By now the majority of first-generation snowboarders have settled down, got real jobs, started families and come to terms with the unwavering growth of their paunch. And while it wasn’t always so, it is now perfectly acceptable for a person in their 30s or 40s to take up snowboarding for the first time. Whichever camp you fall into, our resident crusty is here to point out some of the common pitfalls you’re likely to experience – and offer advice on how to avoid them.
Some choose to dedicate their lives to golf, office politics and holding opinions about wine as they nuzzle cosily into the welcoming bosom of middle age. However, for those of us who have built our lives around activities and belief systems which are inherently zip-tied and duct-taped to the shining totem of youth, the onset of age poses a series of ever more challenging riddles.
At what point along the journey of male-pattern baldness does the roadie cut off his ponytail? When should the raver take his last pill? And when, as a snowboarder, do you hit your last C-box, stop spraying the skiers that meerkat on the knuckle, or ditch your old Forum T-shirt?
"There is a delicate descent to be made if you want to avoid becoming the snowboarding equivalent of a trussed-up housewife competing with her daughter for the attention of her boyfriend"
Whilst it may be tempting to do a Henry Rollins-style double fist slam on the table, rip off your shirt and declare, “Never! Thug for life bitch!" in reality there is a delicate descent to be made if you want to avoid becoming the snowboarding equivalent of a trussed-up housewife competing with her daughter for the attention of her boyfriend.
As someone approaching 40 who just last year went to a Big Daddy Kane concert, bought three pairs of vintage Air Jordan re-issues and went skateboarding in New York’s meat-packing district whilst wearing a suit and Oakley frogskins, I am not in a position to preach about how best to navigate this descent. I spend 62.4% of my time looking like a cross between MC Hammer’s personal shopper and a colour-blind graffiti artist, so I write this article in the vain hope that I can help others avoid my own mistakes. Here are my 11 commandments for the middle-aged snowboarder:
1) Avoid Garish Gear
I often think that fashion is a trick played by good-looking people on the ugly. Garish outerwear is the equivalent in snowboarding; a ruse that Travis Rice has pulled on the rest of us (roping in henchman Mark Landvik along the way). If you’re launching 100-foot backside rodeos and dropping out of helis onto 60-degree slopes, you can wear what the fuck you want and look good. If you’re not, you can’t. Whilst you probably don’t want to go as far as Terje Haakonsen in embracing sensible gear, you shouldn’t go anywhere near anything patterned, tight or baggy once you are within spitting distance of 40. If even this leaves too much room for interpretation, just buy stuff from Patagonia.
By the way, my snowboard trousers look like jeans and I have a jacket that is pretending to be a flannel shirt, so I am not following my own advice. Which is why I am really glad no one can see my bald-spot under my helmet (which, equally inappropriately, has a picture of Santa Cruz 80’s skate icon Slasher on it). Thank God my goggles cover up all my wrinkles.
"Don’t attempt a YOLO flip or urban bomb-drop unless you are looking to cash in your life insurance policy to pay off the mortgage – or like the idea of pissing into a bag for the rest of your life"
2) Stick With The Riding Style You’ve Got
If you’ve been snowboarding since the early 90s, you will have no doubt mimicked the en-vogue visual vernacular of your riding heroes over the last two decades. You’ll have adopted clunky versions of Jamie Lynn’s bendy methods, Peter Lines’s off-axis spins, JP Solberg’s boxy/stalled bolts-thud landings and then tried to remember how to do methods again when you fell in love with Nicolas Müller’s hippy powder musings. As a consequence, you probably look like a time-travelling snowboard mongrel when you ride, rather than, for example, a pure-breed park rat of today.
As you approach 40, it is best to avoid the temptation to adopt any new shredding schtick. Don’t attempt any of this droopy-front-hand slushy-surf business (in a fishing hat?); keep both feet attached to your board (unless on a lift); and obviously don’t attempt a YOLO flip or urban bomb-drop unless you are looking to cash in your life insurance policy to pay off the mortgage – or like the idea of pissing into a bag for the rest of your life. (NB: Whilst being bed-ridden sounds rubbish, I recognise that the idea of having a nurse clean your testicles with a warm flannel twice a day does sound quite appealing).
3) Avoid Stickers
I have generally thought that putting stickers on your gear is a no-no, unless you are sponsored and are required to do so as a source of income. You may well be overcome with excitement when you get two free decals with your most recent purchase, but you should really resist the infantile temptation to splatter your board with what is essentially someone else’s corporate mission statement. If you have just bought a GoPro, you don’t need to put the sticker on your board. We can see that you have a GoPro; it is sticking out of your head like a lollipop. Even worse, if you haven’t got a GoPro, why are you putting the sticker on your board? Even worse still, why have you made it perfectly perpendicular to the edges and right in the middle of your board?!
All I will say is that my kids’ boards and helmets are plastered in stickers. Stickers of Moshi Monsters and Barbie, stickers from Disneyland Paris, and the gold star they got from their maths teacher for doing the 7-times table properly. Yes, stickers are great fun for children, but if you ever find yourself trimming your nasal hair or folding your underpants, that is the exact moment you should go and take all those extra logos off your plank.
"Trying to look young is the single most effective way of making yourself look old"
4) Don’t Do Rails
Stop doing rails. It’s just silly really.
5) Uphold Decorum In The Park
Whilst falling off a rail will instantly make you feel like a prize bellend, you should continue hitting jumps. This is one of the few things left in life that makes me feel alive (other than my office job of course, which I love). That sensation you get as you are no longer rising, not yet falling, then land bolts and ride away feeling pumped is the liquor that has fuelled my addiction to snowboarding for so long. So, I still like the park. I revisit my stock tricks on each visit, like the victim of a degenerative disease who finds solace in still being able to repeat simple tasks, like opening a jam jar or signing their name, giving them hope that their inexorable decay may have stalled.
"You will almost certainly get shit from the park rats if you tell them off, but with grey pubes comes great responsibility"
As a young punk back in the day, you would regularly snake runs whilst everyone was debating when to drop in, bust out a frontside rodeo off the toes (this is the minimum benchmark for anyone snaking – you can’t snake and do a flappy no-grab backside 360), then hop to the front of the drag queue with a wink to the hot liftie (male/female, up to you) whom you were planning to bed that night. But now, as an elder statesman of the park, you have a moral duty to ensure a level of decorum is observed. Consequently, if you see anyone doing what you used to do, you must admonish them publicly and point out the error of their ways – especially if all their stickers are at 90-degree angles.
You will almost certainly get shit from the rats if you tell them off, but with grey pubes comes great responsibility, and you must not be afraid to uphold the code.
Why do so many old dudes like Jeremy Jones enjoy splitboarding? Simple - it's the walking sticks. Photo: Dan Milner
6) Buy A Splitboard, Not A Sports Car
[Reader warning: overt sexism apparent in this paragraph, but that’s kind of the point]
In days gone by, male midlife crises were characterised by the purchase of a cabriolet with sports trim, wearing jeans that were too tight and getting one’s hand up Dawn from accounts’ knickers every Thursday lunchtime in the Travelodge at Leigh Delamere service station.
Disappearing for hours on end each weekend in figure-hugging clothes no longer breeds suspicion of an affair, but rather a begrudging acceptance of the inherently selfish Y chromosome.
"You can legitimately justify spending thousands of pounds on unnecessarily expensive gear, hanging out with your mates and leaving your wife and kids at home for up to two weeks"
Your wife/partner won’t be happy, but she will at least take solace in the fact that there is absolutely no chance of you sleeping with someone half your age – and that you might slim down your love handles a bit during your trip.
7) Do Not Wear A Hat Indoors
You may have noticed the youth currently have a penchant for wearing woolly hats indoors, even when it is not snowing inside. If middle age has wreaked havoc on your hairline, you may be tempted to adopt this somewhat peculiar fashion with a view to hiding your thinning pate. It’s cheaper than getting a weave, less itchy than a wig, and also means that you can get more use out of your collection of Whitelines beanies (RIP).
As appealing a thought as it is to keep your head warm – and avoid people you don’t know calling you ‘slaphead’ as they are trying to get to the resort bar – this is a fashion from which you should steer well clear. Coming to terms with your baldness is an important step on the path to self- acceptance, and trying to look young is the single most effective way of making yourself look old. NB: If you have rejected the beanie but are somehow tempted to wear a fishing hat or flat-peaked baseball cap, you should strip naked, jump into deep snow and self-flagellate with birch twigs to rid yourself of the idiocy.
8) Shorten Your Attention Span
Yes, I know that it was better in the olden days, when you could sit in front of a single video for 45 minutes, and enjoy the coherent narrative thread of a full-length snowboard movie. But now everything lasts for 1 minute 23 seconds so you have barely got time to mi….
Whilst Ryan Giggs might have succumbed to an old-school midlife crisis trope (allegedly having an affair with his brother’s wife or his wife’s sister, or his sister’s brother – impressive if only for its sheer brazenness), he has done something right in middle age: become a ‘Yoga person.’ In his youth he had hamstrings like stretched frozen rubber bands, yet now he is a model of physical reliability.
A sensible stretching regime need not imply a casual and selective adoption of cod-Buddhist philosophy and a predilection for eating foods that make you fart, but it could be the difference between you doing a tailgrab and a tindy. If there was ever a justification for spending the first 30 minutes of each day lying on your back whilst your spouse/partner unloads the dishwasher, gets the kids ready for school and lays the table for breakfast, this is it. I am sure said spouse/partner will understand (and if they snowboard, they’ll be glad to mitigate the risk of you embarrassing them with stinky grabs on your next trip to the slopes).
"Little napan airs, sketchy tindys, nutes and washed out backside 120s bring me so much joy that I can almost forget that my knee clicks every time I walk up stairs"
10) Have Fun With It
Being nearly 40, you are probably grumpier than you used to be. The weight of supporting a family, trying to work out why they have changed Microsoft Excel’s functions, haemorrhoids and slowly realising that your methods are now barely more than a slightly tweaked suitcase air may well have crushed your spunky zest for life. Whilst you might think that disappearing off splitboarding is the answer, I would assert that the path to snowboarding happiness actually lies just at the edge of the piste.
Now, it may be because I spend a lot of time riding at low speed with my kids, but slushy little hits have become my personal crystal meth. Little napan airs, sketchy tindys, nutes and washed out backside 120s bring me so much joy that I can almost forget that my knee clicks every time I walk up stairs and that my e-mail inbox is over its size limit. Goofing around is fun, so stop being so earnest, you miserable git, and get happy.
11) Look At Kelly Slater, And Stop Making Excuses
Who knows whether Kelly Slater can snowboard, but he is still pretty much the world’s best competitive surfer despite being the wrong side of 40. Plus he is bald and cool with it. OK, so he may not have spent nine hours a day for the last 20 years sitting at a desk, trying not to get caught playing Tetris, but he is still the same age as you and he rips in the world’s heaviest surf. And so did Marco “Occy" Occhilupo when he won the surfing world title at the age of 33, despite having once been fatter than a bull seal and having a raging coke (both types) addiction.
What this proves is you simply can’t use your age as an excuse not to do stuff. The much-beloved phrase of skydiving octogenarians “age is just a number" should be your personal motto the moment you hit the snow. And whilst that shouldn’t lead you to the conclusion that it is OK to wear an ERA baseball cap and buy a coat with more than four colours on it, you should (with a good stretching regime) be able to rip just like you did when you were 24.
Despite all my tongue-in-cheek fascism above, we should all remember that snowboarding is about self-expression and the freedom to choose your own style. And it is being too earnest, or grumpy, a bore or a know-it-all that makes you old, not the fact that you were born before 1975. You may be wrinkly, a bit fat and find yourself reminiscing for VHS – but snowboarding will keep you young. I for one am still doing backflip-to-scorpions as I approach the big 4-0, and long may that continue.