Snowboard: Fun, for those who have access to it

The author and his snowboard. Photo by Mike Lynch

Reflecting on more than bruises on a recent Gore outing

By Klarisse Torriente

We arrived in Gore around noon on the second Saturday in January, parked in the last available parking lot, put on our warmest clothes and boarded a shuttle. We arrived at what looked like a quintessential winter sports festival, a mountain village of families, children and people wearing all sorts of snow gear, the colors of their outfits like ornaments against the backdrop White.

I am not often surrounded by children. Here, it is impossible to ignore their presence. I love that aspect of snowboarding – the opportunity to watch kids being kids – vulnerable, risky, daring, adventurous, silly. The adults too, as they race down the mountains. It’s endearing to be surrounded by people who create memories and to create them yourself with people you love. Beyond the warm clothes and the winter atmosphere hides a culture that I want to understand better.

I was nervous going up the Northway, sweating, getting anxious, wishing I had watched more “tips to improve your boarding” videos. I’ve been through things that could go wrong, or embarrass, or even worse, hurt. Today was my first day on a board this season. I didn’t start snowboarding regularly until I bought some used gear from Play it Again Sports in Latham two years ago. Prior to this, my snowboarding was sporadic, filled with trauma and pain inducing knocks to my athletic confidence. I took lessons and went out about 11 times last season, got some control of the board and some faith.

This sport is expensive, perhaps deliberately out of reach. Becoming a snowboarder was an investment for me. I left last season feeling good, but what would Gore show me? Each mountain is unique like every day.

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This first appears in the March/April 2022 issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine.
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At 12:30 the queues for the lifts were long. Friendly and attentive staff led many who seemed to be performing in a survival competition of the fittest. I have never seen so many people agree to cut visibly and forcefully.

We observed the wide range of skill levels on the boards and skis, some weaving through with ease, others more reserved and those who were clearly novices. My heart started racing as we headed down our first chairlift descent, which may feel like the entrance to the gauntlet. Will you win or will you fall as your pride rolls down the mountain? Will people boo, yell, and quote you as the reason they’re stuck in the elevator?

We did fine, and I started to feel my shoulders relax and my muscle memory activate. We went down Sunway, dodging humans left and right. The trail was made up of unforgiving patches of ice, the results of a heat wave and a burst of low temperature. With the number of skiers and late time of day, conditions were to be expected. I felt good, for a moment, as my partner sped past me like a pro. I was trying to work my program, not compare, focus on myself and feel the movement on my board again. I was not an Olympian in this first round, but I was satisfied.

I still felt shaky. I am an athlete. I train almost every day, I rollerblade, I run, I walk a lot. But, as I get older, my body needs more time to warm up. In the long lines, most people were wearing their masks, even the tykes. I felt like I was doing my best to settle down. Yet no matter how prepared I am, the scene is anxiety-inducing.

Watch Klarisse Torriente talk about snowboarding and hitting the slopes in this video by Mike Lynch.

We rode the gondola with a talkative mother and a teenager who wanted nothing to do with her conversation. I live for this relatable generational interaction. But I still felt tense and out of place. We took our first blue trail. It was harder, by definition, steeper, with patches of ice. It wasn’t long before I cut an edge in transition. I slapped my left knee and slid like a seal on my stomach with my hands in the air for what felt like an eternity. I flipped my board over but recovered to wave to anyone watching that I was “safe” as if I had crossed and scored at home plate. The mountain was so icy that I could see well-defined, shiny spots.

I felt embarrassed; I just wanted to be good. I also immediately felt a lot of pressure to join people of integrity. Some passengers on the chairlift above heckled me. I felt out of place as I recovered from the pain and shock of the brutal, hard fall. I felt like I was going to pass out or vomit. Nevertheless, to avoid further injury to others or myself, I got up and walked the rest of the way. I hated the feeling of failing here where few are like me.

I feel like my failure is expected, or I feel abundant pressure to perform well, be accepted, and normalized here. I had only seen one other black person. Gore lacked representation that day. So I tried to breathe in the pain, consider my privilege, and remember that joy is why I’m here.

We took it easier the rest of the day and enjoyed a beer at Saddle Lodge. We parked by the windows and took in the stunning views of the High Peaks. I felt beyond blessed, despite the bruise on my left knee. I progress. The many times my mind, body and board click are musical.

Mountain skiing in Gore
A view from the top of Gore Mountain. Photo by Mike Lynch

The Gore outing made me think deeply about snow riding and its culture, the $100 lift ticket, the lodge amenities, the training needed for the skill, the short season, and the weather uncertainties. There is pressure to get what you pay for. You see big families. I can only imagine the effort and cost. Maybe this is only a concern if you are of a certain socio-economic level.

Then there is the expectation that a snowboarder can ski fast and error free. If you fall, no one, except if they are part of your party, helps you up. But someone is often there to poke fun at, like those ski lift operators did to me. How comfortable can they be with bullying?

And I wonder how snowboarding can be more welcoming to those who can’t afford season passes or ski lessons. What can attractions like Gore do to make the sport more inclusive? Is it part of the culture to cater to the needs of people pushing ahead?

MORE TO EXPLORE: Some organizations working on snowboarding and outdoor access: From the hoods to the woods, Shredand The Chill Foundation.

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