About eight years ago I was at Colorado’s historic Winter Park ski resort, which first welcomed skiers in the ‘make turns not war’ season of 1939-40, getting shown around the place by a young snowboard instructor with a view to writing about it for the travel pages of this newspaper. I can’t remember the instructor’s name, but I do remember that he was a big fan of moguls (just as well for him, as Winter Park is famous for its mogul runs) and I also remember that he was very keen that I should sample some of these “bump runs,” as the Americans call them, even though they are about my least favourite thing to do on a snowboard. To be fair to my guide he did his best to help me out, giving me a very thorough bump-boarding tutorial, but in the end his frustration evidently got the better of him and he told me I was snowboarding like his dad. Ouch.
Quick, short-radius turns can be tricky on a snowboard, which can make riding at full tilt through obstacles like trees and moguls a bit of a challenge, but the winter after my Colorado trip I thought I’d figured out a way of making them a little easier. I was in Whistler in Canada, and the dad comment was obviously still stinging a bit because one afternoon I took my new-ish Option Booter 159 snowboard into one of the many ski repair shops at the bottom of the mountain and asked one of the techs if it would be possible to drill a set of holes further back on the board, so I could mount my bindings further back and pivot off the tail more when I turned. He looked at me as if to say ‘crazy European’ and explained that additional screw holes wouldn’t be as strong as the ones put in when the board was made and could “rip right out”, but he took my money happily enough and started drilling, and for the rest of that season – and for several seasons after that – I was able to enjoy slightly quicker, slightly snappier turns than I had ever done before. My snowboarding felt a little bit more like surfing on that board, and – as somebody who came to snowboarding from surfing – that was fine by me.
Now, though, I realise that all I was really doing was tinkering around the edges of the problem. When most men feel like averting a mid-life crisis they get themselves a faster car. Me? I recently became the proud owner of a brand new Jeremy Jones Hovercraft 160, and as the big 4-0 draws near I suddenly feel as if everything about my snowboarding is about 50 per cent more fun than it used to be.
Final Words doesn’t usually do product placement, but we’re going to make an exception in the case of the Hovercraft because it truly is a revolutionary bit of kit. Just to be clear: it isn’t actually a hovercraft, in the sense that it doesn’t do clever things with air pressure in order to float above the surface of the snow, but the design is so good that at times it feels as if you’re gliding, airborne, almost completely friction-free.
Jones is perhaps the world’s most famous backcountry snowboarder – that is, a snowboarder who has devoted his life to looking for untouched mountains to ride far from the resorts. In recent years he’s also turned his attention to making snowboards, and the Hovercraft is one of his signature designs.
Ironically, the Hovercraft was first made available to the general public in the winter of 2010-11, at around the same time that I was being called a dad-boarder out in Colorado, and it has since gained such a cult following that it even has its own social media hashtag, #ihearthovercrafting. Thanks to its convex ‘spoon’ nose, and the fact that the bindings are set much further back than on a conventional board, it glides effortlessly through deep powder; the thigh burn I used to get from putting all my weight on my back leg on powder days is now a distant and rapidly fading memory.
The real magic, though, lies in the wide, fish-shaped tail, which allows you to snap a turn faster than you can say ‘snap’, and in the speed channel in the underside of the board towards the rear, which you can really feel propelling you out of each turn, almost as if there’s a little jet engine in there, squirting snow out from under your feet.
True, I still snowboard like a dad, but I am a dad now so I guess that’s OK.