Saturday, April 14, 2012

Learning to snowboard and picking gear

From I am mcgrof's smirking revenge

I started snowboarding around Pi (3/14) in 2011. My first venture was out to Kirkwood in Tahoe. I went with my coustin Pico who was out visiting me in San Francisco. I had not expected to try snowboarding as I thought it would be painful to learn and I already was starting to feel comfortable with skiing. I also didn't know squat about snowboarding... and neither did my cousin... She really wanted to learn so being the crazies we are, we just tried it, without taking any lessons, without input from anyone, we just winged it.

From I am mcgrof's smirking revenge

"Fuck guac, get an avocado and put a chip on it" (tm). That was our general attitude for the entire trip we were making. We were traveling frugally, winging it, not caring much about anything. It's a good thing because when we arrived to Kirkwood from Yosemite we got there circa 11pm and not knowing the area we were a bit shocked to hear the prices for staying at any of the local Kirkwood hotels... and we also had my dog Mookie (which my cousin later kidnapped from me). We fortunately got a hint about some Hostel called "Rockstar" within Kirkwood we should call (530-318-5046) and check out.

From I am mcgrof's smirking revenge

We got very very lucky. The Rockstar Lodge at Kirkwood was dirt cheap, allowed dogs, and... had a ping pong table, a pool table... and had a groovy young crowd crashing there. As you can see above too, the amount of snow that fell this season was amazing. That's a window at the Hostel.



Captain Morgan joined us. Here you can see Pico has the Captain in her...

From I am mcgrof's smirking revenge

Having a little Captain in you helps if you are learning to snowboard. Its painful. You will suffer, you will experience pain, you will complain, your ass is going to hurt for a while, but -- you will have fun. I recommend to go prepared for 3-4 days of mental anguish, desperation and pain.

From I am mcgrof's smirking revenge

We rented gear from Sports Basement in San Francisco. They give you what I think are Burton Rockers with some cheesy bindings and boots. Given the price the cheap rental equipment is reasonable if you're not sure if you're going to get into it. As soon as you realize you like Snowboarding though ditch the crap rental stuff and quickly move on to demo equipment. The nice thing about snowboarding is that after being in hell for about 3-4 days, the next few days after that will feel increasingly rewarding. If you move away from cheap rental equipment to demo equipment you'll even feel a greater difference.

That season though I didn't move away from the cheap rental shit... and I felt the pain. As you get better and move from Greens (Beginners) to Blues (Intermediate) trails the biggest issue will be the discomfort felt on the feet and the tiredness on the legs and feet. Unfortunately the only way to work on that is to keep doing it. It gets better, I promise. I was so hooked on snowboarding after that trip I kept going almost every weekend until the season ended. Fortunately that year we had a great season and we had snow even toward the end of April. Towards the end of the season I even had grown the cojones to go to the top of Heavenly at 10,000 feet to cross over to the Nevada section, and even dared it down my first set of black diamond runs. Heavenly has an awesome view up there, on one side you see Lake Tahoe, and on the other you see the Nevada desert.

From I am mcgrof's smirking revenge

I liked snowboarding enough I committed to renting a cabin in South Lake Tahoe for the 2012 season with a few good friends from SF. The price was not bad considering how often I was going last season and crashing at motels or hostels, it came out to $250 / month for 3 months. It had a hot tub :D The leased turned out to have worked really well and met really great folks. I think I ended up going up almost every weekend. It worked really well given that a few of my friends also worked from home in SF so we typically went up Thursday night, worked from home Friday and hit the slopes all day Saturday-Sunday.



Since I knew I was going to go up more often I decided to buy my boots but demo snowboards. You cannot really demo snowboard boots so the best I could do was to try the snowboard boots out at a store. I got my boots from the good folks from Mountain West in SF. The service at Mountain West was great, I highly recommend the place. I tried on a lot of snowboard boots, from all price ranges. At a certain point I couldn't feel the difference anymore. I ended up picking the 2012 Burton Imperial. They're amazing.

I took complete advantage of the fact that you can demo snowboards. Sports Basement has a great deal for demoing, you demo snowboards with nice bindings for $50 for the weekend (same price for Thursday - Monday :D ) and towards the end of the season the amount of money you have spent on demos can be used towards the purchase of a snowboard. Pretty sweet huh? Oh yeah..

I started off with the lightest snowboard on the demo fleet, the 2012 Rome Anthem. I was excited due to the background I got about the company Rome, founded by two folks from Burton who apparently had left for perusing their own vision on snowboard gears, etc. I hated the snowboard though.... Meh. I think it was just too damn light for me. Not sure. I just wasn't feeling it, at all... I moved on to the 2012 Burton Custom X. Woot! Wow. What a difference... I really just wanted to go with that one at that point.. but I felt I wouldn't really be taking advantage of the demo program so I tried others... I actually wanted to avoid Burton since some friends had ranted about Burton... so I listened and tried Lip Tech. There is a company called GNU that makes snowboards. Fellow geeks, it has nothing to do with the GNU project... Lip Tech and GNU are part of one family of companies under Mervin Manufacturing. The only difference I can find is perhaps that Lip Tech innovates stuff while GNU focuses and pioneers on being the world's most environmentally friendly snowboard shop. Both companies sell the same Lib Tech Banana Technology which reverses the typical snowboard's camber. I'm not going to get into snowboard technology here. My advice: ignore all that stupid shit and just try the damn boards out. I tried learning as much as possible about the technology advancements on snowboarding but found most marketing over the technology sucks ass and instead is sugar coded for what seems to be teenager year old punks who marketing would like to believe prefer fun cool words over facts. The slew of low quality marketing videos on YouTube explaining snowboard technologies are just sad. There is much room for improvement on education on snowboard technology. Not only does the materials suck ass, but its also confusing given that every snowboard company bites each other's technology and simply slightly modifies it and gives it a different groovy name. Anyway, I tried the 2012 GNU Billy Goat. That was really nice but unfortunately the bindings that Sports Basement had to offer for that snowboard were not as great as the ones offered through Burton Boards. On Burton boards Sports Basement's highest quality binding is the Burton Malavida and at least I do feel a difference with them. The 2012 GNU Billy Goat felt very comparable to the 2012 Burton Custom X, unfortunately the snow conditions varied when I went up so I couldn't manage to get equal fair comparisons between them, but they were both pretty nice. Something about the Custom X though.. I couldn't place it yet, was just feeling better though. I then moved on to the 2012 K2 Slayblade. This shit was heavy, really really heavy... It wasn't so great on Blue trails but it proved to me to be a great board on steep Black Diamond runs. It turned great and it was fast. For traversals it sucked. Due to the weight it also tired my feet out quite a bit... Moving on... I tried the 2012 Burton Joystick. This was a lot of fun, it felt very close to the Custom X and Billy Goat but I thought that the Custom X let me go faster through traversals, I wasn't sure. Time was running out so I went back to trying the Custom X.


At that point I had advanced quite a bit in technique though. I was doing Moguls on Black Diamonds and loving it, I even tried my first set of Double Black Diamonds. My first double black diamond was down Heavenly's Mott Canyon's Gate 1, which leads you to a route called "Widow Maker" (picture above). I'm surely not ready to sail through this yet, and it gave me good perspective as to what I need to work on. I do feel comfortable down Double Black Diamonds that have moguls though and in fact I love them.

From I am mcgrof's smirking revenge

Well, the only Double Black Diamond with moguls I've tried is the Gun Barrel run at Heavenly. The only sad thing about moguls and snowboarding is that not many snowboarders like moguls and in fact you cannot find any good videos on YouTube to help you learn to snowboard on moguls... The way I learned was by watching one person go down the moguls on a snowboard really well. It was a rare site.. and if you want to learn to go down moguls on snowboards I recommend for you to also wait for your unicorn sighting and learn from it. If anyone is aware of good videos of snowboarders doing moguls please send them my way! Just a warning -- moguls are a hell of a work out :D The challenge is so much fun though. Be sure to work on cardio if you really want to work on moguls often. I even started getting comfortable at terrain parks, nothing fancy, but at least landing jumps and hit my first rail. I've gotten a bit fearless too and that can be a problem.. At one point I took a steep ramp, my friend tells me I didn't go up that high but moved forward in the air about 8 feet -- I landed straight on my ass. Its been about 2 months since that happened. My ass still hurts. After a while falling is part of the fun. You get used to it, and at least for me if I tumble over, even if I do full rollover flips down moguls, or steep hills, I just try to gain balance and continue to move on as soon as I can. Its fun!


And the winner is... The 2012 Burton Custom X! I got a size 160. Due to the Sports Basement demo program (I demo'd 8 times), a 15% Aids Life Cycle discount, I only paid about $80 for the board! Not bad for a board that is listed as close to $700... Now to rave about this board. You literally fly on the snow with this board. If you get fresh powder, oh boy, you feel you have jetpack on. It handles turns really well, I love it on the moguls. On long traversals, which unfortunately are very common at Heavenly, this board maintains a high cruising speed. I always fly through everyone on long traversals with this board. Curiously the reviews of this board online are great but the reviews tend to warn beginners to try something different... I found this odd as I felt like a beginner. Perhaps I'm no longer a beginner snowboarder. As for bindings.. you can't demo those and for now I'll just rent until I do more research on them. I have a feeling given my investment on experience and love for the sport I'll just end up getting whatever Burton recommends. I know, punk-sad but.. in the end, in Burton I gained to trust. A little bit of background on the 2012 Custom X -- Burton gave Marko Grilc a chance to help with input on the design for it. According to an interview with Marko Grilc on the 2012 Custom X he first wanted a board well for jumping but also well rounded board. In the end supposedly he uses it exclusively, and recommends it for boarders who want to move on to the next level. I frankly don't give a shit about the marketing hype over it but it was interesting to me that in the end (I only read reviews after I decided) I ended up going with a good board that did seem to meet the same marketing lingo for it -- doing bigger crazier things.

From I am mcgrof's smirking revenge

I just hope that for 2013 we will actually see some snow... There are reported record heat waves across the globe and this has me concerned. I know many of you will be lazy to read the link I just provided so  at the very least please see this video.



I avoid conclusions about this on purpose here.
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