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Snowboarding 101: how and where to get started

By TravelFactory , 20/10/2022
A snowboarder on a flat piste in the French Alps


As part of our Ski Travel Guide, we’re taking a look at ski-adjacent activities. Snowboarding is a relatively new winter sport. Snowboarders surf down snow-covered slopes with their ski boots strapped to a fiberglass board. It has exploded in popularity in recent years, and is now offered in ski resorts around the world. Sometimes called snow surfing, the two discplines are not unrelated! 


Snowboarders, like skiers, should dress in properly warm clothing and waterproof clothing. The necessary equipment includes, of course, a snowboard, a helmet, and snowboard boots.  Snowboarding is physically demanding, and a good level of fitness is required.


Let’s take a closer look at the prerequisites. 

Prerequisites for Snowboarding  

Snowboarders should be relatively flexible and light on their feet. We recommend doing regular cardio training before going on a snowboarding holiday. Strengthening the core and lower back muscles is also useful, as it will help you with balance and control. Pilates targets these areas. Even classic crunches, done regularly, can do the trick. 


Despite preliminary training, you may still experience minor joint pain after your first few snowboarding sessions. That’s normal. You’re using a lot more muscles than you would in your day-to-day activities, or even when skiing. Warmups, cool downs, and stretching are essential to prevent injury. 

Basic Snowboarding Skills and Techniques 

If you’ve skied before and breezed through the beginner levels, be prepared for a surprise! Although snowboarding is easier to master once you’ve got the hang of it, it can be more difficult starting out. This is easily explained: Skiing mimics walking (which you’re used to), while snowboarding keeps both feet together and has you advance sideways (which you’re not used to). But don’t let that discourage you! Here are some beginner’s tips to help you get started. 

Find Your Stance 

Step one is to find your stance. There are two major stances in snowboarding, and you’ll choose the one that adapted to your dominant foot. 


  • Regular stance: If you’re right-handed, and your right foot is dominant, you’ll choose regular stance: right foot behind, left in front.  

  • Goofy stance: If you’re left-handed, and your left foot is dominant, you’ll choose goofy stance: left foot behind, right in front. 

You’ll be controlling the board with your dominant foot, which is at the back. Your non-dominant foot is just along for the ride! 


It is possible to ‘ride switch’ (put your less dominant foot in front), but not necessary for a beginner. 

 

 

Learn to ‘Skate’ and Glide  

To get around the ski area and go up ski lifts, you’ll need to learn to ‘skate’—that is, to slide your snowboard forward with your dominant foot strapped in and your other foot free. With your non-dominant foot on the heel-side edge, take small steps and slide the board forward. There’s no shame in going slow at first! 


Gliding is a bit like skating, but you push off a bit harder and place your non-dominant foot onto the board once you’ve pushed off. This allows you to go further with both feet on the board. Practice gliding on flat surfaces. Once you feel at ease and in control, you can practice gliding down small hills. 

Get up After a Fall 

When you start snowboarding, you’ll be spending a lot of time on the ground. So, it’s important to know how to get back up. Find your way into a seated position with your legs extended out in front of you. Bend your knees, place the underside of the board on the snow, and push your way back up. Do this on a flat surface if you can, so you don’t risk sliding downhill. 

Stop Safely and Efficiently 

Start with your board perpendicular to the slope and bend your knees, coming into a squat. Keep your back nice and straight. If you’re facing downhill, shift your weight into your heels, which will stop your descent. If you’re facing uphill, shift the weight towards your toes. 


These basic techniques are the foundation for all different styles. No need to be an Olympic athlete to master them. Now, let's take a look at your next steps!

Different Styles of Snowboarding 

There are almost as many styles as there are snowboarders! Snowboarding is known as the domain of free spirits, and the myriad of techniques and styles reflect that. From traditional downhill Alpine snowboarding to the half pipes and trick of freestyle to backcountry freeriding, you’re sure to find one that works for you. More details below! 


  • Alpine Snowboarding is comparable to traditional Alpine skiing. Snowboarders go down groomed pistes with or without obstacles. Slalom courses are possible, for example. 

  • Freestyle is the most popular type of snowboarding, and involves using half pipes, handrails, boxes, and other obstacles to perform jumps and tricks. This is what you often see in competition.

  • Freeriding is essentially off-piste, all-terrain snowboarding. Snowboarders use features of the natural landscape for jumps, turns, and tricks. 

What Equipment Do I Need for Snowboarding? 

You’ll need all of the standard winter sports gear, of course—warm and waterproof layers, a helmet, etc. But, a choice of snowboard, which is an important one, also enters the equation. The are countless models to choose from, and it can be a bit overwhelming for a beginner.

We tell you what kind of equipment to look for below. 

Snowboards  

If you’re just starting out, think about purchasing a snowboard designed especially for beginners. It will help make learning easier and more fun. Plus, there’s nothing stopping you from using it for more advanced moves when you’re ready (or from changing your board). Snowboards come in more shapes and sizes than skis, so take the time to find the right model. 


Here are some of our tips: 

  • Go shorter. Shorter boards are easier to manoeuvre.  

  • Don’t hesitate to go wider. 

  • Take your height and weight into consideration 

  • Think about what style you’ll be practicing 

Brands to explore: Salomon, Yes, Arbor, DC, Burton, K2 

Snowboard Boots 

Where boots are concerned, fit is the most important thing. Try your boots on with your ski socks to make sure you have the right size. (You may need to go a half size up.) Snowboard boots are more supple than ski boots, allowing for freedom of movement in the heels, toes, and ankles as control a lot more with your feet than Alpine skiers do. 


Here are some of our tips: 

  • Consider the ‘flex’ (rigidity) of the boots, 1 being the supplest and 10 the most rigid. 

  • Try out different lacing systems for ease and comfort. 

  • Opt for boot liners if you tend to get cold feet or like extra padding. 

Brands to explore: DC, Burton, Salomon, Head Rodeo, Thirtytwo 

Snowboard Bindings 

If you buy everything together as a set, your snowboard may already come with bindings. If not, it’s likely that you’ll have to pick them out and buy them separately. Bindings are often an afterthought, but the right ones can really make all the difference. They keep you attached to your snowboard, after all!  


Here are some of our tips: 

  • Make sure they’re compatible with your snowboard’s mounting system 

  • Bindings should fit snugly around your snowboard boots 

  • Opt for the style that suits you best: step-on, split board, or strap styles 

Brands to explore: Burton, Union, Flow, Salomon, Arbor 

 

Recommended Clothing for Snowboarding 

Recommended clothing is essentially what you would wear skiing, minus the ski boots and skis of course! Think warm base and mid layers and a waterproof outer layer. Don’t forget your sun cream on the mountain to protect you from those pesky UV rays!  


A quick recap of the clothing you’ll need: 

  • A base layer: a thermal pants or leggings and a shirt  

  • A mid-layer: either a jumper or a fleece jacket 

  • A top layer: a ski jacket and waterproof gloves 

  • Warm socks 

  • Sunglasses or ski goggles 

  • A wool hat and a helmet 

  • Optional: knee or elbow pads for those first few falls 

Don’t know what to pack for your winter sports holiday? Check out our guide: What to Wear Skiing

 

Where Can I Go Snowboarding in France? 

Snowboarding has exploded in popularity in recent years and is available at most ski resorts in France. However, there is a different between your average snowboarding infrastructure and something really spectacular. So, we’ve assembled a list of our favourite places on the mountain.


A snowboarder jumping off a ramp at a snow park in the Alps

Avoriaz is considered the snowboarding capital of Europe. There are pistes dedicated specifically to snowboarding, and the off-piste terrain is vast and varied. Known for its many snow parks (over 30 in the area), it’s the perfect destination for freestylers. 

Meribel, a picturesque ski area peppered with chalets, is home to two snow parks and a special beginners area in Plattieres. Plan to come back with a few years of experience under your belt and tackle Moon Park. 

Chamonix is located at the foot of Mount Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe. It offers some of the most beautiful off-piste scenery in France for Freeriders. Freestylers, meanwhile, can take advantage of the Grand Montet snow park.  


If you're a beginner or want to improve your technique faster, sign up for lessons! There are some world class instructors at the resorts we've listed above.