Parking Lot to Après: Tips for a Successful First Day of Snowboarding

Published on 10/09/2023 · 14 min readLooking to head out on your first-ever day of snowboarding but not sure where to start? Set yourself up for a great first day with these expert tips!
Gaelen Mast, Snowboarding Expert
By Snowboarding Expert Gaelen Mast

Photo by Yanya

So, you’ve decided you want to try snowboarding out this winter. Awesome! Snowboarding can be one of the most rewarding, most breathtaking, and overall most fun experiences out there … if you stick with it. It’s no secret that snowboarding can be difficult to learn, and many beginners never get past the initial phase, which is why it’s important to make sure your first day snowboarding is a blast and leaves you yearning for more! While there’s no magic trick to be instantly good at snowboarding, you can set yourself up for success with a bit of prep work — preparation that actually begins weeks before actually taking to the slopes.

Step One: Choose Where To Snowboard

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With 37 states having at least one ski resort and nearly 500 resorts in operation in the United States alone, there are many choices. Luckily, there’s no reason to sit there scratching your head, wondering where to start, because the best possible ski resort you can go to as a beginner snowboarder is a small, local one.

Here’s why: Sure, it’s appealing to travel to large iconic ski resorts like Vail, Breckenridge, Mammoth, or Killington, but the problem with this is that, as a beginner, you aren’t going to be able to appreciate 90% of the terrain they offer. This is because on your first day snowboarding it’s very unlikely you’ll be leaving the bunny slope (the smallest beginner slope).

As a prior snowboard instructor, I’ve watched dozens of people attempt to learn snowboarding for the first time, and, quite honestly, most of the lesson was spent figuring out their front foot from their back foot and trying to stay off of their butt. This is not meant to discourage you at all, it’s just the harsh truth about snowboarding — the first day is difficult. However, single-day lift ticket prices are not dictated by how much terrain you ride — they’re typically on a flat rate, and that flat rate is going to be a heck of a lot higher at a large ski resort (we’re talking $100+ or even $200+ for many big resorts).

By contrast, smaller ski resorts will have much cheaper lift tickets and still offer adequate terrain for total newbies to learn the very basics. Not only this, but smaller ski resorts often have great deals if you go on certain nights (my old local ski resort in Massachusetts used to have $20 Thursdays), so if you have some flexibility with your schedule, you can save even more.

Price aside, small ski resorts typically pull a much smaller crowd than big ski resorts, and this can play a huge role in how your day goes. It doesn’t matter if you’re at the coolest mountain in the world — if you have to wait over an hour for a single run, I doubt you’re going to be happy, and unfortunately an hour (or longer) wait is actually common at big ski resorts, especially on holidays and weekends.

If you’re going for the whole ski-cation type of trip where you spend just as much time at the local après spot as you do on the mountain, you’re certainly much more likely to find that at a big-name resort. But if your priority is saving money, avoiding big crowds, and still getting access to good beginner terrain, go with your small local resort. If you don't have a local resort that is small, do some research and look for mountains with daily ticket prices under $100, and you’re golden!

Step Two: Acquire Gear

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When it comes to snowboarding, you’re going to need three very important pieces of gear: a board, bindings, and snowboard boots. These aren’t the only items, but they’re certainly the most crucial, and where you get them is going to play a huge role in your experience shredding for the first time. There are really only three options here: (1) Buy your own gear, which is awesome if you’re committed, but it can be quite expensive and many beginners don’t want to spend that money; (2) Rent gear from a dedicated snowboard shop, which is certainly less expensive than buying but can take a little forethought as you may have to reserve and pick up your gear in advance; (3) Rent from the on-resort rental shop, which is the option that requires the least amount of planning, is relatively cheap, and is what most beginner riders will do. It’s also the worst possible option.

What I’m about to say is based on six years of working in on-resort rental shops and both big and small resorts: The gear they offer will make learning to snowboard even harder than it has to be, and there are two main reasons for that. Number one: Rental snowboards from an on-resort shop are often fleet snowboards, boards that are made and sold in mass to rental shops. They tend to be cheap and low quality, meaning they’re not going to perform well and make it that much harder to ride, not to mention they see use almost every day and are probably pretty beat up. As a good rule of thumb, call and find out the make and model of the boards carried at your local resort rental shop and search that make and model on an online retailer site like Curated. If you can’t find that product for sale, it’s likely a fleet board and should be avoided at all costs.

The second reason rental shops are the worst option is that they often need more inventory/sizing to equip you with the right gear. To address the first point, getting gear that fits is crucial. If a board is too big or too small for you, it won’t respond to your movements correctly, or if your boots don’t properly fit and your heels are lifting up, it doesn’t matter how good your board is — your boots don’t fit properly and you aren’t going to be able to control anything at all. If you show up ready to ride and an on-resort rental shop doesn’t have the proper sizing for you because of an inventory shortage (which I’ve seen many times), you’re out of luck. What are you going to do, just not snowboard?

If you’re super committed to learning to snowboard, right on! You can get set up with a beginner board, bindings, and boots for somewhere in the $600-$800 range, and we can help you do that with free recommendations from a Snowboarding Expert right here on Curated. However, it’s totally realistic that a day-one beginner doesn’t want to spend that much money on something they’re not even sure they’ll like, which is why I believe going to a dedicated snowboard shop ahead of time is the best option. This option is usually around the same price or even lower than on-resort rental shops, and the key is that they typically carry professional-quality gear that is actually good. Again, do the make and model search test on Curated to find out for sure, but you’re far more likely to find good-quality rental gear at a dedicated shop than at an on-resort shop.

Secondly, dedicated snowboard shops are more likely to hire more knowledgeable staff who may be skiers or snowboarders themselves who can help you make sure you’re not only getting the right setup but also make sure it’s set up for you correctly with regards to things like your snowboard stance, binding angles, etc. While it may take a little forethought to get a board ahead of time from a dedicated snowboard shop, I can almost guarantee it’ll be a better experience for you overall.

Step 3: Set Yourself up for Success With a Lesson

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I want to start this section by saying that I don’t think taking a lesson is a necessary step to success for everyone. Some people will do better on their first day if they have some structure and guidance, but some people simply learn better by tinkering around and experimenting on their own. You know yourself best, so I’m not going to get up on my soapbox and say that you need a lesson if you don’t think it’ll help. In fact, I think it’s very important to point out that a lesson isn’t going to instantly make you good in one day.

The only way to really progress is to practice the proper techniques. A lesson simply provides you with those proper techniques, which you then have to decide to practice on your own. Try to think of a snowboard lesson as a way to “learn how to learn.” If this sounds like something that appeals to you, many ski resorts offer both group lessons and private lessons. It’s best to call ahead of time to book, as they’ll both frequently sell out days or even weeks in advance.

If you choose not to do a lesson, please make sure to familiarize yourself with the trails at a resort, and please please please don’t just get on the first chairlift you see. I can’t tell you how many total beginners I’ve seen get on the main chairlift because they don’t know any better, end up on a trail that is way too much for them, and then either have to walk down or call ski patrol to come to rescue them (embarrassing). Generally in the U.S. and Canada, the trail system is as follows:

  • Easy: Green circle marker
  • Medium: Blue square marker
  • Advanced: Black diamond marker
  • Expert: Double black diamond marker

In an ideal world, you would start on the bunny hill to make sure you can get a basic feel for toe-edge turns and heel-edge turns, but if you do want to venture beyond that, get yourself a map and make sure every lift you get on provides access to at least one green circle level trail. This is the best way to make sure you don’t get over your head, panic, unstrap, and part-stumble, part-slide, part-walk your way down a trail.

Step 4: Pack, Pack, Pack!

Photo by Dmytro Vietrov

As I mentioned earlier, a board, bindings, and snowboard boots aren’t the only gear you’ll want to have. There are also quite a few softgoods that you’ll need in order to have a comfortable first day riding. While some of this gear may be offered at a rental shop, many are not, and you’ll need to acquire it on your own.

  • Helmet: You’ve got one brain; you will fall when learning to snowboard. These are two indisputable facts. Will you hit your head when you fall? Maybe, maybe not. Why take that risk though?
  • Jacket: Snow is cold; a jacket will keep you warm. Ideally, make sure it’s a functional jacket with insulation and waterproofing. A fashion-oriented jacket, sweater, or hoodie will do little to protect you from the cold.
  • Snow Pants/Bibs: Again, snow is cold, and you will fall on your butt. Insulated and waterproof snow pants or bibs are your best protection against immediately getting soaked and freezing.
  • Gloves/Mittens: Have you ever just stood there with a couple of ice cubes in your hands? Yeah, me neither. But go try that for a couple of minutes and then imagine that feeling for several hours. This is what it’s going to be like if you don’t wear gloves or mittens. Additionally, make sure whatever gloves or mittens you choose are insulated and waterproof. The cute knitted mittens you got from your grandma for Christmas won’t do anything for you, sorry.
  • Base Layers: A good outerwear set can only do so much for you. Your base layers (the shirt and pants you wear) will also play a big role in your warmth as well as your range of moments. Ideally, find some sort of thermals, or at the very least wear baggy clothing like sweatpants or sweaters. Above all else, don’t wear jeans! This is by far the most common thing I see, and it makes me die a little bit inside every time.
  • Appropriate Socks: Socks are probably the most overlooked item and yet they play a crucial role in the happiness (aka the warmth and comfort) of your feet. The rule is simple: Don’t wear cotton. The reason is that cotton does not dry effectively, and although we’d all like to believe that our feet will stay totally dry, they probably won’t. Whether there is moisture from sweat or snow going down your boot, it’s pretty darn likely some moisture will get in there. When it does, the cotton won’t dry quick enough, and your feet will become cold — very cold. Instead, choose a sock that’s made of wool or some sort of synthetic material. Both your left foot and your right foot will thank you immensely.
  • Goggles: Another crucial thing that I see many people skip out on — or even worse, skimp out on — are goggles. Goggles are the only thing stopping snow, frigid air, or intensely bright sunlight from hitting you in the bare eye. Choosing to ride without them if it’s snowing, freezing cold, or super sunny is basically asking to be riding blind with a side of involuntary eye-watering. While there are some conditions where you don’t need goggles (I’ve ridden plenty of days without them), it’s a quick way to ruin your day if you do encounter conditions that warrant them. Always bring a pair with you and remember that you get what you pay for. The $20 goggles you might think are a great deal on Amazon are going to fog up, be uncomfortable, and ruin your day. Invest in a nice pair of goggles!

Step 5: Thriving On Your First Day

While I could dedicate an entire article to beginner snowboarding tips for the actual first day of riding, I want to leave you with my three biggest tips: parking, food, and time of year.

Parking

Photo by Laine N.

Ski resorts are not a place you can show up to 10 minutes after the chairlifts have opened and expect to find good parking. In fact, you might not find any parking if you do this at a major resort. This is generally a bigger issue for larger resorts that pull a bigger crowd, but I’ve even seen this trend at many small resorts. If you want to get a good parking location, you should aim to show up a minimum of 30 minutes before the chairlift opens and up to an hour before if it’s a well-known resort, especially on the West Coast.

Food

Photo by Monkey Business Images

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered another business that marks up their prices for food quite like ski resorts. Why does this matter? Well, getting beat up for three hours on the bunny hill and then grabbing a bite to eat, only to learn that you owe $24.99 for a burger and some cold fries is a great combination to ruin your day. Spoiler alert: The food at most ski resort cafeteria-style dinner halls isn’t that good.

Time of Year

Photo by Jack Jelly

I mentioned trip timing briefly in this article already, but it needs to be re-emphasized here. This is not a standalone issue — it is something that, if done wrong, will exacerbate many issues including the two above. Coming to a ski resort on either a weekend or a holiday means you are more likely to encounter large crowds, which means: bad parking, paying more for lift tickets (and even food), spending less time skiing and more time in line, experiencing shortages either with the rentals available or food available, and a raise in your blood pressure. This is more of a problem for large resorts than smaller ones, but it’s a good practice to try to avoid weekends and especially holidays at ski resorts if you don’t like the image I just described.

So Now You’re Hooked

Photo by G. Point Studio

Now you’ve read this guide and are prepared to kick butt on your first day of snowboarding, let’s do some envisioning. It’s a couple days after your first snowboard experience and you loved it so much that you’re ready to buy your own gear. But oh no! There are so many options for the gear you need, wherever will you start?

Why not start right here at Curated? Not only do we carry nearly every brand of snowboard and offer competitive pricing, we also have gear experts at the ready to provide you with free, personalized recommendations for snowboard gear. There’s no universally “best" snowboard out there, and the right one for you depends on your personal needs and wants. A Curated gear expert can help you define these preferences and then use them to provide recommendations for gear after just a quick and simple chat. It’s quite literally the quickest and easiest way to get all kitted and fitted with your own gear!

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Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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