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Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Updated: March 25, 2:09 PM ET
Shred Cred

By Alyssa Roenigk

A bright red-and-yellow banner hanging outside the US Open press tent announces, "Welcome, media!" Credentials await Tony from the Boston Globe, Kristin from Seventeen, Meghan and Emily from CosmoGIRL! and Lisa from Entertainment Weekly. The 2005 Open is more than just a snowboard contest. It's a pop culture happening, a gathering of peer leaders—and the teen power mags and mainstream print media are demanding access.

But along with that coveted media credential comes a clause of credibility. If non-endemic journalists are going to cover the shred scene, they're expected to earn their interviews. And the first lesson of snowboard journalism begins early Saturday morning on the Stratton Mountain bunny slopes. No computer needed.

At 7:45 a.m., a green-and-white Peter Pan bus loads the sleepy-eyed Learn To Ride students and drives the mile and a half from Stratton Mountain Inn to the Sun Bowl base area. There, each journalist is fitted with boots and an LTR board, courtesy of Burton, and paired with an AASI (American Association of Snowboard Instructors) pro for a three-hour, one-on-one session. At 9, the shredders-to-be hike to a three-seat learners' lift that creaks to a start as they approach. The greenest riders skip the lift and take to the greenest run, Solstice Way—on foot. About half way up, they strap in and begin mimicking their teacher's "falling leaf" drill, gliding their boards down the hill in a back-and-forth motion while holding hands with the instructor.
The neo-shreds, all smiles and giggles, prepare for their initiation ceremony. We'll see who's smiling three hours from this shot. (Hey! That's Lisa from Entertainment Weekly on the far left!)
For the daring few, the day's first advanced lesson begins: loading and unloading from the lift. The skill doesn't come naturally to most of the raw riders, who have to be hoisted onto the lift's seat by an instructor, their boards slipping and sliding out of their control. Says Meghan: "This is going to be a long day."

Ahh, the first lesson. It's a rite (or ride) of passage every snowboarder must endure. At the Open, the Learn to Ride lesson has become an initiation ceremony into the Fraternal Order of Action Sports Journalists. It's well known that action athletes hold the media to a higher standard than their counterparts in mainstream sports. A writer at the US Open of tennis would never hear, "Thank you for coming. Here's your credential. Now please schedule your learn-to-return-Serena's-serve lesson." But at the US Open of Snowboarding, writers can get much closer to the athletes by flashing their shred cred.

"My heroes," halfpipe heroine Hannah Teter shouts as she passes a group of the newly initiated. "Your first lesson. Congratulations."

"We all remember our first lesson, so I think it's awesome that they're willing to try what we do," says Gretchen Bleiler, the '05 halfpipe gold medalist. "They don't just watch, they participate, and I respect that." The feeling is mutual.

"I have so much more respect for what these athletes do," says 26-year-old Meghan Aftosmis, 26, CosmoGIRL!'s assistant to the editor in chief. "They make it look so easy, and it's not. I have more feel for how they control their boards, and the spinning and tricks are even more incredible to me now." After her lesson, Meghan's instructor even schooled her on snowboard lingo. "Bro" equals friend. "Switch" means to ride with your non-dominant foot forward. "Bindings" attach your feet to your board. "At first, listening to the announcers and my instructor, I was like, 'Can you translate that into English?'" Meghan says. "But I'm starting to get it."

She also "gets" what it takes to attain the level of riding girls like Gretchen and Hannah have achieved ... sticking with it long after that first lesson has ended.
Journalists, here's a little something to aspire to. Just a few more lessons (and 10 years in the pipe) and you can boost cripplers like Gretchen. Or just get crippled. Either way, your cred clause is fulfilled.
My First Lesson ...

"I was 9 years old and rode the same Burton Air twin tip that my brothers Elijah and Abe learned on. We all got free lessons so we took one together, and I was killing it. I got to ride the chair lift on my first day, I was making my turns—and eating sh*t. Oh yeah, I was dropping into the pipe. I was amazing." ... by Hannah Teter

"My first lesson was from my dad and I was 6. We were at Spirit Mountain in Duluth, MN and Molly and I learned together. I remember that it was really frustrating. I fell a lot and was really bad. It took me a couple weeks to pick it up and it took me a while to get stoked on it." ... by Mason Aguirre

"I took my first lesson with a bunch of friends from school. I was 11 and we were all skiers. It was on Panda Peak at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, which is where the X Games are now, so that's pretty weird. I was a bit more aggro than most of my friends, so I practiced by myself a lot after that. I picked it up really quickly and loved it."... by Gretchen Bleiler

"I was 8. It was at Alpine Valley in Michigan. My grandma bought me a lesson for Christmas. I spent the whole time on a tow rope on the bunny hill and by the end of the day, I wanted to go straight to the lift. I wanted to go back the next day and the next day. I had a little hill in front of my house and after that, I started building jumps and practicing there."... by Danny Davis

"I was 11 and my brother Ben had to learn how to snowboard for school. That day, I had decided to give up downhill skiing to take up cross-country. That would have been the worst decision of my life. So instead I went with Ben and strapped on a snowboard for the first time. We had a private lesson and both picked it up really quickly. I'm still friends with the instructor, Amy and see her at my home mountain in Australia." ... by Torah Bright

The AASI (pronounced Aussie) instructors initiated the mainstream media with an early-morning riding lesson. As painful as it may have been, it was nothing compared to the Super Bowl's Learn-To-Take-A-Tackle program.
If I could give a snowboard lesson to anyone, it would be ...

"David Hasselhoff. He's the man. He still gets chicks because of Baywatch. I could teach him to snowboard and he could teach me how to get that tan."—Mason Aguirre

"That cute guy off of Smallville. The one who plays Clark Kent. Or Hilary Duff."—Torah Bright

The greatest lesson I've learned from snowboarding is ...

"To be modest and mellow and never get too caught up in the scene."—Danny Davis

"To have fun with things, and to stay safe."—Mason Aguirre

"To relax and realize how blessed I am, and always have fun."—Hannah Teter

"I've traveled the world and had so many amazing experiences. I haven't gone to college, but I've learned so many invaluable lessons through snowboarding."—Gretchen Bleiler