Learning to Snowboard at Timberline Lodge
(Video: Rick Wilmes, Timberline Snowboard/Ski School Instructor on the program)
“We’re going to learn how to snowboard this season,” I exclaimed to my wife Jessica as Oregon was buried by a mountain of fresh powder in the season’s first major snowstorm late last fall. Work and other schedules hindered this goal, however, until just a few weeks ago. But thanks to Oregon’s famous late-season snow and North America’s longest ski season at Timberline Lodge—host of last week’s 4th Annual Burton Abominable Snow Jam that brought world-class riders to Oregon—we finally learned to ride this season.
We hit the road on a beautiful late-spring Friday and headed north, towards the majestic peak of Mt. Hood. As we drove through the picturesque village of Government Camp on our way up Highway 26, I couldn’t help but notice the fact that there were no visible signs of winter around us; the flowers were in full bloom, the sun was shining brightly and birds were chirping away without a care in the world. But as we turned left onto Timberline Highway and made our way up to the lodge, my mind was reassured by the imposing sight of the white-cloaked crest of Oregon’s highest mountain.
If you’ve never been to Timberline Lodge, put it on your “must-see” list today. With scenic mountain views and a warm interior ambiance of intricate wood panels, iron and stone fixtures and hand-carved newel posts gracing stairways, the lodge is a cozy place to escape into a book, or write one for that matter. In fact, the lodge’s exterior was used to depict the exteriors of the fictional “Overlook Hotel” in Stephen King’s The Shining (alas if you’re looking for the hedge maze, it was shot at a studio).
But I digress. We were here for the snowboarding lessons and after an hour of exploring and dinner, we turned in early.
Saturday morning was a brilliant day to learn how to ride. The sun was pouring down from a bright blue sky, the air was crisp and a seemingly endless carpet of gleaming white snow covered the contours of Mount Hood. After loading up on a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes and fresh coffee at the Cascade Dining Room, we made our way to the Ski School to rent equipment (boards, gloves, boots) and meet our instructor Rick Wilmes and our riding buddy Brian.
The most interesting part of getting a board was figuring out your snowboarding stance—that is, do you ride with your left foot forward (“regular”) or right foot forward (“goofy”)? To figure out our stance, Rick made us line up and then went behind us and gently shoved us forward; the foot that we used to catch ourselves was the foot on the front of the snowboard (we were both “goofy”).
All geared up and boards in hand, Rick and Brian led us out to the beginner trail. I was thankful to have Rick as our instructor on this day; Rick is head instructor at the Timberline Snowboard/Ski School and he is responsible for training the ski instructors on staff. His calm demeanor and laid back attitude reassured me that despite the trepidations I was feeling, we were in for a good time.
The lesson began with the basics; warming up exercises, heel and toe edge balancing techniques and lessons on how to attach the board to the boots.
An hour into the lesson, we were sore but starting to get confident about our snowboarding skills. We’d slowly (after many falls) mastered the art of skating, pushing the board with a free back foot, and were starting to get the hang of “sideslipping,” riding sideways down the hill. Rick then graduated us to practicing our toe-side and heel-side turns by doing the “falling leaf” (zig-zag pattern of riding back and forth over an imaginary corridor). The “falling leaf” is a great exercise to control your movements on the boards and learn the basics of stopping and turning.
“Look ahead at where you want to go, pick a spot ahead of you, point your fist in the direction you’re headed, bend your knees and push.” Rick’s directions seemed simple enough. As I pointed at the trees and headed out on my first leaf, dreaming of my glorious riding future filled with powder shots and incredible carves, I suddenly realized that I was about to go off the embankment and crash into the bushes!
There I went, hard into a heap of heavy late-spring snow. Rick happened to be close enough to brace my fall but the fall was still spectacular. My wife was faring much better; she had wisely chosen to deliberately take it slow and as a result didn’t have as many falls.
Forty minutes or so of “leafs” later, we were both comfortable on the boards and our turns were getting better. The highlight of the day came near the end of the lesson when we both gazed into each other’s sparkling eyes and smiled and said almost in unison, “This is so awesome!”
Editor’s Note: Timberline Snowboard/Ski School is currently closed since summer doesn’t offer the perfect snow for learning. The school will open in the fall and offers a host of group and one-on-one learning packages. For more information, please visit: http://www.timberlinelodge.com/ski_ride/snowboard_ski_school_private.php
About the Author: Mo Sherifdeen
Mo is Travel Oregon's content publisher and loves to hike the forests and mountain trails of Oregon with his wife, daughter and dog. He is also known for getting lost inside a maze of books at Powell’s, sipping an IPA (or two) and seeking the best fish 'n chips along the Oregon Coast.