When dreaming of that perfect day on the mountain, I think of top-to-bottom tree runs with pow stashes galore, the beautiful silence broken only by the occasional hoot from friends letting me know they are still within earshot, and the feeling of focusing on nothing but my line.
Unfortunately for some, the thought of riding through the woods seems daunting and dangerous. Their first few ventures often consist of aggressively slamming on the brakes, grabbing at trees for the random assisted toe turn, and a lot of hoping and praying. Not exactly dreamy… or fun.
We’ve all been there. You begin your toeside turn, and, suddenly, the line you picked doesn’t seem all that attainable. The moment is quickly passing for you to successfully get to your toe edge and avoid that tree looming large before you. Your weight shifts toward the tail, and because you never quite committed to that toe edge in the first place, the quickest way to safety is to move back to your heels. Now in some kind of heel-edge wheelie, you shift as far over your heel edge as you can, throw that back foot out in front of you, sit down to stop with barely a foot to spare between you and the tree, and think, “Well, that wasn’t it.”
It’s the same defensive move you often see with beginners. A failure to weight the nose (often due to fear and being outside one’s comfort zone) limits edge engagement and the ability to shift the center of mass from one edge to the other. Just as you tell new riders, steering with the front foot promotes more control and better turn shape; a key thing to remember when weaving through the woods.
Here are three things you and your students can work on to set a solid foundation for successful, and hopefully fun, experiences in the trees. Be sure to put in lots of practice in open terrain before heading to the glades.
To keep the lower body loose enough to make lots of small movements, the rider’s stance should be flexed and athletic – say, a few inches lower than he or she normally rides.
#2: Two-Footed Active Control
Practice snaky turns at low edge angles. To get the hang of this, riders can start by making small bow ties in the snow with their snowboard, pivoting the board from the center using only their legs. First try this stationary and then put it in motion. Try it in traverses and eventually throughout a series of turns. This task gets both legs working independently and also requires the edge angle to stay low. Another option is to have riders imagine they are “painting” their chosen line, with the front foot serving as the paintbrush.
#3: Being Ready for Anything
Have students change up the time they give themselves between each turn and the size of the turn. Kick the difficulty up a notch by pairing them up and having one partner shout “turn” at random so the other rider knows he or she needs to make a turn right then and there. You can also guide practice by defining corridors to stay in, for example a groomer width. Try making that corridor not only down the fall line but at angles across the fall line, which promotes a sensation similar to traversing the trees. These types of challenges keep riders on their toes (sorry, maybe not the best imagery for a snowboard article) – ready to make turns at any point.
When you think your students are ready to venture into the trees, make sure you pick some low-angle, open woods. Encourage them to keep things slow and snaky – and remind them the fall line is not the only way down. Just like in beginner lessons, they can traverse before committing to the fall line.
With practice, riders will start dreaming of tree runs rather than see danger lurking in the woods.
This article, by Amy Gan, originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of 32 Degrees. Log in now to the online version to access other great content that will up your instructor game.
You can also watch this video on front-foot steering when riding in the trees.
Gan is a first-term member of the AASI Snowboard Team. She teaches at Vermont’s Mount Snow and supervises the area’s summer camp in the off season. Instagram: @agan613