Guest blogger Jason Schetrompf is a snowboard instructor with Vail Ski and Snowboard School.
Our enthusiasm for snowboarding can sometimes get the best of us this time of year. With the season fresh and the snow coverage not yet at mid-to-late season levels, I feel it would be good to discuss some tactics for – both riding and decision making – that will ensure that your season is long and filled with many days of shredding.
Let’s start with decision making, our legs and, more importantly, our minds are not where we finished the season last year. This is essential to remember. The ability of our mind to make assessments about potentially hazardous circumstances encountered on the hill has been dulled over the course of the summer. Being slower at these assessments also means that we are not as apt to make quick, sound judgments with our actions when we really need to be on the ball. For instance, I really focus on making sure that I do not ride too close to other riders or skiers. This enables me greater time to react if they choose to stop, change directions, or switch up their turn radius.
Another factor in decision making is evaluating the snow on each and every run that I choose to ride. The things I look for are: man-made vs. natural, amount of compaction of the snow, and coverage.
Man-made snow and natural snow have grown more alike with advances in snowmaking technology over the last few decades; however, man-made snow still tends to have a higher moisture content. With more moisture, the surface is usually firmer, which equates to faster speeds. How does one know the difference between natural and man-made snow? If the snow on the trail is higher than the snow off to the side of the trail, it is most likely man-made. As riders, we are reliant on one edge to get bite in the snow. Unless rising temperatures or the sun has softened the surface, I tend to keep my speed in-check, and try to keep my edge angle to a minimum. Lower edge-angles provide more contact with the surface.
How compacted the snow is relates directly to how hard I am able to press the board into the snow. Some spots can be compacted and others not compacted at all, especially on trails with only natural snow or in the trees. On these trails, I like to make turns without being forceful with either my extension or flexion of my legs through the turn. This allows me to keep a fairly neutral stance that affords me the ability to absorb any variation in the snow. A sudden “pot hole” is apt to buck quite hard.
As for coverage, snow depth, especially in natural snow areas, can vary based on wind-loading, sun exposure, and traffic. Another consideration is what is beneath the snow? On Vail we have grassy, rocky and tree fall (gladed areas) areas that are beneath the snow. When coverage is low – go slow. Going slow will allow more time to see any debris that could be on or near the surface. I typically manage my speed through making more turns, which allows me to slowly, safely scope the terrain.
Now that your mind is set for solid decision making, it’s time to move onto some turn tactics. I usually start-off this time off year turns that are low in intensity; I do this for two reasons. The first reason is that I want to make sure my equipment, whether old or new, is still functioning properly. The second reason is to ease my body back into the season. While riding you are using muscles that may not have used since last season. My focus is just on the making relatively basic, low intensity turns. Each day I come back to ride, I ramp up the intensity.
I also use a similar tactic for riding in the park. The last trick that I learned last season is NOT the first trick that I work on in the beginning of this season. An example would be, if I learned 540’s at the end of last season; I will work my way back to that trick with practicing 180’s, then 360’s and, after having both of those tricks dialed-in I will lastly go back to 540’s. In addition to the difficulty of the tricks, I do a similar routine with the size of the features that I ride. Working from small to large helps polish both your confidence and your skills.
Early season is a time to get your wits and legs back underneath of you. Hopefully, these tips will make for a smooth start and finish to your season. Ease back into the season and enjoy a season full of riding enjoyment.