When we planned this trip to Bulgaria, I knew I wanted to try snowboarding. Skiing is good, but snowboarding is cool, and that’s clearly the main motivation behind my decision-making. I mean, I’ve spent the past couple of days on a snowboard and I have multiple ear piercings – I think it’s the coolest I’ve ever been.
However, while I stand by snowboarding being a cool sport, it is decidedly less cool as a beginner, because you spend most of your time inching down the learner slope and falling on your arse rather than suavely bombing down the harder pistes and doing cool tricks. But that’s life. I’d love to be a really good snowboarder one day, but that means I have to spend some time being a bad snowboarder first.
I’m maybe belabouring the ‘bad’ point. Truth be told, Jake and I weren’t bad at all. In fact, our wonderful instructor Tsetsi said we were naturals, by virtue of our skiing background and general athletic skills. I knew all that rowing would come in useful for something, even if that ‘something’ was impressing the snowboarding instructor we would never see again.
While I enjoyed the praise and the unearned confidence of any beginner told they are not awful at their new pursuit, being a ‘natural’ snowboarder still involved falling on my knees and bum many, many times. I have lovely bruises on my legs and backside to show for my intro to snowboarding.
Over the course of the two days, we did make good progress. We started by sliding down the slopes, with the board horizontal, learning to control our speed, before graduating to crossing the slopes diagonally, on both sides of the board, with increasing speed. When you snowboard you spend most of your time either on the ‘heel side’ or the ‘toe side,’ pivoting on between the two edges of the board. Then, the next day, we learned how to turn and actually started on the proper slopes rather than the beginner slope.
It was great fun. It has been such a long time since I’ve tried a new high-impact sport and I was reminded of just how hard packed snow is when you hit it at speed. I didn’t fall (badly) once on the skis, which I was thrilled with because no one likes that few seconds while you fly through the air and hope you don’t break something. Then I jumped on the board and was falling over with a ‘thud’ regularly. In a weird way, it’s good to go back to being a beginner. Nothing humbles you quite like going from shooting down black runs one day to being unable to stand up on your snowboard the next.
Even after only a few days of snowboarding, I can definitely see myself preferring snowboarding to skiing if I ever get to be equally good at both. There’s something almost graceful about snowboarding; it has a lot more rhythm and flow to it than skiing. Plus there’s the aforementioned cool factor.
As the lessons went on, my tolerance for hard falls waned somewhat. I took one really hard fall on bum, halfway down a very flat, icy slope (flat slopes are SO MUCH HARDER to snowboard on than steeper slopes) and felt the tears come. It was so cold, I was so tired having been up since 5am for no reason, and there’s only so many times you can bruise yourself by slamming into ice with speed before your brain starts to say what are you doing?
We planned to spend our final afternoon trying out some of harder slopes, but high winds had a closed a couple of the higher chairlifts meaning that almost everyone was concentrated on the lower runs. It’s hard enough making your way safely down a steep slope in the snow attached by both feet to a large sheet of plastic, let alone with what felt like thousands of skiers whizzing past you the whole way. THIS IS THE EASY SLOPE AND IT’S NOT THE OLYMPICS.
Fortunately, we had an amazing instructor, who managed to transform us from people who fell over as soon as we strapped into the board to compentent beginners who were ready to head down a red run after only two days of lessons. Unfortunately, the red run we chose was at a much lower altitude (it was part of the ‘ski road’ you could take from the top of the mountain back to Bansko) and had therefore become one long ice sheet so we had to bail on the red run plan. I was hoping to be able to say in this blog that I’d managed to do a red slope after only two days of lessons – which would have been super cool – but nature intervened and so I can only say that my instructor thought we were definitely ready for red slopes, which is a lot less impressive. This is the kind of competitive I get with myself, and yes, it is exhausting.
(Jake and I also joked to Tsetsi that we were very competitive with each other, and he had to awkwardly ask if we were a couple or brother and sister. We told him that we were boyfriend and girlfriend and not to worry, because we get that a lot, which is sadly true.)
Bansko was an okay place to learn to snowboard. Our instructor was awesome, which is so important as a total beginner, but there is only one very small learner slope which got extremely crowded (it might be like this at other places too, I’m not sure). On the plus side, this did motivate us to graduate to the proper runs sooner, but we did have to endure a few hours of children bombing past us on skis with no control before we were allowed on a blue run. I would definitely come back here to snowboard now that we can attempt some of the harder runs, for the same reasons we enjoyed the skiing here, but if you think it might take you a while to pick up snowboarding then somewhere with bigger beginner facilities might better.
I’m so glad we decided to try to learn a new skill this week, especially one that combines physical and mental challenge. I very much like the thought of future me being a great snowboarder so current me is going to have to acquire some colourful bruises and fall on my face and/or butt a lot to make that happen. Future me can be very demanding, but hopefully she’ll be a lot cooler than current me, if current me can see these hobbies through to fruition. Fingers crossed!