- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2004

MERCERSBURG, Pa.- The saw about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks apparently doesn’t apply on the ski slope.

For this old dog — a skier for more years then two people have fingers and toes — taking a snowboard lesson was fraught with trepidation and a healthy dollop of downright fear.

Much of that anxiety was dispelled after Eileen, one of Whitetail Resort’s 250 instructors — 100 of whom teach snowboarding — strolled up to our little band of wannabe riders, reviewed what she wanted to accomplish in our hour and a half together and assured us that we would be snowboarding down the learners’ hill by the end of the lesson.

Great instructional technique, but what really boosted my confidence was that Eileen appeared about my age and her name tag indicated her hometown was New Orleans — certainly not the center of winter sports. Hey, if she can snowboard, this old dog can learn, I reasoned.

I also knew I was in good company. Whitetail had about 12,000 snowboard students go through its ski/snowboard school last year, said director Sue Slick. “We have six different lesson times each day, and most are well-attended,” she said.

As a class we learned the proper way to scoot and glide across the flat snow with one foot locked onto the board and the other acting as a pusher. On a slight incline no more than 20 yards long, we learned how to apply pressure on the board’s edges with the heels to turn to the left and then with the toes to turn right.

Eileen paired us up by size and one person, not on a snowboard, supported and guided the other in a sideslip down a gentle incline. The sideslip is a halting, controlled slide down a slope with the board across the hill. By rocking ever so gently, the board slides downhill until pressure is applied with the heels to dig the uphill edge of the board into the snow and the sliding stops.

Taking what we had learned about edging from turning and sideslipping, Eileen then had us do controlled stops, keeping in mind that as the board travels across the slope of the hill it will slow and eventually stop.

We sidled up to the chairlift, and Eileen gave us instruction on how to load and disembark. For some in the class, it was their first time on a chairlift. There is a sideways sitting technique that must be learned while getting on and off.

Eileen’s instructions worked perfectly, and we regrouped at the top of the knoll. With a constant decline and a wide slope to traverse, we all made it down with only minor, controlled falls among us. In a very short time each of us found his own rhythm.

The flat outrun at the bottom of the hill came too soon, ending our lesson. We all thanked Eileen, who assured us we were great and a good class.

Later, Slick said it takes two or three lessons “before you get proficient and can ride any terrain.

“Snowboarding is so much easier, now,” she said. “The equipment is better and the way we teach, there’s very little falling involved in the lessons.”

And to further bolster confidence, she said, “We’ve noticed more and more older people taking up snowboarding the past few years.” There goes the myth snowboarding is only for the young and surly.

As we dispersed, some members of the class went looking for their children or buddies, and others decided to take another run. This dog trotted back to the rental shop to return the boots and board, warmed with the knowledge that I was able to say I was a snowboarder. A beginner for sure, but still a snowboader.

cSnow Sports appears on Sundays in The Washington Times during the winter. Contact: bclapper@washingtontimes.com.

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