There are those among us that can swing both ways—one plank or two. And there are others whose sole identity is fixed to their board or skis. When these individuals try the other discipline, it can upend their sense of reality, cause cosmic shifts, and result in comic relief.
Andy Fuzak has been skiing Mt Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park for 28 years and teaching there for 11. He comes from a skiing family, but a few years ago he decided he should at least give the single plank a try. He strapped one on in his living room and got some instruction from a buddy. He then took the hand-me-down board to the mountain that he calls home and, being an experienced skier, headed straight for Chair 3.
Unlike many snowboard newbies, Fuzak was scared of his heel side being open to the hill and the potential of catching a toeside edge (aka the dreaded scorpion). So to prepare before his snowboarding initiation that day, he had a beer or two to calm his nerves.
Once safely off Chair 3, Fuzak was taking his time sliding toeside down the slope when those confidence-boosting beers came back to haunt him. The urge to pee came on strong, he says, so he tried to ride into familiar trees to answer nature’s call. He quickly realized, however, that his single board had become stuck in the snow.
Desperate to avoid an accident, Fuzak resorted to crawling, still fully strapped to his board, until positioned in a way he could relieve himself. On the rare occasion when he snowboards, Fuzak still has the fear of faceplanting and usually waits for a really soft day. He also makes sure to hit the head before strapping into his board.
Garrett Shadwick, the new marketing manager at 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort, started skiing in college. Hailing from Texas, he found a crew who would road trip to Colorado and Montana. He chased these friends down the mountains until he was a confident skier. On one of those trips to Montana, he decided to switch it up and give boarding a try.
They found a small hill with an open clearing with a rail at the bottom. Shadwick strapped in to a buddy’s snowboard with hiking boots. After a few short runs, he was feeling sure enough of his nascent snowboarding skills, so they hit the resort, swapping gear with his friends for the entire day.
Shadwick tackled his first green run, and, as he recalls, he face-planted about eight times. He finally discovered that if he crouched down he could make it to the bottom without crashing. Once safe back at the bottom of the run, he quickly traded back to the two-board discipline that is his passion and career.
Unlike Shadwick and Fuzak, I spent my formative snow years on a snowboard. I could passably surf and cruise on a skateboard, so snowboarding made sense to me. The thought of trying to turn two sticks and two edges down a steep slope without leaning over my heels or toes freaked me out.
Eventually a good friend from Maine came to visit me in New Mexico one winter and wanted to head up to Taos Ski Valley. Back then Taos was a skier-only mountain, leaving me no choice but to load up two long planks and heavy plastic boots and leave my snowboard at home.
As we approached the main lift, a sign proclaimed in big letters: “Don’t Panic! You’re looking at only 1/30 of Taos Ski Valley. We have many easy runs too!”
With a bit of dread, I loaded the lift. Having a good 15-plus inches of fresh powder made for an exciting and exhausting experience for both of us, the Mainer who had never skied powder and me, the newbie skier.
We both spent a large portion of the day hiking up slope to retrieve gear. I could not get both skis to make turns in the steep powder and ended up crossing skis and doing the slow-motion tip over countless times.
My buddy didn’t fare much better. Being from Maine where “powder days” are only a few inches, he would continually bury his tips, double eject, and fly face-first in the snow laughing.
Learning a new discipline anytime can be exhausting, frustrating, and insanely joyful. I don’t think I’ve ever needed a beer and a hot tub at the end of a day on the mountain as much as that first time switching it up from one plank to two.
Adam Gebauer is happy to have taken many falls on both skis and snowboard and now swings both ways. He wrote about what the professionals predicted for this winter 2021-22 snowfall in the November-December 2021 print issue.
Trying out a snowboard. // Photo courtesy of Garrett Shadwick. (left photo)