I knew right away I was in for an interesting weekend. First I met an 83-year-old man wearing yellowcowboy boots and pants, and a yellow long-sleeved shirt, bandanna, and cowboy hat-not to mention abug-eyed pair of Black Flys in-you guessed it-yellow. He needed no introduction. I was in the presence ofthe one and only Banana George, sponsored by Chiquita to perform all manner of derring-do, from barefootwater-skiing to, well, snowboarding.
Like the rest of the folks gathered together on this Friday evening, George was looking to make a snowboarding breakthrough. He’s been snowboarding for several years (since his mid seventies, let’s say), but Banana felt his riding had plateaued and was ready to take it to thenext level. He’d come to the right place. I, too, came to Colorado seeking the help of brothers Brian andKevin Delaney. By no one’s account an accomplished rider, I needed to work on my fundamentals. I hopedthat with any luck, some of the vast experience shared by the Delaneys and the hand-picked coaching staffthat helps with their weekend camps would rub off on me. In other words, I was lookin’ for a breakthroughof my own.
A varied but affluent crew shuffled into the rental shop in the village at Beaver Creek for theinformal welcome meeting and equipment session-men, women, couples, lawyers, brokers, sportswriters,sales reps, 83-year-old fruit-pushin’ daredevils, NFL players … That’s right, Tennessee Oilers lineman ErikNorgard was there with his wife, part of the group that would come to be known as the “never-evers”-theabsolute beginners. Erik grew up skiing, but when you’re in the NFL, management looks none too kindly onknee injuries, especially ones sustained while skiing. He said some of his buddies in the league told him thatsnowboarding was easier on his knees than skiing, so here he was, ready to give it a shot. About half of thetwenty or so campers were never-evers, as it turns out, and they were just a touch fidgety in anticipation oftheir first snowboarding experience. They wore tense grins and laughed nervously as they struggled in andout of boots and strapped or stepped in for a carpet test.
Many adults are reluctant to try snowboarding because of all the first-day horror stories they hear, and let’s face it-adults aren’t as resilient as kids. That’swhy the Delaneys have designed a program that introduces grown-ups to snowboarding with as little bodilydamage as possible. It starts with padding for hips, knees, elbows, and wrists, then add a helmet if you like.But the real key to the Delaney approach is the “QuickStick,” a nine-foot-long pole that Kevin dreamed upafter seeing historical photos of early skiers using a single long pole instead of two shorter ones. TheQuickStick helps first-timers maintain balance (think of a high-wire walker), avoid spills (think trainingwheels), and best of all, it makes getting back up after a fall a heckuva lot easier. As I headed up theCentennial Lift with my coach Danny Martin and the rest of the “intermediate” group, the never-evers werejust getting acquainted with the QuickStick.
It was breakthrough time. My group, which included Banana George, spent the morning breaking the riding process down into its parts. Danny showed us how little it takes to turn a snowboard. By ever-so-slightly shifting your weight or turning your shoulders as you movedown the fall-line, the board’s sidecut will kick in and start doing its job. A quiet, composed body was thegoal, and flailing and thrashing were strictly prohibited. What Danny was saying made sense, and I felt myselfrelaxing, gaining composure as I made my way down the run. We worked on flexing and extending ourbodies as we entered and exited turns, and learned how to incorporate proper breathing techniques while werode. All in all, I felt pretty good as we reconvened for lunch. There were varying degrees of stoke andfrustration amongst the first-timers. Some were getting the hang of it after just a few hours-some wwere mostcertainly not.
Brian and Kevin were there, motivating campers to hang tough and explaining how mostpeople don’t “get it” until lunchtime of day two. As I mentioned earlier, I was feeling pretty good. That is,until Kevin Delaney got a hold of me. He had hooked up with us during the morning session for somecoaching and to film us for video analysis. Now the tape was rolling and I appeared on the monitor, linkingturns down the slope. So far, so good. Then I did it. I looked down at my feet. Then again, and again. Itseems I was developing the nasty habit of looking down at my feet while riding, presumably to check if I wasstill attached to the board. I was a footlooker! During his analysis, Kevin made it all too clear thatfootlooking was a no-no, and instructed me to keep my eyes focused forward instead of looking down. Totop it off, I caught an edge and face-planted directly in front of the camera-my “breakthrough,” convenientlypreserved for perpetuity.
On day two, as the never-evers ditched their QuickSticks, I was continuing to gainconfidence myself, despite the traumatic footlooking episode. Everything came together that afternoon on ablack diamond run called Buckboard. It was a steep run in my book, the steepest I’d ever attempted.Although apprehensive at first, I just tried to make solid, controlled movements instead of freaking out aboutthe pitch. I cleanly initiated turns and transferred my weight from edge to edge, implementing all my newlygained knowledge. Before I knew it I was at the bottom-a clean run! There was no way I’d have voluntarilyridden down Buckboard just one day prior, but there I was, looking up from the base at my humble tracks.As the campers came together one last time on Sunday afternoon, it was pretty apparent that I wasn’t theonly stoked snowboarder. The room was buzzing with excitement as twenty kids, er, I mean adults, filed inand started stripping off outerwear. The “never-evers” we’re now “twice-befores,” their nervous laughter ofFriday evening replaced by raucous laughter as they celebrated their own personal snowboardingbreakthroughs.-Ewan Morrison