x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Snowboarding makes a cool way to get fit

Snowboarding may not be an obvious sporting interest for those living in the Arabian desert, but when the heat hits there remain few cooler places to spend an afternoon than good old Ski Dubai.

Snowboarding may not be an obvious sporting interest for those living in the Arabian desert, but when the heat hits there remain few cooler places to spend an afternoon than good old Ski Dubai. My fascination with snowboarding originates, rather superficially I admit, with its über-cool clothing and the carefree vibe its practitioners exude. It also looks really fun - and it is, as I learnt during a 60-minute "Discovery" snowboarding lesson last week.

This lesson, my instructor Pavel Kostov tells me, is designed to give people like me an opportunity to try it and see if they like it. The focus is on becoming comfortable with the equipment and learning the basics. According to snowboarding websites there are more than six million people now practising the sport worldwide and it is one of America's fastest growing winter sports. I arrive an hour early for my lesson, as instructed, orange mittens in hand (if you don't bring gloves you'll have to buy them for around Dh60 from the Ski Dubai shop). Having collected my ticket I head over to the dressing area where I am loaded up with the slope's trademark blue and red padded trousers, matching jacket, navy socks, boots and snowboard.

For this particular session I was the only student, which meant I had the full attention of the instructor but it also that there was no space for slacking off or hiding behind other members of the group. The first lesson is learnt before we leave the meeting point. I am shown how to attach my boots to the board securely - a simple enough process once you get the hang of it. That mastered, and having discovered which of my legs should be my lead leg, we make our way out to the nusery slope, reserved for beginners, where the air is refreshingly cool and crisp.

At the bottom of the slope, Kostov tells me to attach one foot, the back one, to the board and then shows me how to move across the bottom of the slope using the free foot to power myself along - more or less the same way that you would move with a skateboard. It looks easy when he demonstrates, but controlling the board and travelling in a more-or-less straight line require good balance and decent leg strength, I discover.

Having watched me practise that a few times, Kostov demonstrates how to power yourself along before placing the front foot on to the board for a short glide. After a few attempts at these, nerves steadied, I get my first bit of slope action. I'm shown how to lift the board up the slope behind me, taking small steps with my free foot in front of the board leading the way - a great workout for the thighs and gluts.

When we are a third of a way up the slope, I turn around and watch as Kostov snowboards back down, his free foot planted behind the front boot slot on the board. I follow suit and repeat the whole exercise again, trying to master the art of speeding up and slowing down by alternating the distribution of my weight on either leg. After a couple of tries he gets me to squat down and up, several times, as I slide down. This, he explains, is an attempt to loosen me up, obtain my balance and get me comfortable with how the board feels.

This mastered, he leads me over to the flying carpet lift which takes me to the top of the nursery slope. For the first time I strap both feet into the board and, using Kostov as a human railing, I manage to stand. "Watch me," he orders, before standing on his board and looking upwards. Facing forward, he moves down the slope in a stop-start motion using the distribution of his weight on the front rail, or edge, of his board to control the speed.

For the remainder of the lesson, I unsuccessfully try to do likewise, landing on my behind several times, laughing, veering off to one side and repeatedly begging Kostov not to let go of me. He reassures me that I am not useless. The second half of the session, he explains, is actually a taster of the 90-minute beginner lessons I will move on to should I wish to continue with a course of lessons.

The hour goes by quickly and before I know it I'm returning, ruddy-cheeked and grinning, to the changing area. My legs and gluts ache a tad but the physical benefits of snowboarding - a great lower body and abdominal workout - are not going to be fully apparent in your first hour as you concentrate on technique and gaining confidence. The mental benefits - namely a whole lot of fun - have already kicked in.

Physical benefits Snowboarding is great for improving muscle tone of the lower body and abdominals as you use them to control the board. It also improves balance and flexibility and is a great cardiovascular workout. Mental benefits This professionally run class is fun and, once you've mastered the basics, it's a great way to spend time with friends and family. How often The Discovery lesson is a one-off taster session but beginner lessons, which last 90 minutes, are the next step and are run throughout the week (see website for more details). Mr Kostov recommends not leaving it too long between sessions while you're learning, in order to keep up momentum.

Cost Discovery lessons are Dh150, for all ages, and that includes the hiring of clothing, disposable socks, a helmet for the kids, snowboard and boots. For hygiene reasons you need to bring or buy your own gloves and hats. Lockers can be rented for a small additional cost. For more information visit www.skidxb.com