Rad Dad Rides Again

A Mid-Life Crack at Snowboard Culture
By Mitch Kaplan, illustration by Jim Gregory
  |  Gorp.com
Rad Dad Rides Again

I felt like an outmatched boxer. Against the ropes. Every time I tried to move, I was clobbered. Blind-sided. Knocked to the ground.

Battered and bruised I refused to give in. I was determined to fight. This wasn't in the ring, mind you, but on the mountains of Colorado. And I wasn't challenging dangerous steeps, but the bunny slopes at Silver Creek Resort. But the rules had changed. I was no longer a contender. Instead of the two narrow boards I'd spent a lifetime mastering, I was strapped to one slab, battling to stay upright. By all accounts, the mountain was winning.

The showdown was my smart idea. It was an experiment of sorts. The object was to determine how long it would take for a middle-aged expert skier to make the transition to snowboard. As you may have guessed, I was the guinea pig.

My initiative required two elements: a mountain too tame for my skiing ability (so I wouldn't be tempted to regress) and a good teacher. At Silver Creek, I found both.

By Colorado standards, Silver Creek is a small resort (only thirty runs). Most of the slopes are nicely groomed and ranked easy to intermediate. It's a good family resort, and a good place to make a fool of yourself mastering arcane snowboard techniques without threat of high-speed cruisers bowling you over or, worse, laughing as they whiz past.

My teacher, Nick, was the critical final component for my attempt. Thankfully, he showed insight and patience well beyond his 18 years. Nick listened attentively while I explained that I'd tried to ride twice before, and he watched astutely as I took my beating on the first few runs under the Milestone Lift.

At first he asked me to conceptualize snowboarding as a natural extension of the sailing technique. I told him that not only was I not a sailor, the mere thought of being on water made me nauseous. Unperterbed, Nick offered an insight with a more grounded perspective: During each turn, there would be a point when the board was flat on the snow. Accept that moment, and the accompanying increase in speed, and the effort to follow though and regain control with your edge would be easy.

Believe it or not, this simple advice marked a turning point in my day. I recalled my early skiing efforts, learning to parallel turn, and how I was told that each turn involved a instant when you were traveling directly downhill. Accept that moment, and the rest of the turn follows. Resist that moment, and panic ensues. Then loss of control and, ultimately, an ugly wipe out. This sagely advice from Nick amounted to the same insight. I understood it; and suddenly began to execute.

Nick cheered when I linked four consecutive turns. A few more attempts, and I'd completed back-to-back, fall-free, top-to-bottom baby-slope runs. Nick said I deserved a reward. "A reward?" I gurgled, adrenaline-filled and exhausted from my accomplishment. Nick nodded. He led the way to the "big" chairlift.

Before long we were seated side by side, rising toward the summit. Watching the terrain unfold below, I grappled with the possible repercussions of my reward. Would I go down for the count? Would I break a limb or lose my nerve? My mind raced, but the fighter in me stayed composed. Then it happened. Disembarking, I had a serious faceplant. Splat. Right at the feet of half a dozen smirking snow-dudes.

I struggled to my feet. Nick said not to worry. Keep it cool, I thought, exiting the lift is a complicated maneuver. Strictly for advanced boarders.

Nick pointed to a long, gentle run, rated easiest, and urged me onward. I scoped my line and waited for the coast to clear. I waited longer, like a five-year-old crossing a street for the first time. Then I went for it. Slowly, at first. Tentatively. Gaining speed and confidence as I concentrated on edging and pivoting when the board was flat on the ground. Soon I was carving. Turning with authority from side to side. I even smiled.

Nick shouted encouragement as I plunged down the slope. "I'm riding, man!" I sang out. "Folks at home are going to call me Dude!" There no denying it—except for one tumble, a final blow from the mountain, I had the upper hand.

At the bottom I went to a phone and called my son. At 17, he's already a snowboard veteran. "Yo! Yo! Check it out," I said, "Rad Dad's a rider now!" The stunned silence on the other end confirmed it—I was now a snowboarder.


Mitch Kaplan is a New Jersey-based writer who covers action sports, family travel, fitness and business topics. His work has appeared in Skiing, Snow Country, Family Circle, and numerous other publications. He wrote The Weekend Athlete's Injury Guide and co-wrote The Summer Garden Cookbook (Berkeley Books). His 52 New Jersey Weekends is available from Country Roads Press ($14.95). The father of two teenagers, Kaplan often writes about his family's travel adventures.

Jim Gregory lives and works in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and exists to ski and live the mountain experience. He and his wife Liz own and operate NJG Design, a graphic design studio. Jim cartoons and illustrates in his spare time to help relieve the tension of everyday life. He is a graduate of Syracuse University and has been Skiing since he was eleven. Jim is a member of the Eastern Ski Writers Association and the North American Ski Journalists Association.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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