Finding that first taste of air on a snowboard at Snow Valley

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Alberta’s north is the perfect winter wonderland setting for all kinds of snowy outdoor recreation: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, sledding, and it's home to seven ski hills! Follow along with us and don’t forget to tag #SkiNorthAB to tell us what you’ve discovered. 

Private lessons at Snow Valley can up your mountain game

EDMONTON - Spaceship earth momentarily tips into zero gravity. Up becomes down, and Jen Sherstan and Elisa Chee find a frozen moment of weightless balance suspended mid-air on the tails of their snowboards. 

Nailing a butter, sliding with only half your board on the snow and the other half in the air, is a trick that until now was beyond their abilities. Now, in just a couple of hours, they’ve nearly mastered the technique and they are elated. 

It’s a huge moment for them both but it almost didn’t happen. Sherstan’s and Chee’s kids are in lessons together at Snow Valley Ski Club in Edmonton, AB, but being solid intermediate mountain riders, the two friends hadn’t considered taking a lesson here themselves. The last time either had ridden here was when they were kids.

Then they came out for Snow Valley's “Rise and Shred” event a couple weeks prior, and it seeded the idea of taking a private lesson together to elevate their mountain game. 

“I had never really had lessons for the last 20 years, so I was trying to learn everything on my own and through watching Youtube videos,” Chee comments. “It’s nowhere close to having someone teach you how to do it.”

Snow Valley Ski Hill Alberta Snowboard ski lessons
Photographer: Paul Lavoie
Learning new skills on the hill at Snow Valley.

Each of the women came to the hill with ideas of what they wanted to improve on. After consulting with their instructor, Dan Sutherland, they push off. Liftline privilege allows them to maximize time on the hill so their instruction time isn’t spent standing around. In the short waits for chairs, and the ride up, Sutherland makes a plan with his two students. 

They start out practicing laying out their carves, a foundational skill that lays the groundwork for pretty much everything else. Getting comfortable leaning into space, like an astronaut in zero-G, is a basic requirement for progression in snowboarding.

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Progressing from there to switches is like flipping a switch—the weighting is all backwards, and Sherstan feels like a beginner again. She loses her bearings once or twice before beginning to get the knack. 

Once the two women have got a handle on that, Dan takes it up to the next level with butters. Having them lean out deeply, he gets them working to achieve an Escher-like, weightless stance semi-perpendicular to the hill, as if someone tipped the earth under them and they’re falling up. It takes an intuitive and a physical leap to get there, and both Sherstan and Chee are giving it all they have to try to grasp this new skill. 

Snow Valley Ski Club Alberta snowboarding ski lessons
Photographer: Paul Lavoie
Riding down past the lodge at Snow Valley with a bit of butter on the side.

A couple laps down the hill and something fascinating is underway. Pushing themselves into new territory, using different muscle groups in new ways and focusing intently on their efforts, they fatigue quickly even on the short Snow Valley runs—and yet they refuse to let up.

“I didn’t know what to expect but this was really cool,” says Chee. “I’m one of those people that if I’m determined to learn something I will just keep going. 

“Once you have a family you don’t always carve the time out for yourself to do something new and learn new skills,” says Sherstan, “so it’s nice doing it with a friend at the same level and having the extra time hanging out together. We learned tons of new things.”

By the time the lesson is over both Chee and Sherstan are feeling the burn. But they’re also positively vibrating with excitement. 

“Oh, I loved learning the butters!” Chee exclaims. “I was trying by myself and just couldn’t get anywhere at all — like, at all! It was really cool. I loved it! 

“You kind of play around and think you know what you’re doing,” Sherstan adds, “but the instructor really broke it down, so I realized there was a lot more to work on.”

One small step at a time, the two friends are developing the skills to make giant leaps.

When You Go

  • Check our #SkiNorthAB Experience Series for package deals and great rates on hotels, dining and activities.
  • Book a private lesson at Snow Valley and customize the experience to the skills you need.
  • Snow Valley Ski Club is located in Edmonton, AB, off the Whitemud Freeway and 119 St.
  • The resort has both a main and beginner terrain park.
  • The hill is generally open from mid-November to mid-March

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