Intro to Snowsports


Fresh corduroy at Beaver Creek Resort, Colorado


The Catwalk at Vail, Colorado
Those who don’t ski often wonder what the attraction is: all that cold weather, tumbling over in wet snow, hurtling at high speeds down mountains with obstacles such as trees, crevasses and other people to circumnavigate.They are also deterred by the bulky boots and all that heavy equipment to carry around. And then there’s the thought of having to learn something from scratch and making a fool of themselves. 



However, they are totally missing the point.

Skiing and snowboarding add a vital element of fun to winter, enabling adults to play in the snow. They are both great for multi-generational family bonding and also provide outdoor exercise and much-needed exposure to Vitamin D. All this during the season when most other sports and activities are precluded by the weather.

And it’s not just downhill skiing and snowboarding that’s available in ski areas. There are also facilities for cross country skiing, ice skating and snowshoeing in most resorts these days. All of these healthy outdoor pursuits provide an escape from everyday life, fresh air which brings great clarity of mind and spirit, an opportunity to mix with like-minded people from all over the world and a holiday with a purpose: learning a new sport while grappling with the elements.

Snowsports don’t get boring over time because every ski day is different, even at the same resort. The temperature affects the snow conditions; wind changes the environment often overnight; snowfall can transform smooth runs into soft pillows of snow that require totally different powder-skiiing skills; and the sun can come out and make everything appear easier and more laid-back. Sunny days are lyrically known as “bluebird” days.

Most designated runs or trails in resorts are groomed overnight by snowcats, removing debris kicked up by skiers and snowboarders and manicuring the slopes for the next day. Many resorts also have snow cannons to fill in any gaps. First thing in the morning the freshly groomed runs have furrows along them from the cat tracks which look like the lines of corduroy fabric. This is a really fun surface to ski on and earlybirds are always out there first thing putting their tracks into it.

Snow-Grooming Night Crew at Panorama, BC, Canada
Other more advanced runs in resorts are sometimes left un-groomed so that skiers can enjoy fresh powder snow. If there hasn’t been a recent snowfall and a lot of skiers have skied the same un-groomed run over several days, oval bumps of snow (known as moguls) form, making skiing even more exciting. Mogul or bump skiing requires yet another technique which, once mastered, can give years of pleasure and challenge.

As well as the physical benefits, skiing has a cachet and flamboyance unlike any other sport. Skiing was a stylish pursuit from the outset, well before most sports were ever associated with fashion and style. In the company of rich jetsetters, movie stars and other celebrities, just visiting a ski resort gives everyone a taste of the high life even if it’s just for a week or a weekend. Although deemed expensive by many, ski holidays can cost around the same as a cruise or a trip to Disneyland and, compared to team sports such as ice hockey and soccer, can often cost the same for your kids - but with the added advantage that the whole family can take part rather than watching from the sidelines.

Being a beginner only lasts a few days. After a course of lessons, a few weeks on snow and a few equipment purchases, you’ll be calling yourself “intermediate” within no time!



Scenic rides on the Revelation Gondola at Revelstoke, BC, Canada


HISTORY OF SKIING


The invention of skiing is generally attributed to Northern Europeans who developed the “wooden stick”  as a transportation aid for hunting during long snowy winters.



Dating back around 4000 years, the Scandinavians used wooden skis with leather straps attached to their outdoor boots. Skiing had became a leisure pursuit in Norway by the mid 19th century but it was actually the British who put the sport into skiing back in the early 1900s when they borrowed the “wooden stick” means of transport from the Scandinavians and turned it into a fun way to while away winters in Switzerland.



In 1903 Brit skier, mountaineer and writer, Arnold Henry Moore Lunn established the first packaged ski holidays under the Public Schools Alpine Sports Club. He then raised the sport to a competitive level with a downhill race in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. After founding the Kandahar Ski Club in Mürren, Switzerland, in 1924, Lunn went on to organize both downhill and slalom events at the 1928 Arlberg-Kandahar open international alpine skiing competition, the precursor to international racing. He was knighted in 1952 for his "services to British Skiing and Anglo-Swiss relations". Top Swiss ski resorts today include St Moritz, Zermatt, Verbier, Gstaad, Davos, Klosters and Grindelwald.



Since those early alpine days, skiing has expanded worldwide, particularly in North America where it dates back to 1905 when the National Ski Association was founded in Michigan. There is skiing in 38 of the 50 states with the most internationally-renowned being in Utah, Colorado, California, Wyoming and Vermont.



You can stay right on the ski slopes at Sunshine Village, near Banff, Canada
Bird's eye view of Whistler/Blackcomb, BC, Canada
Canadian skiing took off in the late 19th century and nowadays the most famous resorts are Whistler in British Columbia (home to Winter Olympics 2010), Lake Louise (Winterstart World Cup venue) and Banff in Alberta and Mont Tremblant in Quebec. There are, however, many newer resorts all over these three provinces with world-class ski conditions and unrivaled snowfall records as well as longer ski seasons than more southerly destinations.




French ski resorts are the largest in the world, often with several resorts linked by gigantic lift systems. Some of the most popular areas are Three Valleys (Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens) host to the 1992 Winter Olympics; Val D’Isere and Tignes; Portes du Soleil (Avoriaz and Morzine); and Paradiski (La Plagne and Les Arcs). One of the first cable cars for skiing was built in 1933 at Megeve.


German skiing centres around Garmisch-Partenkirchen which has hosted many international events since debuting the world’s first downhill and combined slalom at the  Third Winter Games of Olympics in 1936. Zugspitze, on the Austrian border, and Obertsdorf in the Black Forest are both popular resorts.



Austria has a wide range of skiing - particularly in the Tyrol - with famous resorts including Kitzbuhel, St Anton, Ischgl, Mayrhofen, Söll and Saalbach. And Italy’s Cortina d’Ampezzo - where James Bond ski scenes have been filmed - is very stylish. Other top resorts there include Madonna di Campiglio, Bormio, Cervinia and Sestriere.

HISTORY OF SNOWBOARDING



Early experiments with snowboarding date back to the 1920s when a snowboard-style sledge was invented in the US, made from plywood.


Getting air at Panorama Mountain Resort, BC, Canada





Snowboard bindings at Ski Cellar Snowboard, Calgary, Canada
However, it wasn’t until 1965, with the invention of the “Snurfer”, that snowboard technology started to develop. Created by American, Sherman Poppen, the snurfer was just two skis bound together with a rope added at one end for control. Despite the basic design, more than half a million were sold in the 1960s and 70s. Snowboard technology was streamlined in 1977 when Bob Webber created the Yellow Banana snowboard out of polyethylene. The first National Snurfing Championship, held in Michigan in 1979, gave Jack Burton Carpenter from Vermont the opportunity to excel in the Open division on his custom-made snowboard which had innovative foot straps. Burton is still one of the top names in snowboard technology and clothing.




Array of snowboards at Ski Cellar Snowboard, Calgary, Canada
Since the 1980s, snowboards have evolved to incorporate P-Tex bases, water ski bindings, and continual innovations in shape and materials. The first snowboarding magazine, Absolutely Radical, was launched in 1981, establishing snowboarding as an extreme and trendy sport. Ski hills everywhere were initially opposed to snowboards which were considered just a passing fad and also potentially dangerous to skiers. During the 1980s many resorts banned the boards but contrary to expectations their popularity grew. When it looked like snowboards were likely to take over from skis, hills started to accommodate boarders and even build dedicated ‘Terrain Parks’ - with jumps, rails and half-pipes - for their entertainment.

Riding a rail at Rockstar Terrain Park, Panorama, BC, Canada
Snowboarding was finally accepted as a serious competitive snowsport when it debuted in the Winter Olympics in Japan in 1998. It’s success has been partly due to the general belief that it is marginally easier to learn than skiing. If a snowboarder perseveres to day three or four, he is usually in command of his board and able to enjoy the sport over a variety of terrain, especially smooth groomed runs and powder. For skiers, it can take several weeks to have the same level of confidence and control over their more unruly skis and poles and powder is a much more advanced element for skiers.

Colorful helmets by POC at the Four Seasons, Vail, Colorado
When learning snowboarding, it is highly recommended to wear padding on knees, elbows and backsides as the tumbles can be high impact. And a helmet is mandatory!








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