What is it about riding Alpine snowboard equipment? What makes some snowboardersrevert back to those stiff, clunky boots from whence they evolved, and rideboards that are too stiff or too long to bust “phat” air in the pipe or spinin the park?

Well, there is really only one answer: it’s fun. Riding Alpine is one ofthe most exhilarating snowboard experiences. Those who switch don’t evenmiss the jumps or jibs they might have hit on a freestyle board because they’retoo busy driving their own private Formula-1 car down the mountain. Nor,do they regret the time spent adjusting to hardboots. Mastering Alpinesnowboarding is just as gratifying as landing a 540 corkscrew.

Only hardboots and an alpine snowboard can reveal a secret about a snowboarding:there is a lot of power locked up in an alpine snowboard that’s just waitingto be unleashed.

A friend of mine compares alpine snowboarding to Aikido, the martial artwhich redirects an attacker’s energy in a way that makes it work for thedefender. The idea is that the snowboard is a tool used to harness the forcesof nature in a positive way. The alpine snowboard combined with hardbootsis the most efficient device to take gravity and channel it through yourbody, boots, board, and down into the snow. The result: perfect half-circle,two-inch wide tracks on the corduroy, and the sensation of laying out yourown roller-coaster and hanging on.

Alpine riders use gravity much like a sailor or windsurfer uses the windto cut the fastest tack across the water. By redirecting the force of gravity,the snowboard takes the rider in a direction different from that which gravitywould normally dictate. This difference is what enables snowboarders to controlhow fast and wide they carve down a hill. Toying with gravity by making delicateadjustments from foot to foot and from side to side to get the fastest andcleanest line down the slope is the never ending pursuit that alpine riderscrave.

Gravity is also used in another way, much like a motorcycle rider out fora joyride on a freshly paved, winding road. An alpine snowboarder gets thatmomentary feeling of weightlessness that comes between carves, just likethe motorcyclist negotiating an S-turn. This is something skiers rarely feel.Two things separate the alpine snowboard from skis as the superior tool forachieving this sensation. One, is that both feet are mounted on one board.Once you’re committed to a carve, there’s no other leg underneath you toserve as a safety net. Once you cross the board, gravity and self trust takeover. More dramatically though, the shape of the snowboard is the real advantage.Since snowboards are so much wider than skis, designers have free reign todictate how much sidecut goes into your board, and can more directly finetune how your snowboard will behave.

All that wonderful sidecut enables riders to carve turns as tightly as heor she can bend the board. Alpine riders get dramatic sensations of free-fallby using this characteristic to their advantage. You may notice that thetracks of an carving snowboarder actually start well before the snowboardhas entered the fall line. The rider can actually move his or her body acrossthe board in a downhill sense while carving the downhill edge until the boardcarves around and back beneath them at the end of their free-fall. By timingthe turn transition with a roll in the hill, the free-fall can be even longer.If you watch an alpine snowboarder carving turns below you on a hill, thebottom of the snowboard is visible at the beginning of each carve.

If this sounds tempting, don’t be afraid to try. The sensations describedabove are only a few of the many that a good alpine snowboard and hardbootscan afford you. Give it a try, you’ll probably love it. Oh, and if you’reworried about getting hooked, you won’t even notice. I didn’t.

Jack Michaud was asnowboard instructor at Sugarloaf, Maine when he wrote this. Since then we don’t knowwhat he’s been up to. He’s probably working as ann engineer.