A Confession: I’m part of snowboarding’s problem

Like a boiling political topic at a party where I don’t know many people, I don’t always mention that I snowboard. The skiing versus snowboarding debate isn’t as vocal as it once was, but it remains plenty palpable. You can feel it in the lift lines, a shared eye-roll or pause in conversation from the skiing couple with whom I slide through the lift gates. It’s ridiculous, but I play the game.

When I can, I serve as an impromptu ambassador for snowboarding. If the debate surfaces, I approach it calmly and with humor; I posit an indifferent stance with comments like, “Whatever gets you down the mountain,” and “Whoever is having the most fun wins.” I bought Flow bindings so I never sit in front of the exit ramp and I strike up lift conversations to ensure my seat-mates know I’m not a monosyllabic dope addict—anything to show that I’m a relatively decent, functioning member of what makes the world go ’round.

Moreover, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve provided a stable edge or shell-clad shoulder for a yard-sold skier to re-assemble themselves along a steep slope.

“When I can, I serve as an impromptu ambassador for snowboarding.”

That being said, as many friends will attest to, I’m a pretty argumentative guy when pressed; and I have a full bandolier of pointed retorts on the issue should I encounter an overt antagonist.

All my stewardship aside, on a recent day at The Canyons, I did snowboarders a serious disservice. Even though it wasn’t any one thing I did, I feel pretty rotten about it. It was a mutual near-miss, but I caught the brunt of it because of the type of recreational equipment I choose to attach to my feet.

The last run of the day found our mixed group cruising through a connected boulevard of beginner and moderate runs to make it to the village. I picked up my speed before approaching a relatively flat trail connector, buoyed by days of guy-trip testosterone and pointless competitiveness to be the first down.

So far, so good.

With speed increasing, I noticed a young girl in some slope-side muck struggling to get upright. For a moment I thought to help, but another skier was side stepping back up to her, so I veered center, not noticing a ski instructor and three of her young charges, all on skis, and not one more than six-years-old.

I impulsively bailed, scraping and skipping along the patchy groomer right at one of children. His cute, neon-orange ski school jersey rushed at me like the end of a tunnel in front of my bullet train.

“… in times of stress, it’s best to let the flames of panic constrict to a simmer before executing a response to the situation.”

The staccato of metal snowboard edge on hard snow slowed its repetition just enough for me to lift my board nose up and around his little goggled head, and I rolled to a cold cloudy stop next to him. Everyone was intact.

In the midst of the crash, I could make out only the words “Slow down!” in the instructor’s very public admonishment. But I heard enough to know she was unwaveringly apoplectic.

I consider myself relatively calm in the midst of sudden stress. Whether it’s an unclear off-trail intersection 20 miles deep into the backcountry or standing on a stage in front of a few hundred strangers, I know that in times of stress, it’s best to let the flames of panic constrict to a simmer before executing a response to the situation.

The instructor shuffled over to the girl who I spotted initially, helped her up and sent her on her way. I sat silent still as she corralled the kids to the edge of the run, even when a soft voice peeped out from behind a tiny facemask, reminding me that I “Should look where I’m going.”

That hurt, and I had no response. The little tyke was right.

Even though I wasn’t completely at fault.

Truth is, it doesn’t matter how it happened. I had no right to even attempt to verbalize my stance on the incident to a child who was a stroke of luck away from being hospitalized. He was standing just in front of the instructor, so odds are she too might have ended up on crutches.

With all the kids in line and ready, I skated slowly up to the instructor and offered a very honest, self-effacing apology. She would hear none of it, still seething and demanding I get away from her. I pleaded. “Get out of here!”

And that was that.

I finished the run, my speed hampered by an anchor of guilt. I reminded myself that it didn’t really matter that she stopped three small children in the middle of a busy run. That she didn’t see me bank and initially slow to help the girl struggling to lift herself back on to the run. That I wasn’t out of control or a beginner in over his helmet. That people obeying the speed limit get in car accidents every day. That sometimes things just happen.

However, when “things happen” that involve a snowboarder and three minute skiers in the middle of a crowded lift-served slope, the events leading up to those things have no real place in the explanation.

“I finished the run, my speed hampered by an anchor of guilt.”

Most of the guys on the trip have small kids. I know a couple of them quite well, and they’ll be in ski school when we go back up there in a few weeks. It hurt(s) to think about one of them being crushed and broken by an errant snowboarder.

Or skier.

I would hate to have robbed a child of the winter experience, force-feed them a fear of cold speed and light powder. His little face is still straight in my eye line.

I have no problem taking the blame for something that didn’t happen. Nothing did, after all. No one was hurt; and maybe I want a little credit for being aware enough to avoid injuring anyone. Or maybe I don’t deserve any. I’m not sure where I come out on the whole thing.

What I didn’t avoid—and take all accountability for—is imprinting on that kid’s mind the idea that snowboarders are reckless, inconsiderate speed freaks. He’ll probably forever and incorrectly believe that skiing is somehow a more “pure” way to enjoy snow. Maybe he’ll even bully a little buddy of his who wants to try snowboarding. I just hope he still likes to ski, that he came away from his time in ski school unscathed, and with his wind-red cheeks peeled open by an ever-widening grin of stoke when his parents load him into the gondola to get french fries and sit by the fire.

I’m indifferent about what the instructor thinks. Her mind was made up before I got off the lift that afternoon. That much was clear.

And I was the last one down the mountain.

Top 5 Things To Know Before Your First Canyoneering Trip

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By Matt Morris

The quickly-growing adventure sport of canyoneering is all about rappelling. It involves sliding down ropes into cold pools of stone-filtered canyon run-off, exploring ever-narrowing tunnels of tacky sandstone, dangling a hundred feet above a jagged log pile and hiking into some of the country’s most scenic, vibrant landscapes. Its practitioners benefit from a combination of rope management skill and navigation savvy.

Sounds pretty extreme, huh?

But it doesn’t have to be. Anyone with just a hint of athletic ability can go canyoneering.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any risks involved. Making a mistake in a slot canyon can result in serious injury or possible death. Rescue is often very difficult because of the remote locations and physically challenging extractions. Helicopters don’t do slot canyons.

So, to keep your experience while exploring canyons from turning into a nightmare, here are a few things every first-time canyoneer should know before rappelling into the hobby.

1. Know the technical competency of the group with which you will be exploring the canyons.

Don’t be a beginner led by a beginner. Find out how long your group leaders have been canyoneering. Do they possess the correct skills and experience to lead you down a canyon? Have they thought of an emergency plan in case someone gets injured? Does anyone have first aid experience beyond just a local YMCA-backed CPR cert? Find out.

2. Know what gear will be appropriate to bring with you for the type of canyon you will be descending.

Once you pull the rope from that first rappel you’re committed to finishing the canyon, there’s no turning back. Thus, having the correct gear can mean the difference between an epic trip or a miserable, risk-prone experience. Your group leaders should go through a gear check before you enter a canyon. Having the appropriate clothing and footwear is essential. Even in the summer, canyons can be cold, dark places full of freezing pools of water, even in the sun-scorched southwest. This means that sometimes a wetsuit is needed if the canyon contains water.

Also, make sure you have the proper amount of food and water. Canyoneering can be very physically challenging, so staying hydrated and having enough food are necessary to finishing a route.

Sometimes extra hardware and gear may be needed. Canyons are often bolted but some canyons rely on natural anchors, like trees and boulders. Make sure you bring enough webbing and rapids for times you may have to create or replace anchors.

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3. Know how to properly use the gear you will be carrying into a canyon.

Having the proper gear is one thing, but knowing how to use the gear you bring with you into a canyon is critical.

The last place you want to learn how to use your gear is while you’re already in a canyon. Before you enter, make sure you are familiar with every piece of gear you will be carrying with you, whether it’s on your harness or in your pack. By all means, practice how to properly rig your rappel device, how to properly lock-off your rappel device and also how to add friction to your rappel device for long or free hanging rappels. Be comfortable in your harness and know how to adjust the straps correctly to get a good fit. Oh, and always wear a helmet. It may not save you from a busted femur, but it could very well help you remember how you busted it. SAR crews like details, after all.

4. Get familiar with the area in which you will be canyoneering.

Get the beta on how long the approach is, how many rappels there are and how much rope will be needed. You should also know the weather conditions for that area. Is this area prone to flash floods, are there any multi-staged rappels, will there be moving water, pot-hole escapes? Find out how long the canyon should take to complete with your current group size. These are all important factors that can greatly impact your trip.

5. Get familiar with the social etiquette of canyoneering.

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Canyoneering can take you to some pretty amazing places. The beauty and solitude you can find can leave little to the imagination. But as with most backcountry travel, certain ethics should be maintained while exploring these amazing places. Follow Leave No Trace ethics. Take time to care about your surroundings and pack out all of the trash you bring into a canyon. Minimize your impact on the canyon by being mindful of anchor intrusions and grooves in the rock caused by the rope.

At times, you may find yourself sharing a canyon with other groups. Always be courteous and respectful and allow for faster traveling groups to pass slower groups when it is safe and appropriate. Also, be a good group member and assist with group tasks. Helping pull/bag the rope, taking turns carrying rope bags or assisting with setting up anchors are a couple of ways to contribute to your group to keep moving down the canyon in a timely fashion.

 

Matt Morris is a Las Vegas-based canyoneer. When he’s not working in Santa Barbara, CA, that is.

Behold: Shoulder Season Singletrack in Central Colorado

It’s hard to not want to share takes like this, where the backdrop is as ever forefront as the subject action. Not only do we get a barrage of Rocky Mountain seasonal beauty, we get some damn cool single track riding, too. This is a great way to spend a couple of minutes remembering what the fall provided before the snow season officially kicks in.

This was the latest in a series of sponsored videos by Yeti Cycles. Good work.