This is one in a series of New England winter travel articles.
WESTFORD — For years, I’ve sat smugly on chairlifts, riding confidently to the top of mountains all over the East Coast, occasionally giggling and rolling my eyes at the poor souls going down who obviously had no idea what they were doing. They were easy to spot and often fell into two categories: the creepers, those so petrified that they inched their way down like glaciers; and the screamers, those for whom helmets were invented, who race in a straight line to the bottom, using their vocal cords as a warning beacon.
I learned to ski at age five, so I have no recollection of the terror of learning to hurl oneself down a mountain on pieces of waxed fiberglass. I have no idea whether I was a creeper or a screamer. And perhaps that’s part of why I decided one day this winter that I was ready for a new challenge: snowboarding.
The idea of braving the crowds and the cold up north didn’t appeal to me. My day would mostly be spent on the bunny hill, so being on a big mountain didn’t seem to matter much. Somewhere close to home would be significantly cheaper and more convenient.
I settled on Nashoba Valley, which offers a learn-to-ski deal several times a week: $55 for a lift ticket, rental and lesson — everything I’d need to get started. And with Nashoba about a 35 minute drive from downtown Boston, I could spend a day on the slopes and be home in time for happy hour.
I arrived at Nashoba Valley mid-morning on a weekday, a luxury for any skier or boarder as weekdays are significantly less crowded than weekends. In minutes I’d signed up for a lesson and was directed to the rental center, where I was outfitted with boots and a board. The mountain got new skis and snowboards this season, a treat for yours truly, whose skis are circa 1998.
Founded by Alan Fletcher Sr. in 1964, the Nashoba Valley originally boasted a rope tow and four trails that were hand groomed each night by staff armed with shovels. A one-story gravel-floored lodge was heated with a pot bellied stove. Completely dependent on Mother Nature for snow, the inaugural season lasted just 14 days.
But those few days were considered a success, and over the years the Fletcher family expanded the mountain, clearing new trails, adding chairlifts, and improving the lodge. Today, Nashoba Valley boasts 17 fully groomed trails, four chairlifts, a snow boarding terrain park, a 16-lane snow tubing hill, as well as a cafeteria and The Outlook Restaurant. The result is a facility that has a little something for everyone, from seasoned skiers and boarders looking to hone their skills to those like me, who are just starting out.
Trying to look as expert as I could, I took my board and went out to meet my instructor, Sean Doyle. After some introductions, Sean assured me that he’d have me looking like I knew what I was doing by the end of the day.
We headed to the bunny hill, territory that I hadn’t traversed in decades. I was a bit humbled when Sean declared me not ready for the conveyor belt towing up all the pint-sized pupils and instead walked me over to the far corner of the beginners’ area. There, he explained the parts of the board and showed me how to strap the board to my left foot. He demonstrated how to climb up the hill with the board and how to propel myself with my free foot and glide to a stop. Before long, he had me hiking up the hill and perfecting something called J-turns, which not-surprisingly are turns in the shape of a J.
While skiing has been second nature for decades, I felt like a fish on land trying to maneuver around with a snowboard. More than once, I fell on my face trying to simply propel myself in a straight line.
After learning the basics, I stepped aboard the conveyor belt and rode to the top of the bunny hill. Sean was patient and encouraging, using each run to build upon what we did in the last. And so, while I definitely felt out of my element, I was never scared or out of control. We zigzagged down, then did C-turns (yes, that would be a turn in the shape of a C) and then S-turns.
Once I had turning down, Sean brought me to the chairlift. The bunny hill allowed for one or two turns at the most; on the big hill I could carve several, hopefully getting better each time.
I suppose I should have stopped at the top of the mountain to enjoy the view or take in my surroundings, but I didn’t. Instead, I glided off the lift, strapped into my board and followed Sean down the mountain, intent on mastering my turns. I liked how snowboarding had turned a trail that would be ho-hum on skis into a new challenge, I liked that I felt like I was using new muscles, and most of all, I liked that I was warm, despite the 30-degree temperature.
The moment I’d been dreading happened at the end of my first run on the big hill. I wasn’t going particularly fast, I wasn’t even on a steep part of the hill. I was at the bottom, on a piece of terrain as flat as the parking lot. One second I was gliding towards the chairlift, the next I was on my back, a sharp pain shooting from my tailbone to my teeth. “Oh, that hurt,” Sean said, standing over me. “You OK?”
Take a breath, I told myself. “Yeah, I’m OK,” I lied. I lay there for a minute, breathing, looking up at the sky and the trees. My tailbone throbbed. I got up slowly, happy that my hat and goggles masked most of my face. Yes, it hurt. But I was just getting the turns down, I didn’t want to quit just yet.
I managed a few more runs on the big hill and took some more spills. But each turn seemed smoother, each run less fraught, and when my lesson was over, Sean congratulated me. “You’re officially a part of the snowboarding community,” he said.
Despite the bumps, I’m looking forward to practicing what I learned, even if it means I’m likely to leave divots in the snow with my knees or to slide down the hill on my back with arms flailing. Hey, at least it’ll be entertaining to the people watching from the chairlifts.
For more information on Nashoba Valley visit their web-site: skinashoba.com
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