Here’s a scenario: You’re a solid intermediate skier or snowboarder. You ride most of the mountain and you’re feeling good about it.
Still, you keep thinking about the terrain park. You ride the lift over it. You ski by it. You scout it from above and sometimes from the ground. You know you want in there.
So for today: how to know you’re ready for boxes and rails, and other tips for making the transition from the mountain to the park.
As with anything, the first requirement is desire. If you want to go into the park to ride a box, rail or jump, you’ve met the first and most important condition of becoming a freestyle rider.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll start in the superpipe. In fact, you won’t even start in the park.
Mountain As Park
Brian Donovan is the Director of Skiing and Riding Services at Mount Snow in Vermont, home of Carinthia, consistently rated one of the top terrain parks in the East.
Donovan’s first piece of advice to anyone — adult or child — is to treat the entire mountain as a giant terrain park.
“Start by looking for terrain that isn’t a standard, straight groomer. Practice balance as you ski over rollers or go through turns,” suggests Donovan. This is important because the skills you use on the mountain are the same skills you’ll bring to the park.
Hang Out, Observe and Mirror
Donovan’s next tip is to hang out at the park, not the Olympic-worthy, supersize terrain park, but the small, beginner park, and watch others.
This means finding a safe spot, where you won’t be in the way and observing other riders. Where do they stop? Where don’t they stop? How much speed are they carrying as they approach each feature? How are their skis or snowboard positioned?
Visualize yourself doing these same things.
Next, mirror these behaviors on snow, but not on the features.
For example, before you ride a box, practice skiing past it. Flatten your skis for the entire length of the box. Mimic the speed others are carrying on approach and see if this feels comfortable. Pretend you’re going over the box and commit.
For parents helping kids, Kevin Jordan, a PSIA Freestyle Examiner and Senior Coordinator for Snowmass Kids, recommends placing ski poles on the snow next to the box, box width apart. Ask your kids to ski straight between them, or if they’re snowboarders, to do a board slide for the entire box length (no ski poles on the ground in this case).
Be Park Smart
After all of this exploring, observing and mirroring, you’re ready to ride.
But, before you take off the brakes, it’s important to understand terrain park safety rules.
All terrain parks have a Park Smart sign at the entrance. Stop and read it. If you’re with kids, read it together. If you have questions, ask other people in the park.
“One of the most important skills kids need to have before they go into the park is listening,” says Jordan.
“Sometimes people find themselves in landings or places they shouldn’t be. To stay safe, everyone needs to listen to each other.”
Next, adopt the terrain park mantra: Pre-Ride, Re-Ride, Free-Ride.
First, take an inspection lap. Parks change every day, with varying snow conditions and the addition or subtraction of features. Plus, features often look different when you’re next to them. Get a real-time view of what you’ll be riding.
On your next lap, hit some features, but don’t go big. Get comfortable and build confidence. If you’re new to the park, maybe stay in Re-Ride mode for a few laps.
Otherwise, on your next lap shift to Free-Ride and enjoy the features to your ability.
Having Fun? We’ve Got a Tip for That
If you want to ride park, you also want to have fun. Fun is, after all, the reason we ski and ride.
So here’s our tip, from Mount Snow’s Donovan:
“When you’re in the park, don’t feel pressure to hit every feature. Pick those that call to you, look fun to you, and look like something you can do. Feel comfortable and be inspired!”
Have fun and stay safe!