It is a broken descent and like a thrown doll, I go crashing.
My arms and legs coil, my hips and torso gyrate, the whole world submerged in a dead spin of limbs, fingers and snow. It is a siege of force that leaves me on the ground, gasping, the geography of my jacket populated in a cluster of crystals. There is a pain striking from the tail bone. A soreness drifts into my calves, into my thighs. And yet, in this white plummet of destruction comes an uncanny thought: Thank goodness, this is only the beginning.
My fall comes during my first snowboarding less at of Northstar-at-Tahoe's Burton Snowboard Academy, the ski resort's premier snowboard school and Burton Snowboard's flagship academy. The school, in its third year at the resort, promotes the idea that contrary to popular belief the basics of snow boarding (balance, turning and stopping) can be taught in a single six-hour day. My crash is only the beginning of the tutorial - class is now in session.
Overhead, there is a gloved hand. It is padded in a mesh of insulation and rounded in strategically placed seams. The hand belongs to Chris Hargrave, Burton Snowboard Academy Manager. Outfitted in a neon green jacket and matching gray snow pants, Hargrave chuckles.
"Your heel side is strong but looks like your toe-side still needs some work," he says, referring to body and leg placement.
The rest of the day is a domino of step-by-step techniques, each building into the next. Turning positions are choreographed, centers of gravity balanced, gear detailed and "ollies" explained. Breaking down snowboarding's sometimes ambiguous "bro-ology," Hargrave outlines essentials into a novice-friendly science. My initial skepticism is converted into linked turns and - though still wobbly - balanced descents.
Hargrave, a life-long boarder who's ridden in locations across the globe, started the academy at Northstar under the direction of Burton Snowboard founder Jake Burton Carpenter and Burton Snowboard terrain specialist Jeff Boliba. The two helped Northstar to create the school with the idea snowboarding could be instructed without hard crashes or steep learning curves.
"Burton really thought their could be a better way and his idea was to be very hands on," Hargrave said.
To accomplish the feat, Hargrave said Burton and Boliba formulated an accelerated learning program based in small group settings, private learning areas and experienced instructor's leading by the hand (literally at times).
"The one big thing that takes most people out the sport is that one slam and they'll tell you that story again and again 'I went out and I got slammed and I sprained my wrist' or 'I bruised my tail bone' or 'I had the wind knocked out of me' and all that can be avoided through good coaching and a controlled environment."
To fully realize Burton's vision of a controlled environment Hargrave said his job was to create learning-based terrain, after a year's worth of planning, the school was established in 2009.
Since then, the demand has dramatically increased Hargrave said and estimated five to 10 years from now it will not be unlikely for new facilities to be needed. Currently, the school already nearing peak capacity.
"At that time I'd like to see other resorts taking our ideas and putting them to work so we can grow snowboarding as a sport," he said.
Giving national industry statistics, Hargrave said 84 percent of people who try snowboarding for the first time quit, essentially eliminating a vast number recreationalists.
"We've been living off of the 16 percent of people who are naturally gifted and now we're getting up into a place, where here, we're able to hit a home run about 98 percent of the time," Hargrave said.
While retention is a key part of any resort's business plan, Hargrave said for him it is more about sharing an experience that students at the academy can take with them as uniquely their own.
"In a way, snowboarding is a way where I can help change somebody's life and if I can do that in the end I think I can have a big impact," Hargrave said. "In the end it's about leaving a legacy."
Those interested in participating can visit northstarattahoe.com, ticket prices ranging from $179 to $219 for ages 7 to adult.