21. March 2019

One of the biggest obstacles that any one faces when learning to snowboard is fear.  With that in mind, a key part to teaching a successful lesson is getting your student to trust you. Trust that you know what you’re doing, and trust that you will keep them safe. With a little bit of extra knowledge and effort, you can teach a no fall snowboard lesson.  This will reduce frustration and make the lesson much more successful.

When I started teaching at Cannonsburg Ski Area, I had already been teaching for a few years.  I was an AASI certified instructor and thought I knew a fair amount about teaching people how to ride.  My first clinic when I hired in, I heard something profound: Deck, my clinician, made the comment “I strive to teach a no fall lesson.”.  I thought he was out of his mind.  In my head I instantly thought “that’s impossible.  You can’t teach a no fall lesson!”  As he continued on, he said that he was usually successful.  That in most of his lessons, his students never fall. Suddenly I found myself looking up to this guy in awe and aspiring to be able to teach as well as he did.

A few years later and I hold myself to the same standards.  Sure my students fall, and I normally let them on occasion so that they find the limits of the snowboard.  However I don’t let them slam to the snow.  Ever.  If they do, I take it as having failed my student.  That I didn’t keep them as safe as I possibly could.  Gone are the days in my lessons of “snowboarders paying their dues”.  I’m here to tell you that line is horse shit if you strive for it to be.

Teaching Methodology 

To be completely honest, I barely even teach anymore.  More accurately, I trick people into doing what I want them to do.  Sure I can tell you to keep your weight on your front foot, push your front toes down by flexing your ankle and pushing your knee over your toes, followed by your back toes and knee while keeping your shoulders square to your snowboard with your eyes up over your blah blah blah blah blah.  Seriously.  Who’s going to be able to do that?  How many people on their first lesson can stand there, hear what you say and put it into motion?  Remember, if you’re talking, you aren’t riding and riding is more fun.

Teaching is all about playing games and distracting the rider from what’s going on around them. Distracting them from the idea of falling, and the technical aspect of riding.  Once the basics are in place, then you can start refining movements to be more efficient. Fun games and making turns create smiles.  If your new rider is smiling, they are learning. They trust you. They aren’t afraid of the sport.

For little ones, they need to learn to be independent and to build strength. Remember, these guys and girls bounce and aren’t falling from very.  If they need to fall backwards to learn to stand on their own, it’s no big thing. Especially when it is as soft out as it was when this video was taken.  Don’t be afraid to take time to sit down and make snow angels or throw snowballs at each other. Anything you can do to make them smile.  Sing if you have to.  I swear it works.

Eye Contact

If you’re teaching with your goggles over your eyes, you’re putting your new rider at a disadvantage.  Making eye contact with someone puts them at ease when done with a smile.  Laugh with your new rider, connect with them, take an interest in who they are.  As soon as the googles come down, you subconsciously become less human. You’re just another something hiding behind your goggles with less than half of your face visible.  When I’m teaching someone to side slip, I have them look at my eyes.  It not only keeps their eyes up, but keeps them from noticing everything else that is going on around them.  They are putting their life into your hands and trusting you absolutely. Do this with a smile and you will remove much of the fear.  Not only because you’re a safety net to keep them from falling as they learn this new task, but because you can cause the subconscious to relax with a kind smile.


When I speak of location, I don’t mean just finding the proper grade of terrain. Are you near trees, is the trail busy, is there a cliff off the side?  Is the wind blowing and the snow turned to ice?  Maybe you’re in the mountains and the length of the trail scares your new rider.  Maybe just being able to see the valley down below is frightening to them.  This is why terrain selection is crucial. A new rider can not be afraid of the terrain they are on.  They have to trust you completely and your terrain selection makes a difference. If you can find a nice green run that isn’t busy, isn’t wind blown, and doesn’t have a clear sight line all the way to the valley, you’re in a great place. If you can’t find that, it comes back to making eye contact while you side slip with them until they are in a location where they feel safe again.

Any time your new rider is scared, the probability of a hard fall increases.  When you react out of fear rather than comfort, you get counter rotation, rigid movements, and technique failure.  Even as an experienced rider you’ve noticed this before in your riding.  When you get into a hairy situation, your technique goes to hell. What happens to someone that doesn’t have years of coaching and practice with a board underfoot? If you don’t believe me, go ride moguls on an extreme double fall line.


Don’t forget about the skier/rider code of conduct either: Do not obstruct a trail. You should know your mountain well enough to be able to find safe places to stop and talk. I realize that sometimes you’re going to traverse a high traffic area, but get through them as quickly as possible. Never stand in blind spots and busy places. I don’t care as much about you as I do your new rider. If you get hurt its your fault. However if your new rider gets hurt, it’s also your fault and not cool.

As an instructor you have heard over and over again “Safety, Fun, Learning”. This entire slogan means nothing if your student does not trust you, or if they are afraid of the hill. Acquiring trust from your student is one of the most important and under represented skills an instructor can have.  Once they entrust you with their safety, then the fun and learning can begin.

I’ll be teaching the 16/17 season at Aspen Snowmass. Feel free to come out and ask for me by name this year if you’re looking to learn to ski or ride. I’m always down to make a few laps as well.


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