Can You Learn To Snowboard Without Any Expensive Lessons?

Snowboarding is expensive. Lessons are expensive. Sometimes lessons are great – you come away feeling like you’ve learned so much. But like any service, sometimes a lesson isn’t that good, the quality of an instructor isn’t guaranteed. Can you do without them? Can you learn to snowboard without the expensive lessons?

Yes, some people can do without lessons

The answer has to be “yes” – for some people. It would be naive to say that everyone needs lessons. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that just went up the hill and did their best. Has their technique suffered? Do they got bad habbits? Maybe. Probably. But not having lessons doesn’t mean you can’t work on technique; there are other ways to get technique-instruction.

And no, this isn’t for everyone, some people will be much better off with lessons.

Who gets skateboarding lessons?

Consider skateboarding for a moment. It’s a pretty technical sport. Lots of tricks. Different disciplines like street, mini-ramp and vert skating. Learn to ollie, learn to pump transitions, land one trick with your feet in the right position for the next trick…

And the falls? They hurt. They’re mostly on concrete. There’s definitely a safety element to skateboarding.

Do you know anyone who ever took a lesson in skateboarding? I don’t. I know they have those summer camps in the U.S, but that’s the minority of skaters, and a lot of the people who attend can probably already skate.

Skateboarding is hard, yet millions of people pick it up by themselves and with their friends. How different is it to snowboarding?

Is getting snowboarding lessons the “done thing”?

Are lessons built-in to snowboarding and skiing culture? You’re going away on your first snow trip, you’ll be hiring some gear and getting lessons. You see ESF bodies everywhere. That’s what people do – they get lessons.

Your snowboarding trip is expensive. It’s your holiday. For beginners there are so many things to buy, it’s your first time snowboarding. There are many costs, and one of them is getting lessons… Is the cost of getting a snowboarding lesson just rolled into the overall cost of your holiday? Is it just accepted? Is it just the done thing?

Like it or not, the existing industry and culture will influence people’s decision of whether or not to get lessons.

So who should by-pass lessons and what tools do they need?

First of all, let’s be clear about the goal here, what are you aiming for as a beginner?

  • To have fun
  • To get going as a snowboarder
  • To be safe, no injuries
  • To have solid technique – to get good

We all snowboard to have fun, why else would you do it? But at the same time, not many people want to be stuck on the nursery slope for ever. There’s definitely a desire to get going, do green runs, blue runs, and then a red? Start trying some tricks. Explore the mountain. And the sooner you get to that level, the better, right?

But we’re all different; we all learn in different ways and at different rates. So,

Who would benefit from having lessons?

  • Some people need encouragement; maybe they’re a little nurvous/timid?
  • Some people aren’t naturally coordinated, they might take a little longer to “get” things like snowboarding
  • Some people don’t want to think about how things work, how their body and the snowboard work together to glide along the snow, they want to be told

Who could by-pass beginner lessons?

  • Some people are just good; they’re good at everything. It’s annoying!
  • Some people do related sports, maybe they’re a good skater or a good surfer? Freeborder?
  • Some people get stuff; they understand how things work, and can visualise how to put it into practice
  • Some people are fit, determined and robust. They’ll give it a go, keep going if it’s not happening, and be OK with it in the end

You’re most likely the best person for determining where you are on the scale. Take into account the group that you’re snowboarding with. If you’re on the fence, but everyone else wants lessons, then going it alone on the mountain is a bad idea, and you’ll miss out on the group fun. For riders in the UK, it’s a similar question to: can a dendix dryslope can help you to learn?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It’s not bad if you decide to get lessons. Suggesting that some people need lessons and others maybe don’t, isn’t a criticism. The aim is to have fun with snowboarding – what’s the best route to get there, with decent technique, for you?

This is a question of saving money. If a person learns to snowboard without lessons – would they have been better if they’d chosen to take lessons? Maybe? Probably? That’s a hard question to answer. My opinion is probably. But the question here is not “are lessons good at improving your snowboarding?” – it’s “can some people learn without having expensive lesson?”

Useful tools. By-passing lessons is one thing, but just getting on the lift with no plan other than to wing it is plain silly. You have to have an idea of how to snowboard. That includes:

  • Understanding the mechanics of how a snowboard turns (via your control)
  • Having practical exercises and steps, that will enable you progress from absolute beginner to linking turns

My personal recommendation is to check out the Learn to Ride program from SA (read the review). For a long time I’ve recommended Go Snowboarding. I do still rate this instruction highly, but I think the Learn to Ride program is more complete and easier to follow, for beginners.

(That said, the Go Snowboard DVD is still my top pick for intermediate riding – enhancing your carving technique).

Conclusion

I’m not knocking lessons, and I’m definitely not suggesting that all beginners should try to learn without getting any lessons, via some cheaper form of instruction. Far from it. I rate lessons highly. Check out 5 Reasons To Get Some Coaching On Your Next Trip. There are parts of my riding that I’m sure would benefit from the two-way interaction you get in a lesson.

But I can’t escape from that thought that some people could learn to snowboard without lessons, especially with the help of productions like Learn to Ride and Go Snowboard.

A group of guys and girls in this category could save a lot of money buying some instructional material between them and by-passing the much higher, per-person lesson cost on the hill. Is that irresponsible advice? I think it’s realistic.

How about you? Did you get lessons? What do you advise friends taking up snowboarding? Are lessons a necessity or should some people give it a go themselves? As always, add your view with a comment.

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Comments
14 Responses to “Can You Learn To Snowboard Without Any Expensive Lessons?”
  1. Rich says:

    Hi Gavin,

    A good question and one that I found myself asking last year before my first trip on the slopes. Do I learn before I go, do I have lessons in resort, do I ‘teach’ myself?

    Only living near a dendix dry slope and nearly 3 hours from a fridge I didn’t go for the former, I wanted to learn on ‘real’ snow. So lessons in resort or teach myself.. I found a website that had free ‘teach yourself’ type videos, and watched them over and over, added them to my ipod for when I was out there. Having done so, and breaking down the elements it seemed easy enough to try myself rather than pay out yet more (you’re quite right with the expense as a first timer).

    The first day was slow and the second day better but also slow, but by the third day things were really coming together. By the end of the week I was going down the slopes well. I’ll be honest and I felt a real sense of achievement by the end of the week having done so, I like challenges – especially when our chalet friends all said “you need lessons” as soon as we arrived.

    You are absolutely right in that you need to commit to learning and be determined – my other beginner friend didn’t watch the videos (no matter how hard I tried to get him to), and didn’t understand enough what he was even trying to do. He should have had lessons and he would have had a far far better time. I don’t feel I needed lessons to get me to a point that I was happy with.

    If I’d had lessons in resort would I have progressed that much faster? I don’t know, being stuck in a group lesson rather than actually going up the slope again and trying for myself? It’s debateable.

    This year I’m going with another beginner – he’s having lessons on the dendix and by the sounds of it is doing ok. He should be able to enjoy more of the mountain quicker, so maybe that is the way to do it – don’t ‘waste’ your holiday learning – learn before you go, no matter what slope it’s on?

    I think watching some sort of instructional video’s to know what you should be doing is really important, I haven’t seen the Learn to Ride series but if its anything like the one i saw it should be good – it might even be worth checking it out now, a few weeks before my second holiday.

    Anyway, this comment is getting too long but it’s something I really connected with, so I’ll stop now!

  2. Mike says:

    Yo Gav,

    I like the post because I’ve thought about this before…

    I think to by-pass lessons you really only need two things, to be fairly competent at a related sport and to have friends to help you out.

    Two years ago I went on a trip with three snowboarders and one skier…..needless to say the skier saw that he was wrong and rented a board :-) …Without any lessons he was pretty good at boarding before the end of the first week.

  3. Gavin says:

    Hey Rich,

    thanks for commenting! Apart from being close to having one of the longest comments on this blog, it’s very beneficial to have input someone who’s just made the decision to go without lessons, and can comment on the success and difficulties involved. Cheers.

    If you’re thinking about checking out that instruction, consider what level you’re at. The SA Learn to Ride video has some excellent “challenges” that will push a beginner, things like ollies and tripods (I’d never heard of that one either). There’s also some good guidance on how to improve a beginner’s initial linked turns… that guidance is good, but not the main focus of the production.

    If you’re closer to intermediate level, The Go Snowboard DVD has some excellent drills for improving your edge control, leading to strong carving. It’s pretty damn cheap on Amazon too, hard to fault.

    Good luck with it, and let me know how you get on this season, as well as your friends who put the dendix to use before going away.

    Cheers, Gavin

  4. Gavin says:

    @Mike, 1 – I’m glad you like the post, and 2 – I’m glad your skier friend turned away from the darkside :)

    Did you get lessons btw? I can’t remember… I reckon I’d have gotten you snowboarding in a couple of days back then!

  5. Mike says:

    Gav,

    I did the ‘board in a day’ course at Leeds and that was more than enough to be happy on most runs when I got to resort….

    I think a ‘couple’ of days isn’t optimistic enough :-)

  6. hey gav i also like the post and have also never really thought about it. when i started snowboarding lessons were out of the question. I was taught the basics of snowboarding by watching movies and a quick tutorial by my brother. He took me down the first run helped me learn then took me to a chair and left me to ride it and figure it out for my self. By mid way through the day i could link turns and get down the slope with out falling. i also was put on the longest tbar in Europe which was interesting that day but got that down by the end also.

    since that first day i have had many friends come riding that have never seen snow befor and used the same method on them which hasnt failed once. ive got friends now that are instructors(one of them is a freestyle instructor) and they themselfs have never had lessions. In my opinion once you know the basics of how it works it is just about getting in the deep end and giving it ago.

    having said that someone that doesnt have any friends that ride nor have done any other board sports could defiantly benefit from lessons just to be told the basic technique and the encouragement. (Though if dedicated enough they could just get the technique off the SA vids. there the best tutorial ive seen by far)

    at the end of the day i just feel its like riding a bike. your parents give you the run down then just let you go. you fall a few times then eventually you can ride. i dont know any one that got lessions to ride a bike nor do i know any one that got lessions to snowboard.

  7. Gavin says:

    Hey Zak, sounds like you were chucked in at the deep end, and came out swimming :)

    I think you’re right – it depends on the environment in which you learn. If you’ve got a group, and nobody it has snowboarded before, maybe no related sports either, then some lessons would kick them off on the right foot. Get them going. Stop them from wasting time. If they’re adventurous/willing/tres keen, they may get by with some video instruction rather than on-hill lessons. Save some cash.

    I had a friend, way back, we were in chamonix and it was his first trip. He had a lesson booked on the first morning at 10am or something like that. We spent an hour with him before that, and he was picking it up fine. Probably didn’t need the lesson that much…

    The way that I look at it: if you’re fairly competent and interested in your technique/progression, you’ll recognise if something isn’t working too well. At that point, try getting some help. Ask a mate (if some of them are more advanced), try some video tuition, or get an on-hill lesson. I still stand by the idea that on-hill lessons can be awesome, and at the right time, teach you loads!

    Does everyone need them right at the start? Should we accept 5 mornings of lessons on your first week of snowboarding as standard? Maybe not…

    Cheers

  8. Ctanner says:

    Freebording helps so much with snowboarding. When its warm out you cant snowboard but with freebording u are snowboarding all year round. Switch riding becoming second nature after learning it on a freebord.

    Give it a Try!

  9. radinplaid says:

    While getting a freebord will not be cheaper than a single lesson, it will provide unlimited hours of practice before and after your first day on the mountain. If you can find someone that already rides in your area chances increase greatly that you will be that much more prepared on your first day since you will have someone that will probably be willing to help you get set on your freebord, and if can get straight on a freebord you will need very little time to transfer those skills to your snowboard. Freebording has a slightly different feel to it, but the basic mechanics and techniques you use to control your freebord transfer straight over to your snowboard and you will be hitting blacks, jumps, and whatever else you want on your first day.

  10. Gavin says:

    @Ctanner & @radinplaid, I really want to give freebording a go! There seems to be a lot of similarity in movement between it and snowboarding. And Ctanner, I hadn’t really thought about that, but it’s gotta help switch riding a lot!

    As for it costing a little more than a lesson, like you said, it’s an investment.

    Cheers guys!

  11. Jeff O'Hara says:

    Yes you can, I’m 35 now and started snowboarding in 1987/1998, we didn’t have any place where you could take lessons, I learned on a sled hill going every day after school, building kickers and doing anything we could to learn and progress. In 1987/1988 very few resorts actually allowed snowboarding and we really didn’t have any place to go for lessons. I have helped people learn in the past but I’d just give tips and pointers, it’s up to the person that wants to learn to make it happen.

  12. Gavin says:

    Hey Jeff, good comments from a true vet ;)

    I agree, if the individual in question has the right mind set that they really want to learn, they’ll get it done. Some people have more aptitude for it, which undoubtedly helps, but attitude goes a long way!

    Like in the article – I do think that good pointers/instruction can and do help, I just don’t think they’re absolutely necessary, for everyone, right at the start.

    Cheers

  13. Olivia says:

    Hey Gav, :) Sweet blog ! Real encouraging to hear someone else voice questions that I am forever asking myself.

    I do agree with so many great pointers everyone has mentioned. I surf and skate as well as snowboard so I have found the transition between the 3 very beneficial; having a headstart on centre of gravity and balance. Really keen to give these freeboards ago as I love the idea of an all season item. Wakeboarding is also a sport that would fit in nicely with the techniques from snowboarding.

    My youngest brother had a lesson at the age of 9 and it was a total waste of time – he was in a group lesson where his improvement lagged due to the focus of the instructor being on the strugglers of the group. For this i suggest any interest of lessons are to be in SMALLer group sizes or if possible just yourself. Lessons can be helpful to be taught the practical basics and tips that could otherwise take you ages to pick up if you were teaching yourself. An example of this is rolling over when you fall on your back. Family members sometimes benefit from being told the same thing you would say but by someone that isnt you. At the end of the day your right; its an individual situation that will always depend on your personality, drive and motivation.

    In saying that it is far more enjoyable to hang out with like minded mates or join a club and watch yourself progress and see yourself pushed.

    Heres a question though Gav; How do you determine skill level without attending all these expensive courses that are advertised???

    Cheers Olivia :D

  14. alexander says:

    Hey man this helped a lot, im hopfully going snowboarding soon and loads of people say you need lessons, im a sporty person and tend to be decent at most things. i am pritty good on a rip stick (not sure if you’ve herd of them but you can google it) and they say they requier (roufly) the same set of skills and balance as snowboarding/surfing, do you think without knowing me i should be able to go on and try it without lessons?