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BABY RIDES HELP LEARNERS.

Byline: Rob Wheat Special to the Daily News

A beginning snowboarding lesson is a lesson in gravity.

It also soon becomes a lesson in anatomy, balance and physics . . . as in how fast a body can fall to earth.

These are among the main points of instruction that Alex Castillo imparted in one of the numerous two-hour snowboarding classes the former Van Nuys resident teaches at Bear Mountain Ski Resort at Big Bear Mountain.

Castillo estimated that he would work with more than 500 new students over the holiday season, and that he instructs 80 to 100 snowboarders each weekend.

Our class started with 22.

Aided by a second instructor, Castillo started the new snowboarders off by having us simply try to walk around with one boot fastened into the board to get the feel of it.

Snowboards can range in length from 93 centimeters to 160, with the larger boards easier for beginners because of their wide foundation. Smaller and thinner boards are used by the very advanced for quick turns and tricks.

The trick for most of the class was moving with the board without crashing.

Our group was stationed to the left of the main run, where there is a series of small hills and flat valleys to practice on. Six snowboarders line up at a time and hesitantly venture forward while working on turning the board. This is done by shifting your weight on your lead foot to the side you want to turn to.

Turning is an important lesson because it is the foundation of how to stop - probably the toughest, and most critical, lesson to learn.

``The most common mistake I see when people first start is they try the `hula-hoop,' '' Castillo said. ``That's where people kind of throw their arms around in a circle to catch themselves instead of leaning on their front leg and turning.''

Surfers and skateboarders have a distinct advantage, Castillo added, because they can naturally rotate their body while maintaining balance on the board.

The four main points to learn in snowboarding are:

Balance: Even advanced skiers have trouble mastering it. A few class graduates said it was easier for them to maintain balance on a snowboard because your feet aren't separated by two individual skis. It can still be difficult to maintain when you pick up downhill speed, though.

Pressure: This relates to weight distribution on the board. You turn the way to you want to go by leaning with your lead leg and pointing (for beginners) where you want to go. Lean to the right, and chances are the rest of you will follow.

Edging: This is where you use the edge of the board to help you turn. You can also use the edge to help you stop by driving the board's edge into the snow at an angle.

Rotation: The amount you swivel your hips. Rotation is crucial when putting the top skills into use and is vital for steering.

And these skills don't come cheap.

It took several practice runs on the flat valleys, but eventually the class was overlooking the mountain and ready to start sliding down the hill.

Most beginners inch down the mountain by standing, sliding and crashing in 20- to 30-foot intervals. And it looks a long way down the first time you venture past the flat valleys.

But knowing how to fall is as important, or more important, than any other lesson learned that day.

Daniel Kennedy, a Big Bear resident and avid snowboarder who has rented boards to thousands of beginners, said that wrist guards - identical to those used by skateboarders and in-line skates - are a good investment.

Earlier, Castillo reminded the class that they should try to fall forward with their forearms raised in front of their body, like a boxer protecting his chin and chest.

Hitting the snow with your arms stretched out, your hands trying to catch you, can lead to broken wrists, the most common snowboard injury.

Beginners should also wear some type of knee and ankle support if they have suffered past injuries.

Snowboard boots are flat, compared to the ski boots which have a ridge at the bottom, and they don't offer much ankle support. The bindings don't pop open like a skier's, making ankle and knee injuries more possible.

Traditional snowboard binds consist of straps that cinch across the foot and ankle. New step-in bindings require stiffer boots with an attaching loop or stake.

Amy Engelmann, who grew up in Canoga Park and now lives in Montrose, said she loved snowboarding after just her first lesson. Engelmann said she thought learning the snowboard was easier than mastering skis and added that she will probably concentrate on snowboarding in the future.

``Actually, I think the falls are easier than in skiing,'' Engelmann said. ``It was my first time today, but I had skateboarded a lot around the Valley when I was younger. For me, it's not as hard to stay on the one board than it is trying to keep two skis in front of me.''

Engelmann, along with the rest of the class, eventually made it down the hill after the first lesson - a process that easily took a half-hour.

Skiers ``ski'' and snowboarders ``ride'' down a hill. The object is to be able to glide in smooth S-shaped figures down the mountain, nicknamed ``the falling Leaf'' because of the horizontal decent.

Then it was time to learn the chair lift.

Castillo was concerned that the class would have trouble mounting the chairs for the ascent. Snowboarders slide up to the starting point, and then with one foot free from the board, slip into the chair as it swoops underneath.

Getting off the lift seemed to be more difficult, however, and students were instructed to ride out of the chair and out of the way.

Managing the lift at the bottom of the hill, most of our group resembled scattered bowling pins at the top.

A good tip on the way up, Castillo added, was to rest the board on the instep of your free foot. This evens the weight of the board, which can get heavy if left dangling as you ride up.

Dwight Lim, of San Diego, said he thought the class was helpful but added that it seemed a little crowded.

The ideal number for a class is eight to 12 because personal instruction is needed until the rider can feel confident making turns, and more importantly, stopping.

Even though the class was divided into two teams of 11 students, individual instruction was infrequent, making it difficult for many to catch on.

Board and boot rental, the two-hour instruction and a day's lift ticket is included for $45, a good price. But Castillo said a private lesson is where beginners excel.

``We were missing an instructor today, or we would have divided it by three,'' Castillo said. ``Private lessons for an hour are $60, but we work with you one-on-one and people pick it up much faster.''

That's little consolation, though, when you're hesitant about starting down the hill for fear of running into the skiers and snowboarders below you.

But snowboarding is becoming so popular that Bear Mountain has also added classes for medium and expert skiers.

Castillo estimated the beginning boarder to skier ratio at 3 to 2 now, in part because many skiers want to learn to snowboard.

Just so long as they are also prepared for a lesson in gravity, anatomy . . . and especially physics.

THE PRICE TO PLAY

Where to take beginning ski and snowboard lessons, including prices of each, a look at terrain gradient (with percentages of hill groomed for beginners, intermediates and experts) and telephones. Resorts managers suggest calling first to determine availability of lessons and whether the area is open:

Mount Waterman: No ski lessons, $45 snowboarding lessons; 20 percent beginner, 20 percent intermediate, 60 percent advanced; (818) 440-1041.

Snowcrest at Kratka Ridge: $35, n/a; 30 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent; (818) 440-9749.

Ski Sunrise: $35, $45;15 percent, 55 percent, 30 percent; (760) 249-6150.

Mountain High: $45, $45; 25 percent, 35 percent, 40 percent; (760) 249-5808.

Mount Baldy: $45, $55; 20 percent, 40 percent, 40 percent; (909) 982-0800.

Big Air Green Valley: $55 (snowboarding only); n/a; (909) 867-2338.

Snow Valley: $39, $49; 30 percent, 35 percent, 35 percent; (909) 867-5151.

Snow Summit: $49, $55; 10 percent, 60 percent, 30 percent; (909) 866-5766.

Bear Mountain: $42, $50; 25 percent, 50 percent, 25 percent; (909) 585-2517.

Beginner programs include ski or snowboard equipment rental, lesson and lift ticket.

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Box: THE PRICE TO PLAY (See Text)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jan 1, 1998
Words:1437
Previous Article:OUT LOOKS: AUTHOR EXPLORES DANGER OF STORMS.
Next Article:BEGINNERS FALL FOR SKI LESSONS.


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