Being “over the hill” is a good thing! Just ask 72-year-old snowboarder Edith “Chickie” Rosenberg. Chickie, who is from West Orange N.J. (but spends winters in Killington, Vermont) first learned to snowboard at age 50. Since then, she has become the most popular instructor at Killington ski resort and has written two books on snowboarding. We’re inspired! Which, according to Chickie is exactly what keeps her teaching snowboarding each season. “We don't do it for the money,” says Chickie. “You really change people. I can't tell you how many times I finish a lesson, and someone, usually a woman, says, ‘I never in my life dreamed I could do this. I can't thank you enough.’” Here we chat with Chickie about what motivated her to pick up snowboarding after fifty and the difference between men and women on the mountain.
You had been skiing for over two decades, then one winter, at age 50, you strapped into a snowboard for the first time. What prompted that?
We were in Park City and I was taking a skiing lesson. I wanted to try a new move and the instructor said, "You've gotta just go for it." So, I just went for it. I hurt my knee. I had just read an article that said in skiing, the big injuries are to the legs, especially the ACL and in snowboarding, the big injury is broken wrists. I thought, ‘maybe I ought to try snowboarding. I'd rather break a wrist than tear an ACL.’ Bones heal, tendons don't. When we were back in Killington, I took some snowboard lessons.
How were you the first time?
Terrible but I liked it. That summer, I saw the Burton snowboard model I had learned on, was on sale. I was going to turn 50 and thought why don't I buy it for myself, as a birthday present? I bought it, brought it home, and put it in the living room. All summer I stood on the board, imagining I was on the mountain, going forward, going back.
So skiing doesn’t prepare you for snowboarding?
The only advantage is knowing how to dress for cold.
You were ready to hit the ground boarding, the next winter?
I got back to Killington the next winter, and was still on staff teaching skiing. Every time I finished teaching a lesson, I would change, put on snowboard boots, and practice that. Soon, I asked the head of our ski school, “Could I transfer to the snowboard department?” It was a joke, because we didn't have a snowboard department--just four guys knew how to snowboard.
You were ahead of the curve! Not only did you start snowboarding at a later age, but you were also so early on in the movement.
That was fun because I would go up on the mountain and there were no other snowboarders. There would maybe be a 12-year-old little boy and he'd say, "wanna take a run with me?"
You weren’t frustrated? You had been skiing longer than kids like that had been alive–now you were totally starting over.
I hadn’t been on a green trail in years. I felt like I rediscovered the mountain.
But some people who switch from skiing to snowboarding do find it frustrating. They don’t see that side of it; they feel like they’ve regressed. What would you say to them?
The only people who can snowboard are stubborn. They're gonna do it if it's the last thing they do. If you want an easy learn, skiing is better. The snowboarders all have strong personalities because it's not a quick, easy learn. They have tenacity. But the learning curve becomes more forgiving after that.
What do you mean?
Once it clicks, it clicks. Every time you go out you just get better and better. It's very hard for skiers to get beyond intermediate. For snowboarders, the minute it catches it's incredible.
You’ve been vocal in saying that snowboarding is specifically conducive for women to pick up. Why is that?
Snowboarding is about balance. It’s not specifically about speed. And remember in high school how the girls danced and the guys didn't?
A lot of the women I teach are dancers; they do ballroom or ballet. They say, ‘It's just like dancing, that's all.” Your feet are either going forward or back, forward or back. It’s also a more social sport. Snowboarders tend to cluster.
How come you chose to write two separate books Snowboarding for Women and Snowboarding for Men instead of putting this all in one?
When they come to the mountain, a lot of women don’t want to take a lesson with a guy. So I wound up taking women for private lessons. I’ve come to specialize in frightened women.
So you're just calling it like it is. No reason to lump them together when they’re different.
Women don't like to go fast, period. They don't like the cold. I say, ‘you don't have to go fast. Who told you that? If your boyfriend wants to go fast, tell him you'll meet him at the bottom for lunch. What do you care?’ In my girl book, I spent 35 pages dealing with how to dress. In the guy book, I think I spent three pages.
My primary goal is to make these women feel comfortable, to allow them to have a really nice time on the snowboard. If you can do that, you've done a wonderful thing.
Learn more about Chickie at her website, www.snowboardingforwomen.com.
Images courtesy of Chickie Rosenberg.