Go Play: Snowboard instructor offers tips on improving skills
Snowboarding is about progression. Whether you’re strapping on a board for the first time or headed to the X Games, there’s always something to work on.
With that in mind we talked to Ronnie Barr, longtime snowboard instructor at Copper Mountain Resort, to learn more about frequent flaws in the snowboarding world. As an American Association of Snowboard Instructors certified trainer, he’s one of the guys who teaches the guys who teach you how to snowboard; we figured he might know a thing or two. Here is a quick look at what he came up with.
❱❱ THE UPPER BODY RIDER
Barr started with the snowboarder who turns by swinging the arms and shoulders.
“Starting turns by rotating the upper body is a habit you want to break,” he said. “It’s something most people do because it’s the easiest way to do it.”
Turning with the shoulders is an ineffective way to turn, and a dead giveaway that you don’t know what your doing, or haven’t been at it that long.
“Like in skiing, snowboarding turns should be based on motions from the hips on down. The movement is a combination of turning the front knee and hip while also shifting pressure from the front to the back of the foot or vice versa depending on if it’s a toe-edge or heal-edge turn.
“Learning that the (front) knee can steer the board is a breakthrough for a lot of people,” Barr said.
Shifting weight from front to back while turning is also key. Barr encouraged riders to play with weight distribution and not simply stand rigid as beginner or intermediate riders are prone to do.
“You always want to be moving around on your snowboard, front of the board, to the middle of the board, to the back,” He explained. “It’s huge for taking the next step. Moving around is something I suggest everybody play with. If your body moves, it’s much easier to turn.”
Start by leaning downhill and into a turn while twisting the front leg to help initiate it.
He also reminded boarders that — again like skiing — keeping weight toward the back of the board all the time makes it harder to turn on a groomer. In powder it’s a different story, but we’ll get there.
❱❱ THE SIDE-SLIPPING SLOPE GROOMER
Another common beginner trait is the rider who locks in on the heel edge and rides the board sideways down a hill. You’ll recognize boarders doing this because you can follow the trails they make as they slide down the hill like grooming machines.
If you’re afraid to turn or point the board downhill, there’s a really good chance you’ve over-terrained yourself — meaning you’re on a slope that’s above your ability level. In the ski and snowboard world there’s also a slightly more explicit description for this mistake.
“Over-terraining yourself can be one of the worst things you can do,” Barr said. “When you’re intimidated on top of the run, you’re tense.”
Even Olympic-level skiers and riders can work on their form on a green slope; there’s no shame in it.
On a less steep slope, you’re going to be more confident pointing the board straight downhill — that’s where it’s supposed to go.
❱❱ LIVING ON THE EDGE
Properly using the edges of a board — just like in skiing — is an underdeveloped skill in snowboarding.
“It’s something a lot of people don’t learn,” Barr said. “The higher the edge angle, the more the board performs. You always want to be on one side or the other. Riding flat is not a great way to stay in control.”
When you see someone really carving a turn, you can read the bottom of the board because it’s that far up on edge. Now every turn doesn’t have to be like that, but it’s good to keep in mind. Think of the edge of your board like the bottom of an ice skate; that’s basically what you should be riding on. Turning is simply switching from one edge to the next.
Using edges properly also avoids catching the dreaded heel edge or toe edge and landing on your face or smacking the back of your head. It’s the riders who stay flat on their boards that are most prone to catching an edge, because the slightest terrain feature will catch and flip the board and the rider on top of it. Then end result? You’re going to have a bad time.
Beginner and intermediate riders, for whatever reason, also tend to be more comfortable on the heel edge of the board at first. But Barr said learning to be good on your toe edge is a lot more fun, and will actually give you much more control. Eventually it’s about smoothly linking turns, where the rider is transitioning back and forth from toe to heel edge.
To kick it up a notch, Barr encourages students of all skill levels to try putting pressure on the toes of one foot and the heel of the other while turning to really torque the board.
“That will cause the new edge to engage very quickly,” he said. “It can put you in a sweet carve.”
❱❱ IT’S SNOWBOARDING, NOT SURFING
Some riders also have a tendency to try to steer with their back leg, or kick it out during a turn. This tends to come with people who have experience surfing. While it’s correct in surfing and can be a fun way to ride, it’s not necessarily efficient. Try engaging turns with the front leg, as previously mentioned, and you might find it much easier to carve. Snowboarding with a surfing style may also lead to riding “flat” and, again, being prone to catching an edge. Remember, it’s all about riding on edges, not catching them.
❱❱ GETTING TO THE DEEP STUFF, HANDLING THE POW
Finally, we turn to the magical world of powder. For beginners and intermediates it can also be pretty intimidating. The trick there, Barr said, is smooth motions.
“Rule No. 1 of riding in powder is you have to slow everything down,” he explained. “The board needs to slowly turn from side to side.”
Powder makes it much easier to catch an edge, which will kill momentum and in all likelihood get you stuck.
Smooth, gentle motions are the way to go, like buttering toast. Also, the deeper it gets, the more acceptable it is to lean back so you can keep the board above it. The rider’s body should shift back and forth from the middle to the back of the board in powder.
A powder-specific rockered board can also make your life a lot more pleasant when it comes to the fluffy stuff. Rockered or reverse cambered boards curve more in the tip and tail to create more floatation under foot.
“It can make all the difference,” Barr said of board choice.
❱❱ YOU’RE NEVER TOO GOOD
One more thing.
No matter how good you think you might be, a lesson can still make a world of difference.
“You’re never too good to take a lesson,” Barr said. “You’re always going to learn something. Even the best snowboarders in the world are still learning.”
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The 50th Carbondale Mountain Fair last weekend included the 42nd running of the Mt. Sopris Runoff 14-miler and its companion 4-Mile Fair Run foot races after a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic.