From Snowboarding Lesson to Working for a Ski Resort

4 years ago this winter, I remember sitting in my hotel room, overlooking Banff's Sunshine Village as a newly minted 30-year-old, icing my knees with a couple of ice-cold beers. No, I hadn’t bit it coming off the rail of a terrain park feature or caught an edge on a black diamond. Rather, it was just the result of my first snowboarding lesson. Yes, my first snowboarding lesson was as a 30-year-old. I grew up in rural North Carolina, splitting most of my time on my babysitter’s dairy farm and my parent’s house that shared a property line with a horse ranch. Not exactly prime ski terrain.

But snowboarders are so cool, right? And what else should you be doing as a 30-year-old than proving how cool you are? In actuality, “Learning to snowboard” was on a long list of items for my “30 at 30" list, a list of things I had always said I wanted to do, but had never done.


However, learning to snowboard felt like my “Hold my beer” moment. There’s no way this ends well. However, there were worse places to take a snowboarding lesson than Alberta, Canada. But perhaps not worse conditions. The first day, was the second-coldest, snowiest day of the entire winter in Banff. The second day, at Lake Louise Ski Resort, was the actual coldest day of the winter, as well as the first day of the Lake Louise Alpine Ski World Cup, Canada’s premiere ski event. Nothing to be intimidated by at all, right? What could possibly go wrong?

By the afternoon of the second day, however, I was linking turns on a green run, cruising, albeit slowly, to the bottom of Lake Louise Ski Resort. My instructor, Michelle, and I, bellied up to the lodge’s bar for après-ski when she turned to me and said, “Well Spencer, you should be good to go now, if not, then maybe just another half-day with an instructor; I can’t wait to go snowboarding with you.” Whoa, whoa, whoa. We’re moving a little fast here, don’t you think? I can snowboard? On my own? Chuckling, I looked at her, and her face said it all. I replied back, “Wait, you’re serious aren't you?” And she was.

Yet here I am, fours years later, having just finished my first winter living in a ski town, Reno, and working for a ski resort, Northstar California, owned by Vail Resorts. What was once a one-and-done activity, a pipe dream, and something the “cool kids” did, now an ingrained part of my life.

I’ve just finished what’s really my third winter snowboarding, but first winter living in a ski town and working with a ski resort, Northstar California, where I headed up their first ambassador program and designed and oversaw their blog, Tahoe Ascent. April as it may be, it snowed two feet this past weekend (and another eight inches last night), with more forecasted this week. Some resorts have seen as much as 700 feet of snow, while Northstar has seen 690 inches of snow. For those keeping track at home, that’s nearly 60 feet of snow. Indications are that the last time Lake Tahoe had a winter as good as this, I was in my mother’s womb.

One of the things that I’ve come to love about snowboarding, however, is that it challenges me more than any other sport I’ve taken up. Growing up playing basketball, once you’ve got the basics and mechanics down, you’ve got it. You're not going to go to practice one day, and the three-point line has moved five feet back (maybe unless you're Steph Curry). With skiing and snowboarding, there’s no day, run, turn, or jump that’s going to be like the last one. The terrain and conditions are constantly changing hour after hour, day after day, winter after winter. That favorite groomed run of yours one day, may be covered in fresh powder another day.

As such, I’ve picked up a few things the last few winters as I've learned to snowboard. So today, I’m sharing a few things that I’ve learned since my first year learning to snowboard.

1. It’s never too late to learn something new. I know, it’s cliché to say. However, I think there are some things, like skiing, snowboarding, and other things, where it’s expected that if you don't learn at a young age, then you've missed the boat. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Okay, so perhaps as a 30-year-old learning to snowboard, I didn’t approach runs with the same fearlessness of a 5-year-old. However, I think my age and maturity accelerated my growth and armed me with perseverance and knowledge that I wouldn’t have by learning as a youth.

2. Make and keep goals after learning to snowboard. This has been the most imperative thing about learning to snowboard. After first learning to snowboard, I decided that if I was going to stick with it, I’d have to set goals to work toward. After one more full-day session with an instructor, I set a goal to snowboard on my own for a weekend. After I met that goal, I set a goal for the next winter to buy all of my own equipment. After I met that goal, I set a goal of going out at least 10 times during the course of the winter. The following winter, it was 15. The following winter, 20 times. And I’ve met all of those goals.

3. Challenge yourself. You know that pit in your stomach feeling you got as a kid when playing your first game of the season, or later on, when asking that girl you liked on a date (Who am I kidding; I still get that)? Well, the only way you’ll get better, is by duplicating that feeling as you’re standing atop that first blue run or black diamond. I remember my first black diamond, a short run at Mammoth Mountain. I had originally cruised a few yards past it, before doing a double take, and slamming on the brakes. It's like it was staring me down. I unclipped, threw my snowboard over my shoulder, and walked back up to it, looking down the steep run for about 5 minutes. Finally, I strapped in, dropped down, and weaved down it, without even falling (that is, until I got to the very bottom to the chairlift). The feeling was exhilarating; a high. And I've found that continuing to challenge myself when snowboarding, has not only given me more confidence while riding, but more confidence in other areas of life, too.

4. Spend extended time in a ski destination. I know, not everyone has the luxury of being able to live, or even vacation in a ski town. But I can’t recommend enough spending some extended time in a ski town, even if just for a week or two, if you're wanting to get better at skiing or snowboarding. I found that last winter, getting 4-5 days on the slopes at one time, is what accelerated my growth the most.

5. Nothing beats powder days, except for weekday powder days. Listen, I know you’ve heard it, that powder days are the best days. The first time you ride on powder will change how you think about skiing and snowboarding. But if you’ve gone skiing or snowboarding on a weekend powder day this winter in California, then you know how busy it can be. However, a couple of my best snowboarding days ever were this winter on weekday powder days. More specifically, on the appropriately named Powder Bowl at Northstar. No lift lines, two feet of fresh powder, and more snow that was currently falling. That, for me, was the pinnacle of my first winter living and working in a ski town.

Above photo by @civilmatador on Instagram

I'm an ambassador for Northstar, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.