You might say that Mike Croza has really gone downhill over the past decade—and he’s all right with that. At work, Croza is the president of Supply Chain Alliance Inc., a Markham, Ont.-based company specializing in supply-chain management consulting. But away from the office, he loves to spend his time snowboarding.
At age 50, Croza is proof you don’t have to be part of the teenaged “Dude, where’s my board?” set to try your hand at the fastest-growing winter sport. Who could argue with its benefits of stunning mountain vistas, crisp, fresh air, and a bit of outdoor exercise? “It’s a great sport,” he says. “When the conditions are perfect, it’s just the best place to be.”
Since childhood, Croza had been an occasional downhill skier. But in the early ’90s, when he took on a new client that led to more frequent business trips to Calgary and Vancouver, he became discouraged by his intermittent side trips to the slopes. “I just couldn’t manage skiing on powder,” he says. At the time, snowboarding was moving into the mainstream. While watching kids gliding past him on wide snowboards versus his skinny skis, he suspected it might be easier to ski powder on a snowboard.
So Croza invested in three lessons at Blue Mountain Ski Resort near Collingwood, Ont., then another half-day lesson from a snowboard expert in Kelowna, B.C.’s Big White Resort. Those first few days were painful, he admits, but he caught on quickly. After five or six outings, he felt comfortable carving on both edges of the board coming down the hill. “Now the board just floats on top, and it’s a lot of fun,” says Croza. “I just find that snowboarding is easier for me. I love it.”
Croza’s experience is typical. According to Geoff Affleck, owner and director of Collingwood-based Raven Snow Club, newbies can expect snowboarding to be difficult and exhausting the first few times out, with many falls and sore muscles. However, he says, you’ll become competent in weeks rather than years, as with skiing. The key is to take lessons, which will make learning faster, safer and more enjoyable. (Look for instructors who are certified by the Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors.)
Even if you’re a world-class skier, you won’t necessarily be a great snowboarder. “People tend to think, ‘Well, I ski, that’s downhill, there’s snow, there’s wood attached to my feet—how different can it be?'” says Croza. But beyond the sensation of riding on snow itself, the two sports are vastly different. More like surfing or skateboarding than skiing, snowboarding uses different mechanics for balance, stance and movement. And with both feet strapped to a single board in non-releaseable bindings and no poles to rely on, spills can be much harsher than your typical tumble on skis. Wrist and ankle injuries (and seriously bruised backsides) are quite common.
You’ll fare best with good core and upper-leg strength, which improves stability, control and your ability to rise after a chin plant. It’s also helpful to wear a helmet, wrist guards and loose clothing with reinforced knees and butt; typical skiwear can be too tight or short. Once you know how to dig your board’s edges into the snow to facilitate turns when going downhill, you’ll be able to control your speed and avoid wipeouts.
Contrary to what’s seen in the Olympics, you don’t need the derring-do of Evel Knievel to enjoy snowboarding. “I just carve down the hill, very smooth, nothing too dangerous,” says Croza. “I can get the speed up, but it’s about controlled speed versus being out of control.” In other words, Croza is a fan of “freeride” snowboarding, which emphasizes whooshing down the hill for fun—a great entry point to the sport. There’s also “freestyle” boarding, which includes tricks such as riding half-pipes and jumps. Then there’s “alpine” snowboarding, concerned with extreme downhill speed, often in competition.
At one time, snowboarders were seen as menaces on the slopes, and were frequently banned from mountains. Not so these days, when the growing number of adult participants is legitimizing what used to be a sport for teen rebels. And with many Canadian hills open from November to mid-April, there’s ample opportunity to hone your snowboarding skills. Renting is the best option for beginners, since it allows you to try different brands of equipment. Buying your own gear will set you back $400 to $600 for a board, bindings and boots. Expect to pay $25 per lift ticket on quieter, less challenging hills and up to $75 for world-class resorts such as Whistler. Lesson prices vary in similar fashion.
As a father of four, Croza also appreciates snowboarding as a family activity. He usually manages about 12 days on the slope per season. This winter, he’s planning a family snowboarding vacation to Vail, Colo. But his favourite spot so far is the 7th Heaven run at Blackcomb. “It’s a beautiful view, a great slope,” says Croza. “And when there’s powder, it truly is 7th Heaven.”
Believe it or not, snowboarding can also provide some business benefits. “Business is all about being energized,” says Croza. “Snowboarding is one great way to do that.”
So, dude, where’s your board?
© 2005 Susanne Ruder
Canada’s Top 5 snowboard destinations
PROFIT asked Mat Houghton, editor of Snowboard Canada magazine, to identify his favourite hills
- Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort | Whistler, B.C.
“Hands down, it’s the biggest and the best. Home to 90% of Canada’s pro snowboarders and snowboard media, Whistler Blackcomb is the mecca of Canadian snowboarding.”
- Kicking Horse Mountain Resort | Golden, B.C.
“For raw and rugged ‘freeriding’, this is the place. Expect steep runs, deep snow and challenging terrain.”
- Lake Louise Ski Resort | Lake Louise, Alta.
“Nestled in Banff National Park, Lake Louise has 113 named runs on 4,200 acres. Incredible riding and the scenery is unbeatable.”
- Stoneham Mountain Resort | Stoneham, Que.
“Lesser-known to riders in the west, this resort just outside of Quebec City has an unbeatable terrain park boasting 30 runs over four mountains.”
- Blue Mountain Ski Resort | Collingwood, Ont.
“It’s the biggest and best in Southern Ontario. I have a lot of fun riding here.”