Each winter, Megan Lambert and her family shelve their surfboards and skimboards and turn their attention north and west. They travel to snow-covered mountains and indulge their passion for gliding along smooth surfaces.
“With snowboarding, you get those same feelings you have in the water,” Lambert says. “When you’re cutting it down a hill, it’s amazing. Sometimes you can do more on snow than you can in the water, because the rides are longer.”
The Lamberts are among dozens of Outer Banks residents who take advantage of ocean swells in the summer and travel to snowy, powdery slopes in the winter. It’s a hike to the nearest resorts — 280 miles to Wintergreen and 310 miles to Massanutten in Virginia, and about 370 miles and seven hours to Snowshoe and Silver Creek in West Virginia. The closest resort in North Carolina, Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock, is almost 400 miles.
The Lamberts — Megan, husband Jason and 5-year-old son Kai — have made annual trips to Snowshoe in recent years and plan to do so again this winter. Megan Lambert praised the resort’s family-friendly layout and amenities, and says that son Kai took to snowboarding quickly, so the travel time is well worth it for them.
“It’s kind of like driving from (Washington) D.C., to the Outer Banks,” Lambert says. “The last couple hours aren’t bad because you know what’s at the end of the trip.”
Each winter, Craig Purkiss and his buddies trek to Snowshoe for several days or perhaps a week. A 42-year-old Kill Devil Hills resident and surf shop employee, he is a Norfolk native who transplanted to the Outer Banks 21 years ago. He grew up skateboarding and surfing, and began snowboarding in the early 1990s. He routinely made day trips from Hampton Roads to Wintergreen and Massanutten, catching a charter bus before dawn to the resort, riding all day and returning home that evening.
“Snowboarding is the only thing that the first time I tried it, I went out and bought everything — board, boots, bindings, all of it,” Purkiss says. “(Doing) other things, I borrowed stuff for a while, but snowboarding was different. I just loved it. It’s like riding a really, really long wave.”
Riding snow differs from riding waves. Both obviously require balance on boards (or skis), but control and weight distribution are a little different on snow than on water. Back foot exerts more control on a surfboard, while snowboarding requires more heel-to-toe leaning for speed and turns. Different muscle groups are stressed. Ground, or hard-packed snow, is generally less forgiving than water.
“It took me about a day to get the hang of it,” Purkiss says. “But when you skateboard and surf, and you don’t get it right away on a snowboard, it’s still a little frustrating. … The first day you spend getting the hang of it. The second day, you’re probably so sore that you can’t do as much. The third day is the best day.”
Plenty of locals spring for winter trips west to the Rockies and California, or north to New England, where conditions provide better, more consistent riding. The Lamberts have been to Lake Tahoe a couple of times and plan a trip this winter to Stowe, Vermont.
Kevin McSherry, a Kitty Hawk resident and surf shop employee, regularly goes to Colorado, and he has been to California and Washington State. He, too, plans a trip to New England this winter. Colleague Dillon Carmichael of Colington also goes to Colorado and has been to Idaho a couple of times.
McSherry, 35, is a Virginia Beach native who grew up surfing. He began snowboarding in his late teens, traveling to nearby resorts. It all changed for him after he graduated from Old Dominion University and moved to Vail, Colorado, for a time.
“I don’t think I really took to it until I went to Colorado,” he says. “Fresh powder, tree runs, and there’s no icy, slushy days like you have on the East Coast.”
McSherry snowboards as he surfs, preferring flow to aerials and tricks and dramatic turns and cuts.
“I don’t care about rails or ramps,” he says. “I’d rather disappear into the trees.”
He likened ducking under branches and weaving through trees on a snowboard to being in the barrel of a wave on a surfboard. Tucked in, close quarters, surroundings quieter.
“It’s challenging,” he says, “but it’s also peaceful.”
The transition for most locals is from water to snow. For Carmichael, 24, the process was reversed. Born near Boulder, Colorado, he was on skis from the time he could walk and began to snowboard at age 6.
The family packed up and headed east to the Outer Banks in 2004 when his mother, an art teacher, got a job at Kitty Hawk Elementary School.
At age 12, he and twin brother Weston won a surfboard in a raffle their mother entered, a 9-foot, 6-inch behemoth that became known as “Big Blue.” They carried it to the beach at every opportunity and taught themselves to surf.
Carmichael still has Big Blue, which survived a house fire his senior year of high school and looks every bit its age. He wouldn’t consider parting with it and hopes to refurbish it.
“It’s like my Outer Banks brother,” he says.
Carmichael skis more frequently than snowboards in the winter, because he says it’s easier on knees and joints that have endured multiple strains, sprains and ligament tears. He has unformed plans to relocate back to Colorado, where he still has family. Wherever he ends up, mountains and oceans won’t be far from his thoughts.
“I got really lucky,” Carmichael says, “being raised on both the snow and the water.”