Gayle has a snowboarding lesson on a dry slope – prior to the latest Covid-19 rules kicking in.
Snow is falling and dreams of hurtling down powdery slopes on a pair of skis or a snowboard are growing stronger in my mind.
Alas, with Glenshee, along with pretty much everything, closed for the next few weeks, I’ll need to keep on dreaming.
Before it started snowing – and before we moved into the latest lockdown – I took a trip to Dundee’s Ancrum Outdoor Centre which boasts the city’s only dry ski slope.
I’m a pretty poor skier but I can tackle most red runs, albeit in an ungainly fashion, but when it comes to snowboarding, I’m at beginner level.
I had one boarding lesson at Glenshee in 2015 and while I enjoyed it, I was fairly useless at it, so I figured a session five years on might give me a boost.
Boarding is often thought of as skiing’s “cooler cousin” and my instructor Darren Hepburn agrees. He’s been a boarder for 18 years, having first tried the sport on the last day of a ski trip in the Italian Alps.
“The social aspect is probably the biggest thing I love about it,” he tells me.
“There’s nothing better than finishing a run down a slope or spending the day in the snow park with all the adrenalin going and reliving those moments with your mates later.”
While Darren took to boarding like a duck to water, he regrets not having had lessons earlier.
“That would’ve helped me to progress much faster,” he laments.
“It’s so important to learn the basics – even just knowing how to stand properly on the board would have helped me immensely.”
That’s why I’m going right back to basics on Ancrum’s dry slope, and that means taking tiny baby steps.
I’ve been warned not to wear my best ski gear because the bristly, abrasive surface could leave it in tatters should I fall over.
Once I’m kitted out with board and boots (I’ve brought my own helmet), and we’ve deduced I’m a “regular” rather than a “goofy” footer, which means I lead with my left foot, we head outside.
We kick off the session by running through control and direction, whether “straight running” down the slope or by positioning the board horizontally, tilting forwards or backwards with heels or toes.
Then we try “scooting”, or “one-footed riding”, a skill you need if you’re to “scoot” along to a lift or navigate flat terrain.
After I’ve mastered this, we move to a small slope where I show Darren my attempt at “straight running”, pointing the board directly downhill.
This is his chance to check out my stance and offer some tips.
He asks me to imagine keeping my body inside a “house” with the only thing allowed outside the “walls” being my hands.
“This keeps you balanced through the board and puts your weight through the centre,” he offers.
“If your ‘house’ breaks up then your weight will move to the front or back. You don’t want this at the early stages of snowboarding.”
When we move to the big slope, things get faster and trickier.
I need to learn to “keep up” with the board so it doesn’t run away with me. Alas, I lag behind and tumble to my doom. I emerge unscathed and laughing – no harm done.
Darren then encourages me to imagine I’m a “gunslinger”, which works wonders for my stance and helps me to feel more chilled out about the whole thing.
“Balance and posture is the foundation of snowboarding in my experience – if you don’t have this you will fall over lots,” he assures.
The peak of my lesson sees me attempt to “side slip” down the slope, with Darren showing me how to point my toes down to go and up to stop. Sounds easy, but it ain’t!
We finish on a positive note with me grinning from ear to ear when Darren tells me my progression was “very good”.
“We would encourage another lesson so we could continue up the snowboard pyramid and move on to a technique called ‘falling leaf’ which teaches you how to steer your board around one edge at a time,” he adds.
Before I head off, Darren teaches me a couple of confidence-boosting tricks on flat ground – the “front-side 180”, the “ollie” and the “nollie”. Let’s just say these need a heck of a lot more practise.
While the dry slope is fantastic for beginners, Darren recommends having a maximum of two lessons here. But you can learn a lot in that time and it’s a great alternative if you can’t make it further afield.
Darren gets a huge buzz out of teaching snowboarding and he’s a brilliantly enthusiastic and easy-to-understand instructor.
“It’s about getting out into the fresh air and it’s fantastic when you see people getting excited and progressing in a new sport,” he says.
- Check Ancrum Outdoor Centre’s website, ancrum.com, for updates on when it’s likely to reopen.
- If you’re in Aberdeen, check out Adventure Aberdeen Snowsports in Garthdee which has been recently refurbished and boasts the city’s only dry ski slope. sportaberdeen.co.uk