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The last time I was standing before a mountain with a board strapped to my foot was when I was 18. I was still unsure of myself and didn’t quite know the meaning of getting out of my comfort zone.
The last time I tried snowboarding I didn’t have a lesson, I didn’t even know how to walk in snow let alone slide down it on a board. I ended up fracturing my wrist the third time down the bunny slope, and although I was relieved that I could take that board off my feet, I was silently disappointed in myself that I didn’t give it a true shot. I knew one day I would tackle snowboarding again, but next time with the right mindset.
That time came last week when I had the chance to work with Mt. Hood Meadows to learn how to snowboard through their beginner’s package. The beginner’s package is an all-inclusive 3 days of lessons, rental gear, and a limited lift ticket on the mountain. I only had two days, but I still learned a lot about being one with the snow through the piece of the package I experienced.
It has been seven years since that first day of snowboarding and I’ve had slightly more experience in the snow now, although not much. It had snowed in Portland the day before heading up to Mt. Hood, and I remember the pure excitement I felt when I opened the blinds to a winter wonderland. Growing up in California, I never woke up to snow – it was something you drove to once in awhile on a road trip.
Because it had just snowed the day before our trip, the roads were dangerously icy when we woke up before sunrise the next day to drive up to the mountain.
The drive to Mt. Hood from Portland generally takes about 1.5 to 2 hours depending on the conditions, and that was the case for our trip. We stopped to buy chains about halfway to Mt. Hood, just before Sandy, to be on the safe side. To our surprise, the roads were actually much better once you made it up to the windy mountain roads, because there were snowplows on them constantly, clearing the way and laying down salt when needed.
We cruised up to Mt. Hood Meadows at just over 6,000 feet and arrived right on time as the lodge was opening. We walked to the concierge to pick up my pass for the day, but there was a mix-up in communication and the rental office ended up having my pass, not the concierge. It took us about 30 minutes to figure this out and as soon as we did, I ran to the rentals to fill out the forms, get my ski lift ticket, and get fitted for all the rental gear. I barely made it to my 10am snowboarding lesson, but I got there just in time, about a minute before they all broke off into small groups.
For my first lesson, a had a young guide who looked about my age. I can’t remember his name but he had very distinctive kitten mittens and he was very patient and friendly throughout the lesson. I had two other girls in my group and we were all fairly poor on the snow and balancing on our boards, which made me not feel so bad about my own skill level.
We spent most of the two hour lesson riding the magic carpet to the top of the bunny slope and trying out small accomplishments, such as how to turn heel-toe and toe-heel. We must’ve gone down the bunny slope at least a dozen times and for only one of those I didn’t fall, but I knew that was to be expected with snowboarding. I’m not one that’s a natural at balancing on boards in any case.
By the end of the day we were tackling the next challenge, the beginner slope, and mastering the ski lift. Seriously, getting off the ski lift is the hardest part of snowboarding. We made it down the Buttercup slope a couple of times, continuously falling and immediately getting up again, trying to get those turns down. It wasn’t until I spent a couple of hours practicing on my own after the lesson that I really started to have a breakthrough, a turning point in my snowboarding education.
I began to understand what it took to turn smoothly and do baby carves down the mountain. Although it was beginning to click for me mentally, that’s not to say it was working for me physically. I was falling just as much, well actually probably more than the bunny slope, trying to figure out how to get my body to listen to my brain.
By the time 4pm came around the the ski resort was starting to close down, Kendall and I took our rental gear in tow and headed out to our car to find our accommodation for the night, a 20 minute drive away. Trying to ignore our sore muscles and frozen limbs, we navigated to our abode for the night – Cooper Spur Mountain Resort.
Cooper Spur is owned by Mt. Hood Meadows and is potentially the most adorable snowy retreat I have ever come across. I’ll be writing a separate post on Cooper Spur, but let’s just say it was the perfect spot to rest our weary bones and have a nice dinner by the fire. We were asleep by 9:00pm that night, we were so exhausted from the day.
When I woke up the next morning, it took awhile to get my body up and moving. All I wanted was to stay in bed all day, but I somehow convinced myself to lift one leg and then the other, and experienced the excruciating pain of sore muscles that I didn’t even know existed. I don’t think I’ve felt that sore since the beginning of baseball season on our first day of conditioning. No, I take that back, I think this was even worse.
It was snowing softly outside as we left the lodge and made our way in the beautiful weather to the ski resort. It was slightly busier on the mountain the second day, but luckily since we already had all of our rental gear it didn’t take too long to get ready for day 2 and our lift tickets sorted.
Whereas the first day was icy, the second day was fresh powder and I quickly learnt the difference between snowboarding in ice and fresh snow. The visibility was also quite poor compared to the day before, there were moments I became slightly disorientated from lack of vision.
I arrived at the meeting spot for lessons and realized I was the only one there for a day two lesson. Not wanting to resort back to the bunny slope with the other beginners, I was given Mike as my instructor to take me up to Buttercup and help me focus on my technique. I thought it was going to be a one-on-one lesson until another guy by the name of Mark came up for the lesson as well. Still, one instructor for the both of us was great odds for how much I wanted to learn today. We named our group triple M and talked about strategies for the day.
I fell a lot again that second day, but not as much as the first, which I would like to think of as improvement. There were even 2-3 times down the slope where I didn’t fall once. Best of all, I mastered getting off the ski lift, only falling once for the 20 or so times I went down the mountain that day. Mike was helpful in having me sing “I’m a Little Teapot” every time I went to get off, to remember to reach out my left hand and lean into the small slope as I got off.
Mike seemed like a seasoned instructor and snowboarder and I appreciated his teaching style. He tried a variety of different techniques and metaphors to help it stick for us, and that was what helped my mind and body finally click and communicate with each other down the mountain.
Now, I’m not saying I’m a pro snowboarder after those two days of lessons, but by the end of that second day I was able to pick up speed and, dare I say, gracefully carve down the mountain only falling once or twice at the most. This was a huge accomplishment for someone who could barely stand on her board in flat snow just a couple of days ago.
I know that if I had time to tackle that third day lesson I would’ve felt even more comfortable in the snow, but I was happy with the level I got to after day two. One aspect I loved about the lessons I took at Mt. Hood Meadows was the one-on-one instruction I received from the staff. They didn’t have just one way to explain how to do a turn or stop yourself, they constructed a lesson based on each individual person and how they learned best.
I also appreciated how friendly all of the staff were in general. Even the instructors I had never met would cheer me on the second day, having recognized me from the day before on the mountain. It’s little positive moments like that, which help to make an experience really stand out to me.
The one tip I would do differently for next time is to make sure I have the right gear and clothing for being out in the cold (and falling as much as I did) for two days straight. I luckily had a nice warm snowboarding jacket that I got in Portland about a month ago, but that was about it in terms of warm clothing.
I didn’t have snowboarding pants, so I wore tights underneath my black jeans hoping that would be warm enough. Well, it’s slightly embarrassing to admit this, but I got a touch of frostbite on my bum after our two days on the mountain due to my lack of appropriate clothing. Snowboarding pants are worth it!! From personal experience, I would highly recommend investing in some if you’re thinking of learning how to snowboard. Heavy duty snow gloves and goggles would be my other recommendation for what to bring ahead of time.
In terms of the ski resort as a whole, it was relatively small but accommodating. The snack bar was decently priced and offered warm chili and hot chocolate, and pretty much everyone I met that worked at the resort was friendly and nice.
The only cons I would say about the resort is the fact that there’s no accommodation right next to it. I loved staying at Cooper Spur but it was a 20 minute drive away, which could’ve turned more inconvenient if the weather had been worse during our stay.
In addition, the beginner’s package is limiting in terms of which slopes you can tackle. It’s meant to give you access to the bunny slope, Buttercup, Easy Rider, the Vista Express and Daisy, but for some reason my lift ticket would only work for Buttercup and the bunny slope during my two days. This was fine for the amount of time I was there because all I really wanted to work on was getting my turns down and the details of my technique, but if I had been there for a third day, it would’ve been nice to experience a new part of the mountain and the next slope up.
However, those are both small things and didn’t really make a difference in the great experience I had at Mt. Hood Meadows. If you’re looking to learn how to snowboard for the first time, I would highly recommend Mt. Hood Meadows as the place to go. It’s one of the largest ski resorts in the state of Oregon and the largest near Mt. Hood, so they have a good variety of different types of slopes that are perfect for beginners and experts alike. They even have a Nordic center, snowshoeing, and a terrain park for those who love working on their tricks.
The beginner package normally costs $139 and that includes three days of two hour lessons, southside lift tickets, and rental gear. A great package for how expensive snowboarding and/or skiing can be sometimes, and for one of the best mountains and resorts in the Pacific Northwest!
I can’t say that I’m a full snow bunny yet, but I’m much better than I was seven years ago. I’m hoping with my trip to Montana next week, my comfortableness in the snow (and cold) will only grow.
Note: Mt. Hood Meadows was kind enough to offer me the 3-day beginner snowboarding package and discounted accommodation at Cooper Spur for a night, but all opinions, as always, are my own.
Have you been snowboarding or skiing before? What’s your favorite way to enjoy the winter?