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Rider Tips
Tuesday, 15 July 2003




When considering where to go, you will need to decide what you actually want out of a resort. Instruction, hire facilities, terrain, accommodation, location to the slopes, restaurants and night time action will all feature in your choice.

If money is no object then you can easily head off to the high altitude resorts. However, if you are on a tight budget, you may find that a cheap package deal with a tour operator is the best option.

In general, winter resorts open from November to the end of April. Resorts that offer summer snowboarding usually have their lifts running until mid-July and, in a few cases, mid-August. Early and late season times provide the lowest lift tariffs and accommodation rates. Some resorts even have special early season ride packages. Note that resorts which open prior to Christmas may still not have all their local services in operation, and accommodation options could be limited. Christmas, New Year, February school holidays and Easter breaks are always the busiest times in any resort, with the highest liftpass rates, and long queues.

A resort's altitude is an important point to consider. Low level areas can often suffer from insufficient snow and may have to rely on artificial snowmaking. They usually have a shorter season and those that struggle beyond April, will have little or no snow on the lower runs, ruling out riding back to the resort.

High altitude resorts usually guarantee snow all season and they may often be part of, or close to, a glacial area. These resorts are generally more expensive than the lower ones, but the extra cost may mean the difference between excellent or poor snow.

In Europe, there are a number of regions that join up with others to form vast acreages of rideable terrain. One such example is Les Trois Vallees in France, which boasts over 600 kilometres of linked slope. It may seem great to have all that terrain on offer, but in reality, you are unlikely to cover 50% of it in a dozen visits. Most people tend to stick to a few favourite runs, so don't immediately buy an all-area liftpass until you have checked out a number of slopes.

Resorts have varying terrain features that will appeal to different types of riders. Freestylers generally look for places to get air, carvers prefer wide, groomed runs, whilst freeriders look for trees, bowls, backcountry and cliffs. But please note, whatever type of rider you are, never ride on terrain above your ability.

Some resorts provide snowboard-only designated areas that can be ridden with a discounted liftpass. Details should be available at ticket offices. Snowboard-only areas don't just contain fun-parks and halfpipes; many have runs for carvers, mini-parks for kids and boardercross circuits for freeriders.

A resort boasting a 500m half-pipe may sound cool, but unless there has been sufficient snow to allow construction, what you read in the brochure may not be what you get. Many resorts build fun-parks and pipes, but they don't all maintain them. You could ask for a shovel at the lift hut and do some pipe-shaping yourself, but only wield a shovel with permission. If you don't know what you're doing and destroy a pipe wall, or spoil a hit, the locals riders will have some sharp words with you.

A common feature in most resorts is the beginner ski areas, often known as 'nursery slopes' in Europe, or 'bunny hills' in North America. These runs however, are not always open to novice snowboarders and so it's worth checking with the local snowboard/ski-school to find out what is on offer for the less experienced and beginner riders. Some nursery slopes offer a free lift.

After your travel and accommodation costs, your next main expense will be a liftpass. Resorts offer a variety of discounted tickets for kids, old age pensioners, students, and of course, locals. You can also get deals if you ride on certain days, (normally off-peak times such as week days). Tickets can usually be bought on a daily or multiple-day basis. Weekly tickets will normally require an attached picture, so take a passport-sized photo with you. Riders staying for a few months can buy season passes, and although expensive, you will make a massive saving in the long run.

Rules on snowboard leashes and the position of the back foot whilst on the lifts vary around the globe. To avoid any crap from lifties, have a leash attached to your front binding. Note, if you do not have a leash on your board and it detaches from your leg, you could be liable for any damage (to property or people) that it may cause. If there are no signs at the lift stations explaining rules on leashes or back foot placement, then seek advice at the ticket office or ask a local. Beginners are advised to travel on lifts with their rear foot released from its binding, as it allows for a quick getaway should you fall off the lift. Regulations in the US are more established than in Europe, with most resorts insisting on leashes regardless of how well you can ride.

Should you be planning a snowboard trip with a loved one, then note an important rule - don't act as their instructor! It will end in tears, and you will soon become bored and miss out on some riding. Send all novices to the snowboard school and be done with it! Most resorts offer snowboard tuition focusing mainly on beginners. However some resorts have specialist snowboard-only schools, who will often have freestyle and race training programmes, as well as special facilities for kids.

If you are serious about snowboarding and really want to improve your technique, then a good way is to visit a snowboard camp. Camps offer top instruction from professional riders and are tailored to all levels and styles. Winter camps exist but the best time to attend is during the summer.

If you plan to rent snowboard equipment, it may be better to hire in-resort. Not only do you just pay for the days you use the equipment, you can change the boards to suit your needs. If you have your own snowboard kit then obviously take it with you, but have the board pre-waxed and serviced before you leave.

With more and more kids taking up snowboarding at an earlier age, facilities for juniors are slowly improving. Being palmed off with adult rental kit is no longer acceptable, so a mark of a good snowboard rental centre is the availability of genuine kids' equipment for hire. Look for kids' boards and boots and the option of hiring safety helmets along with elbow and wrist-guards to protect a kid's delicate bones.

Some resorts provide snowboard clothing for hire. However, it is highly unlikely you will find anywhere to rent gloves, so don't leave home without a pair. Always check on screws and other parts of your kit; if bits do come loose on the mountain, then look for maintenance tools located at most lift stations. It's a good idea to invest in, and carry, a mini-binding tool when on the slopes.

Mountain restaurants are expensive, so if you are strapped for cash, take up a packed lunch. Having a beer on the slopes is all part of the scene, but be warned, if you're caught riding out of control because you are drunk, not only will you be putting life in danger, but could be arrested and stripped of your liftpass. Some resorts have police as well as ski-patrols on the slopes.

If you go snowboarding in an unfit state, your body will soon get very sore, and you may even put yourself at risk. Do some pre-mountain exercise but don't go over the top. Snowboarding is a leisure activity, not a military campaign, but remember that mountains can be hostile places, so be prepared and treat them with respect. The higher you are, the thinner the air, which means you need to work harder. Unfit people wearing the wrong clothing and going balls-out are candidates for altitude sickness.

To avoid getting snow-blindness, wear correct goggles or glasses. Not all trendy overpriced eyewear will prevent problems, so take advice. Your skin will definitely catch the sun even in complete cloud cover so use sun-block to avoid cooking yourself. However, always remember that snowboarders do not, under any circumstances wear the silly coloured stuff that skiers love to prance around in.

When booking accommodation, the more people you squeeze into your rented accommodation, the cheaper the shared costs will be. It is of course unwise to get caught if your contract states a specified number. If you are looking for accommodation that offers all the creature comforts plus easy access to the slopes, then expect to pay for it. Budget apartments are generally those located furthest from the slopes. Chalets and apartments are good options for chilling out with ease. Some are surprisingly affordable, but note, booking will usually require a hefty deposit or available funds on your credit card.

Insurance should speak for itself. In some countries you are not allowed on the slopes without personal injury cover (the US is extremely strict). You should also take out adequate cover for belongings, and if you are on a package deal, make sure you are covered for cancellation and other mishaps. Tour operators offer a number of insurance schemes so make sure you check the small print. Be sure the word SNOWBOARDING is mentioned and covered in all policies. Some places have insurance policies built into a liftpass, like the French 'Carte Neige'. Ask at ticket offices for confirmation of what cover exists.

Snowboarding is not the only activity to do in a resort. Some places pack in so many other facilities that you can forget why you are there. Snowmobiling is a popular pastime in Canadian and US resorts, whilst Europeans can go in for tobogganing.

High on the need-to-know agenda, is where to eat and to drink after a day's riding. To save money, live off fast food. Don't bother with fancy restaurants - it's better to save your cash for boozing. Some bars thrive on a snowboard culture with music likely to be indie and hip-hop, rather than the Euro-pop played in aprés-ski bars. As far as snowboard night-life goes, remember, boarders don't 'do' aprés-ski, nor wear stupid coloured face paints and dance around at sick tea-time bar sessions whilst playing stupid party games. One last point, if you are with your parents, ditch them as soon as you arrive at the resort. You will soon meet up with local riders who will show you the best areas. No rider should have to hang out on the slopes or at night with those dressed in '70s style clobber.

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