scrapes quickly polish hardpack into ice, leaving huge mounds of snow at the end. With modern skis, a skier of the same experience as a snowboarder is probably more proficient, and certainly has much lower impact. Skiing on icy pistes punctuated by gathered mounds of snow is no fun for skiers and boarders alike. Normally, I'd seek out the steeps and deeps that novice boarders would avoid, but in seasons like this when the snow is a scarce resource indeed, one is forced to suffer the results.

The tide appears to be turning away from boarding in that people new to snow sports no longer automatically reach for a board. Skiing is hip again, with the advent of twin tipped trick skis that let the skier perform aerobatic stunts and half pipe tricks previously the sole domain of the boarder tribe.

So, dear boarders, if after a week you still can't carve your turns, do us all a favour and hand in your board and pick up a pair of carving skis instead. Both you and I will have a better time.

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