Greg Alexander

Hit the slopes – on a board

Baltimore Sun, November 2005

Long portrayed as a sport for the 20-something, skateboarding types, snowboarders used to be considered those crazy people who get in the way of the serious skiers on the slopes. However, snowboarding continues to soar, and in 1998, it became an Olympic sport (although its Olympic history got off to a bumpy start when the first gold medal recipient, Canadian Ross Rebagliati, tested positive for marijuana and had his gold medal stripped away; courts later reversed the decision and returned the medal). The Americans’ dominance at the 2002 Olympics garnered further attention to the sport, one that combines skill, athleticism and a little courage.

“I love the speed; there’s a cool rush about testing your abilities and pushing yourself,” says snowboarding enthusiast Angela Vavasori, who started snowboarding last year. “Also, the scenery is amazing; there’s nothing more beautiful than the sights from a mountain.” Vavasori says she took interest in the sport because of her boyfriend. “My boyfriend is a great snowboarder, so I decided that if I wanted to have a relationship with him in the winter, I’d have to learn,” she laughs. “Also, it’s always fun to learn something new.” Vavasori, who competes in triathlons, adds that snowboarding also provides a break from her usual exercise regiment.

Vavasori says that she took lessons at Ski Liberty in Pennsylvania before trying her hand at the sport. “The lessons helped with the basics, but I learned the most by trial-and-error. I surf, too, so I thought snowboarding would be similar. I really had to work on finding my rhythm, and before I did, I fell a lot. It was a little intimidating because everyone else in the lesson was about 10 years old.” Vavasori says that she learned the most when she and her boyfriend went to Mammoth Mountain, located in the Sierra Mountains in California, about five hours from Los Angeles. “At Mammoth, the mountain is huge, which is where my surfing background came in handy because I was doing longer runs. Also, the powder made it feel more natural than the sometimes-icy condition here on the East Coast. I love Mammoth because there are many runs, and you can snowboard through June.” In fact, Vavasori loved Mammoth so much that she bought a season pass for this year. “Mike [her boyfriend] has family in California, and the season pass was very affordable,” she says.

Equipment requirements

Before you head to the slopes, what will you need? Should you rent or buy? “You should absolutely rent your snowboard and equipment until you’re sure you love the sport,” says Alan R. Davis, president of Princeton Sports, which has two locations in Maryland. “Renting also ensures the proper fit of the boots and the proper size of the board before you buy.” Vavasori agrees. “I rented the first few times I went before I decided on a board to purchase.” Davis notes Princeton is part of a network of ski shops across the country, so if you have any problems with equipment rented at Princeton while on a trip out West, Princeton will refer you to a local shop to address the problem.

When you reach the point that you want to buy a snowboard, Davis says that they are several factors to help choose the right board. “Your weight, height, where you will snowboard, how you ride, your current skill level and where you want to be in two or three years should all be considered. You don’t want to buy a beginner’s snowboard unless you intend to be at that level for a while.” Davis also urges customers to be honest about their skill level to prevent injury.

“Burton boards are absolutely incredible and very popular. We’re one of the biggest Burton dealers on the East Coast; however, the fastest-growing snowboards are made by Rome, which was started a few years ago by a former product manager and designer with Burton. Whatever you choose, boards, boots and bindings should be bought as a system with each other in mind,” he says. Davis adds that manufacturers also have boards, boots and other equipment specifically designed for women.

Besides a board, boots and bindings, the right accessories should be considered. “The No. 1 thing everyone should have is a set of wrist protectors. Wrist breaks are one of the most common injuries when snowboarding. The industry has answered this problem by making gloves with built-in wrist guards. You also must wear a helmet,” says Davis, who notes that some helmets allow you to plug in an iPod to enjoy music, while others are equipped with Bluetooth technology in case you need to make a call while on the slopes. Other necessary accessories include goggles and ski pants. To make sure you don’t forget anything, Princeton Sports’ Web site has an online checklist at

Where to go

Now that you’ve got all your supplies, where should you go? Vavasori touts Mammoth Mountain in California, and urges snowboarders to go west. “The learning curve for snowboarding is steeper than skiing, but you’ll pick it up quicker on the slopes out West than you will around here,” she says. Davis agrees. “The resorts are great out West because there’s so much to do besides ski and snowboard. You may snowboard for five hours a day, and the western resorts offer a lot to do at night,” says Davis, who says Beaver Creek, located near Vail, is his favorite.

Speaking of Vail, the resort is still tops on many snowboarders’ lists; last year, Vail welcomed 1.5 million skiers and riders and has more than 300 days of sunshine a year. Vail also has ample terrain parks – great places to really test your mettle. Aspen is another popular draw with 76 trails and uncrowded slopes, as is Telluride, which offers helicopter snowboarding – you are transported to Colorado’s San Juan Mountains by helicopter to access untracked powder. Other western resorts include Park City, Utah, which has terrain parks that were voted No. 1 in the country by Transworld Snowboarding magazine and is home to the annual Sundance Film Festival; and Breckenridge, home of the highest chairlift in North America and one of the first resorts to allow snowboarding.

Up north, Canada beckons as a snowboarding destination, especially since the U.S. dollar is stronger than the Canadian currency. Newfoundland’s Marble Mountain has a 1,600-foot vertical drop and enjoys 20 feet of annual snowfall. New Brunswick’s Crabbe Mountain and Manitoba’s Whiteshell Provincial Park and Falcon Ridge tempt snowboarders, too. Out West, British Columbia’s Whistler offers great snowboarding and gorgeous vistas.

Locally, Davis recommends trying your hand at Maryland’s Wisp and Pennsylvania’s nearby resorts, Whitetail, Liberty and Roundtop. West Virginia also offers four resorts that are only about a three-hour drive from Baltimore.

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