Teaching with a passion: Burton Academy at Northstar reinvents snowboard instruction with innovative curriculum
Walking up to the door of the new Burton Academy learning center at Northstar-at-Tahoe, your eyes are immediately reminded of why you’ve come. Emblazoned in bright purple letters across both doors reads, “A Day in the Good Life.”
As ski resort communities throughout the world attest to, time spent on the snowy slopes, no matter your means of descent, is indeed many people’s definition of life at its finest. Between the thrill of carving down a mountain at high speed and the camaraderie of enjoying an active pursuit with friends, the bliss of downhill snow sliding has captivated souls since it was conceived centuries back.
But to share that enthusiasm for the slopes, you can’t be falling down the hill all day.
At the Burton Academy at Northstar, inspiring such a lifelong passion for snowboarding by not only fast-tracking students’ skills, but through forging a first impression of the sport that is beyond their expectations, is what the new center is all about.
“Our goal at the Burton Academy is not just to make our clients better snowboarders, but to totally connect them with the sport,” said Academy Director Chris Hargraves. “From the minute they walk in the door we try to immerse them in snowboarding so they leave with both new skills and a sense of future opportunity in riding.”
The first such snowboard learning center of its kind, the Burton Academy hopes to accomplish such complete shredding immersion by using the best of what partners Burton Snowboards and Northstar have to offer ” state-of-the-art equipment, innovative teaching terrain and top-notch instruction staff.
An Academy lesson begins as you are greeted by your instructor just past the aforementioned doors in the entrance of the Academy “lounge.” Unless you book a private lesson for up to six, your all-day group lesson will never have more than four students.
The lounge is a “living piece of the lesson,” according to Hargraves, as its walls are adorned with flat screens playing snowboard videos and bright graphic art of Burton pro riders shredding around the world. The lesson price includes a full rental set-up, so while you’re absorbing the eye candy your instructor will be getting you dialed in with the best boots and board to suit your skill level.
Although the Academy has a nearly full line of Burton’s top boards for students to demo, most beginner riders choose to take out an LTR (learn to ride) board. Burton’s LTR snowboards are designed to be easy to learn on as they are super soft torsionally (side to side) and have a beveled base such that it is difficult to catch the edge. Such a forgiving board allows beginner riders to push the board into terrain variations without using much power.
Once equipped, the lesson doesn’t immediately move onto the snow, however. Instructors introduce the basic riding postures with students strapped into their boards on the carpeted floor of the lounge. Only after each student is balanced over their feet and understands a few foundation movements does the lesson move on to snow.
Taking to the snow, the unique qualities of an Academy lesson are most apparent. The teaching methodology is based upon terrain features that are not commonly found on the bunny slope. As the thing that gets most beginner riders on the defensive is not being able to control their speed, all introductory drills are taught in a shallow dish that is sloped up on all sides. Confidence in learning to balance on the board is achieved by riding down one mellow slope only to have the subsequent uphill slope stop your momentum.
Once riders have the hang of staying balanced while sliding flat, the lesson moves to a set of rollers that also incorporate terrain-based speed control. By practicing moving fluidly up and over the rollers while weighting and unweighting their board, students learn the dynamic relationship between thet errain and their movements that defines all snowboarding skills.
“The specialized terrain at the Academy allows students to learn all the right moves without having the fear of going too fast,” said Academy Instructor Meredith Solin. “It keeps students from getting into defensive habits.”
When Academy students’ skills have progressed beyond the rollers, the instructor might use a set of banked corners to begin teaching turns, or the lesson might just head out on the mellow, open slopes of the teaching area. Regardless of the next terrain, the goal is the same ” get riders turning on both edges.
“We want beginners to leave an Academy lesson feeling like a snowboarder,” said Hargraves. “You don’t feel like a confident rider unless you’re comfortably making turns, so we guarantee that all of our students will be able to link turns on the beginner slope after one day.”
Teaching students of various confidences and strengths to make turns their first day is no easy feat, but this is where the skill of the Academy’s instructors shine through.
Staffed with highly credentialed teachers armed with decades of experience, the small group size allows the instructors to give individual attention to each student using every teaching trick they know.
This is the real secret of the Burton Academy – passionate instructors beget passionate students.
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