For women stoked on learning how to ride, first off let me say, it’s the only sport that has accepted women into its culture as quickly as, say, kids into skateboarding. Of course, it’s unfortunate that as outdoor women we even need to be compared with a kids market, but the truth is, women don’t usually have their own equipment, clothes, or respect when it comes to sports. That is, until someone “discovers” that there’s actually a market out there for us. Snowboarding as an industry has discovered this.

Getting started though, isn’t as difficult as skiing. First off, the boots are more comfortable and there’s only two edges to deal with rather than four. Other advantages include the clothes and gloves: They’re big and roomy (no stretch pants) and snowboard gloves really do keep your hands warm because of the Kevlar on the outside and the major padding on the inside. As a snowboarder, your hands touch the ground often, so manufacturers have made gloves with extra protection in mind. (Sounds like a Playtex commercial, but it’s true.)

As for respect, you’ll notice it right away. As a beginner female snowboarder waiting in a lift line, you’ll quickly notice that people give you the thumbs up/approval nod, like, “yea, right on, you can do it” sort of thing. Even other skiers will check you out. You can practically see other women skiers’ minds’ thinking, “Maybe I should try that; she can do it.”

And you can. But it hurts at first. My advice: Take a lesson from a professional rather than learning from a buddy or boyfriend. Learning from a friend may just ruin that friendship after you’ve done a few head slams because you’ll blame the friend that’s teaching you for teaching you the wrong way. It takes about three lessons to really discover how to link turns. But once you have it, the “feeling” never goes away–it’s like never forgetting how to ride a bike. Many resorts offer women’s only classes and women instructors. There are also a variety of women’s snowboard camps being offered every season around the country. I think the best camp for women is the Wild Women’s Snowboard Camp, launched by women’s 1992 World Extreme Champ, Greta Gaines, and co-directed by Mary Seibert. It follows a philosophy by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” in that women need to break free; that there is a need and obligation for each woman to reach this level and let go. Snowboarding’s a fluid sport that allows you to do just this. Like rock climbing, it’s more about balance and grace than strength and ego. Therefore, women excel.

As for finding the right equipment, here’s a strategy to follow: Don’t let retailers steer you in the wrong direction. Remember what you want even if you only think you know what you want. Even as a beginner, you are your own best judge as to what fits, feels good, and works for your body and style.

HOW TO SHOP

Snowboards: Ask if the length and weight of the board fits your ability level and your own weight and size. If you can pick up the board from the tip when it’s standing on end, it’s probably a good weight. If you can’t, shelf it. Check the pre-drilled holes for binding width and put your feet on them to determine if the board stance has the capability of going narrow enough for you. So many don’t, so check this. Also while you’re standing there, do your feet come close to the edge? If they go over, it’s too narrow–although just the opposite is usually the case for women. My motto: FatBobs aren’t for girls. (Ask K2 if you don’t understand.) Women’s pro-model boards arren’t as rare as they use to be and if you have your choice, why wouldn’t you buy one?

Boots: This gets tricky because feet are gnarly. Take a look at your own bone spurs and you’ll agree. First and foremost, ask the salesperson if the boot manufacturer you’re interested in made the “woman’s model” from a woman’s last. Many won’t know; some will ask what a “last” actually is. A last is the basic mold that is formed around a foot onto which the rest of the boots are modeled and formed. Since women’s calves start lower, and women have narrower heels and wider balls of their feet, a woman’s-lasted boot is a must. Otherwise, you’ll be buying a scaled-down version of a men’s boot and we all hate scaled-down-versions, now don’t we?

Bindings: Try them on in the store with your snowboard boots on. So many soft bindings are too wide and you’ll have to cut the plastic, re-screw, and duct tape them into the appropriate place for your feet. Also, check the width of the binding when buckled in. For two years I had to fill up the excess width of my bindings with twigs so my foot wouldn’t move around. Fortunately, my Original Sin bindings (plug) changed that.

Clothes: Of course, individual style is a big factor. But when it comes to comfort, look for pants that come-up high enough so you don’t get snow down the back when you bend over to clip in your binding. Suspender pants are great–especially with ones that go up the sides of your boobs or in the middle; and look that they don’t constrict movement. Practice a tail-grab in the store (even if you’re a beginner) to see that they don’t bind. The other key aspect for pants are drop-seats (to allow for a quick pee in the woods). As for jackets, if the zipper or buttons go up the “wrong” side, guess what, a guy probably designed the thing. Avoid Velcro up by the hood or collar–your hair will get stuck in it.

Kathleen Gasperini (wigmag@aol.com) has worked as a writer for Powder, Snowboarder, Snowboarding, Women’s Sports and Fitness, and Stick magazines. Last year she founded her own magazine titled W.I.G. (Women In General). She lives in Park City, Utah and snowboards much more than she should.