The Religion of Extreme Sports

By Shelley Queen

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As the winter Olympics in Sochi fast approach, many people will be staring at their screens thinking “Why on earth do people do stuff like this?”

I’m not promising to answer that question, but I am here to provide a (very amateur) insight into why these people do what they do.

When I say “snowboarding” what do you think of?  Kids jumping off boxes and pipes? Insane images of people carving their way down steep mountains? Shaun White hurling himself into a half pipe? You’re right to question why anyone would do something so dangerous, so high up off the ground. But to me, snowboarding is a drug.

Granted, I am very, very feeble snowboarder. In fact I can probably barely even call myself that. I can only do very basic tricks and I’ve yet to scale a mountain and throw myself off it. But even at my level, it is one of the best things you can experience in life.

Snowboarding is a cruel, expensive drug that will take away your time, money and thoughts.

It will make your father spend his fortieth birthday taking his daughter to the A&E department after she breaks her arm (Sorry dad. Makes for a great story though, right?!)

It will tell you to abandon everything and go ‘do a season’ like you keep reading about in the magazines.

I realised all of this recently, when I had been away from my sport for a while. It had been a very long time since I had been boarding. With university assignments and deadlines all falling in the January/February/March period, and a poorly paying job that doesn’t allow holidays in December, it had been four years since I’d been on my baby (a Burton Feel Good with custom Burton Stiletto bindings – she is an absolute beauty).

So, post Christmas, and after watching The Crash Reel (even if you aren’t into snowboarding, you should watch this film) I decided to finally get her down from the attic and bully my father into coming with me to Xscape.

After crying at the cost for a bit I was ready to go.

I was SO nervous, Four years is a really long time to not be on a board. I was so scared I was going to be ‘that guy’ – you know the one I’m talking about. The guy who fancies ‘giving snowboarding a shot’ and has cash to burn so buys the top end gear, and can’t board for shit.

We all hate ‘that guy’.

I learned to board on a snowboard that was bought from Macro for Christ sake, I was not ‘that guy’! But nobody else on the slopes would know that if I decked it whilst trying to get on a poma tow.

The only way I can describe snowboarding is that it feels like home. Whatever home is – a destination, a person, a thing – that is what snowboarding encapsulates for me. And that is what became apparent as I picked it up again like I’d been born with bindings strapped to my feet.

But it’s not even just that.

You feel calm. All your worries clear from your head. You just board.

It’s like being on a tightrope, intricately balancing between edges, controlling your balance and weight.

You know that feeling you get when you trip? Or when you think there is one more step on the stairs you are climbing up? Or when you are rocking back on your chair and it just tips? That’s the feeling you get addicted to. That little bit of danger. That’s why Shaun White hurls himself down a half pipe. Or why kids will ride rails and boxes. The feeling of being both in and out of control at the same time.

And yet you don’t have to think. Most people will tell you that the worst thing in snowboarding you can do is think. If you think ‘oh god I’m going to crash into that pole over there’ you will crash into that pole.

I am talking from experience here. You look at where you want to go and your board will take you there.

Although Xscape obviously wasn’t a big enough fix for me, it sure as hell transported me back to the best day I had on the mountains.

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Everyone has that day. The day where they just realise, yes, this is it. For me, it’s a holiday in France. We had got up early and went straight to the top of the mountain. The weather conditions were awful. It was unbelievably windy and you could hardly see your glove in front of your face.

But, when you are up there, the only way is down. The rest of the people who had ventured up us were sceptical and were “going to wait till it clears”. We were Scottish, we’d seen summer’s worse than this. And so we ventured out. You hardly see the edge of the run, which was just sheer cliff, and the wind had a nasty habit of blowing you in that direction. It really was one of those moments where you think to yourself “I am on HOLIDAY. Doing this out of CHOICE. For FUN. What the hell is wrong with me?!”

But oh boy was it worth it.

Once we had ventured down from the chaos, it happened. That moment.  The closest thing to a religious experience I will get. An off yellow fog surrounded us, but you could still see about 300 metres in front of you. It was a huge, wide area with an out of order ski lift to the left hand side of us. But minus that, nothing. We were the first ones to make our way down from the top. It was fresh powder snow that nobody else had played in. And it was beautiful.

Riding on powder is what snowboards are made for. It’s like carving through a deliciously fluffy cloud. The feeling you get beneath your feet make you believe in a higher power.

Powder, fresh powder that has just fallen, powder that nobody else has touched – that is the reason people ride helicopters up mountains at 5am. That’s why people give up their 9-5 jobs and go ‘do a season’ And if you are good at tricks, or racing, then that’s one of the multitude of reasons that fuels what you do. Because there is nothing like that feeling.

So if you find yourself watching some of the athletes at Sochi and asking yourself “Why, why would someone do that?” – the only answer I can come up with is, “You’ll know it when you feel it”

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