Snowboarding can take you a lot of places. For Ben Woods, it’s taken him from 300-foot hills in Minnesota to steep chutes in Montana and now, Bavaria, Germany.
I met Ben a few years ago after first exchanging ideas with him through an online discussion forum. In time I did some riding with him at Afton Alps, but even then could not keep up with his after-burner speed. Today he’s writing to me from his new job as a snowboard instructor in Europe, where the Alps are a bit taller and more challenging.
So how did you start snowboarding?
I started snowboarding in 1990. I had seen MTV Sports with Dan Cortez and they had a segment with skiing and snowboarding and I was instantly fascinated with snowboarding as I was always trying to stand up and ride my sled down the hills. I asked for and received my first snowboard for my 12th birthday and it has been a love affair ever since.
A few years ago you left Minnesota for a move out west. Why?
I moved to the mountains because I fell in love with them on my first vacation to Bozeman, Montana, when I was 25. The sheer majesty and power of them inspires me yet is very humbling. I was laid off from my job, where I was burning out, and simply decided to follow my heart towards happiness. It’s been tough changing career paths, but also the most rewarding and blissful time in my life.
As you look back, what did you learn from riding in the Midwest?
Well, riding the Midwest has its merits. I am comfortable on ice and with machine-made snow for sure. But that certainly couldn’t prepare me for the ~4000′ of vertical and thousands of acres of terrain. Understanding basic board performance and interfacing with different snow conditions is best the Midwest could do for me, so it was a logical progression to step the terrain up to so I could improve my skills. Despite being a Midwest kid, I actually never rode urban features (rails/boxes) until I became a certified instructor in Montana.
So what has becoming an instructor done for you?
My first season as an instructor I learned TONS! I learned teaching methods for different ages, learning styles, skill sets, and even teaching girls versus boys. I learned to ride terrain parks and teach those skills. I especially learned how to ensure my guests stayed safe while I ensured they had fun with the sport during their own learning pathway.
The ultimate lesson taught to me was the reward of what I was doing by permanently changing the lives of others for the better; when you get a hand-written letter and drawing from an 8-year old in South Carolina explaining how much he loved snowboarding and how much he wished he could be back in Montana shredding with me. The reward of this career is far beyond what I ever expected or hoped.
What have you observed about the differing levels of abilities that people bring to a lesson?
The levels of skills and differences in ages are vast. Even the differences in sex and age impact a lesson. Let’s not even get into physical ability! I have taught snowboarding to people from 4 to 72-years old successfully, but that’s not to say all lessons are a great success. This specific question is very hard to answer. Let’s just put it into perspective from my requirements as an instructor: I need to know Piaget’s stages of development, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the 13 different learning pathways, differences in learning and physical abilities by age group and sex, and much more. Like I said, I could go on and on. But as an instructor who really is passionate about my career, I pride myself in delivering the best lesson possible to each student and tailoring it to their needs.
The mountains of Bavaria are Ben’s new home — for now. Photo credit: Flickr user US Army Africa
Could you talk a little more about differences between the sexes?
Girls vs boys: age does impact this as well, as girls tend to mature sooner. Basically girls tend to be more image/socially conscious so you need to be sure they feel like part of the group; you can NOT single them out and you must use positive reinforcement always. They also tend to be more technical in their learning and like good descriptions of movements. Nearly every girl I taught has been more reserved in terrain and skills, learning at a slower pace than boys but perfecting movements prior to pushing skills or advancing to new terrain.
Could you tell me about the 72-year old student?
The 72 year old man was a French diplomat from Washington DC. Initially I was teaching him with his 61-year old girlfriend who worked in DC as well, but she lacked stamina and strength and gave up after an hour. Both were first-time snowboarders.
As people age they tend to become more technical (I feel this has to do with our education system), so I had to describe much more technical knowledge to him. He grasped it quickly, but lacked some of the fine motor movements to be a stand-out student for his first day. Describing how certain bodily movements impacted the torsion and flex of the snowboard, and then how that interfaced with the snow was crucial in this lesson. Once he had the knowledge, he was far more comfortable applying it to the slopes.
Like most men, he was more fearless in tackling drills; he ended up catching a heel edge while learning to link a toe-turn to a heel-turn and the impact to the back of his head caused a bloody nose. He continued until his half-day lesson was done. He was what I deem a real snowboarder by the end, linking heel and toe turns and able to stop when needed. He was also exhausted after the lesson. This was a learning experience for me as well, and I hope that shines through in my recounting of the story.
What does the future hold for you?
I fell in love with being an instructor. My first year I earned my Level 1 Snowboard Certification. My second year I earned my Level 2 cert. With encouragement from my examiners, supervisors, managers, and even my peers I finally learned to ski during my third year and passed my Level 1 Alpine Certification to become more of a one-stop instructor for the families I taught every winter.
While going through this professional development I learned of the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch, Germany, which is affiliated with the Northern Rocky Mountain PSIA-AASI (where I hold all my certifications from). I’m here not just to pursue my final (Level 3) Snowboard Certification, but also attain my International Certification. I fully intend to become an examiner (someone who conducts certification clinics), an AMGA (American Mountain Guide Association) certified guide, and much more. Yes, this is a beautiful place and amazing adventure, but ultimately it’s another stepping stone in my career path. I plan to teach in New Zealand, Japan, and Chile before returning to Montana.