A beginner slope at Bridger Bowl, a ski area outside Bozeman, Montana. Late winter, 1991.
Boone Lennon, 41, former head coach of the U.S. men's World Cup alpine ski team (1984-86), dubbed King of the Hill by "Skiing" magazine — and an anonymous 26-year old Australian snowboard coach.
Lennon's first attempt at snowboarding.
Boone Lennon narrates:
"I strap myself into the board and straighten up. The slat shimmies to life and starts down the hill, seemingly of its own accord. The instructor yells, 'Faster, dude, speed is your friend!' Well, I've gone very fast on skis and speed does help you turn, so I really let the board rip. I'm thinking that when I hit 30 mph, its going to be magic.
"Then I hit 30. I'm heading straight for a huge aspen, and I can't turn. All I can do is dive. My chest hits first. My chin digs a trough through the packed powder. As I'm lying there face down in the snow, I hear titters from a pack of preteen board — heads who woosh right past me. Utter humiliation."
You could hardly blame Lennon if he had dumped the board, slapped on his skis, and gone back to being King of the Hill. But he didn't. He'd seen the juice that snowboarders get from nailing those crisp, fluid turns. "It's intoxicating," says Lennon, watching the power of those turns. He wanted some of that for himself. First step: trash everything he'd heard about how to snowboard and start over.
A serious inventor as well as a successful coach, Lennon retreated to his workshop in the Montana Rockies, the place where he created the aero-bicycle handlebars that Greg LeMond used to win the 1989 Tour de France. He took some of the tools and techniques he picked up over years of coaching alpine skiing and adapted the best to snowboarding. Nothing was off-limits — he got plenty of inspiration and insight from watching his eight-year-old daughter's gymnastics class.
Lennon returned to the slopes, and in the waning days of winter '91 he pieced together a fast-track method for learning snowboarding — without the butt-busting, torso-twisting falls that almost all first timers endure. He dubbed it the Quick Carve system — quick carve, as in he'll have a beginner ripping trench-deep arcs in just two days. He filed a patent, wrote a manual, began offering two-day instructional camps. Now he's revolutionizing the way snowboarding is taught.
"Our approach is simple, says Lennon. We put you in the right positions; we give you the right tools; we keep you vertical long enough so you can feel the carve for yourself."
The claim lives up to the billing. This past March I caught up with Lennon in Vail, Colorado. In one weekend, I watched him take a dozen beginners — including a woman who was five months pregnant and her 58-year old father-in-law — and transform them into proficient riders. By the end of the second day, the 58-year old could lay out turns so deep that his uphill arm brushed the snow.
Lennon's teaching methods offer more than a jump start to a hypergrowth sport that's hit an evolutionary speed bump. His method quietly challenges the tenets of traditional coaching. Here's his game plan, punctuated with postcards from students who thrived under his tutelage at Vail.
Bill Kerig (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contributing editor at "Skiing" and "Snowboard Life" magazines. He lives and rides in Vail.
"Lesson #1: Never take your equipment as a given"
"Lesson #2: If you lack essential tools, invent them"
"Lesson #3: Never, ever accept the status quo"
"Lesson #4: You learn by succeeding"
"Lesson #5: Take control by letting go"
"Hard Gear Is Good to Find"
"Talk Like an 'Air Dog'"
A version of this article appeared in the Dec 1996/Jan 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.