Cracking the terrain park: Part II
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Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on cracking the terrain park. Click here for last week’s intro on getting started as a freerider:
Once you’ve gained confidence in flatland tricks, you’re ready to move on to small features in the terrain park. Pick a park with little flow-through traffic and, preferably, a hike-only zone.
“Recognize when you leave trails for the park, you’re in a different environment with a different code of conduct,” said Jason Schetrompf, snowboard training and parks coordinator for Vail Snowsports School. With guests, Schetrompf said he always has a pretty lengthy discussion about the park’s code of conduct before he and the students enter.
At this point, whether you are with an instructor or not, familiarize yourself with the four points of Smart Style, the terrain park safety code developed by the National Ski Areas Association and Burton Snowboards. First, “make a plan”: figure out which feature(s) you’re going to hit and have a clear idea of what you are going to attempt on them. Second, “look before you leap.” Third, “easy style it”; in other words, start small and slowly work your way up to more technically challenging tricks and difficult features. And, lastly, “respect gets respect.” This fourth point emphasizes proper park etiquette: call your drops, wait your turn, go one at a time, and clear landings quickly.
When learning to hit boxes, rails and jumps, both snowboard and ski instructors utilize the “ATML method,” a trademark of PSIA-AASI. The approach is the space in which a rider sets his stance and speed before hitting a feature. The takeoff is where you begin your trick. The maneuver is the zone where you control your body in the air and set yourself for the landing.
In both skiing and boarding, sliding a box or rail successfully requires you to keep your plank(s) flat. David Oliver, a freestyle specialist with the PSIA Alpine Team, calls it the “utmost ability” to ride a flat ski or board.
Cam Hunter, a Breckenridge snowboard instructor and freestyle trainer, said he introduces box and rail riding by first discussing with the student what it’s going to take to get on the feature.
“We talk about anti-tilt so you’re now edging across the box, working on learning how to ride a flat board,” he said. Hunter and the student will typically start with a straight, no-tricks glide across a ride-on box (called “50-50”). They’ll also discuss the post-maneuver landing: to ride, not fall, off the box.
“Another really big difference between skiers and snowboarders in the park is that snowboarders can 50-50 boxes and rails,” said Ben Atkinson, Keystone-based freestyle trainer.
Because skiers have to choose a side to lead with when they slide a rail, Atkinson teaches his students according to whichever foot they feel comfortable leading with. He will first teach his student to pop and turn sideways without skis, making sure the students are stacked and looking down the imaginary rail.
“For us, regardless of what happens, we need to pop to get onto a rail,” added Oliver.
Atkinson said he has students repeat the same exercise over firm snow with skis on. Then, they move to a low-risk box.
Again, skiers and snowboards have a common task in tackling jumps: learning to pop.
“You have to be able to extend, or pop off the jump with your center of mass over your feet,” Atkinson said, adding that people new to freestyle should start with rollers before working on jumps.
The analogy Atkinson said he uses is doing a cannonball into a pool. Bring your knees in, or “ball up,” because it makes it easier to balance in the air, he said.
When you first learn to pop off a small jump, Tony MacRi said he recommends choosing one where you can see the landing from the start. Learn to recognize the difference between jumps that throw you out farther versus booters that throw you up, he added. Keystone jumps, he said, for example, are really poppy, throwing you up more whereas Copper’s are more of a ramp style, throwing you out more.
Both Oliver and Ben Atkinson begin pipe progressions with uphill arches in which the student makes a U-shaped turn carving back up an uncrowded, flat run. They have novice park skiers practice the arches to the left and right side, simulating the sensation of being in the half pipe. After working on uphill arches, then you can drop in the pipe.
“If you think about green, blue and black runs, why they’re rated that what: green runs are rated that way because they are flat, blue, black … every pipe has those zones up to triple black at the top,” Oliver said. Skiers hold the highest edge angle at the pipe’s flat bottom, the flattest at the top of the wall, he added.
“Work on your zone until you’re ready. People think if you just point it and get your guts up you can do it but, that’s the farthest thing from the truth, it’ll just get you hurt,” said Oliver.
On the snowboard side, Jason Schetrompf said if a student can carve and absorb terrain proficiently, he would begin a pipe lesson with a very low-speed inspection run of the pipe and have the student check out its transitions and flat bottom.
Whether you are just beginning to learn freestyle or trying to dial that new trick, Woodward at Copper allows you to do it worry-free from injury. Coach James Parmer said the foam-pit-filled school’s primary focus is safety because, “before Woodward, the saying was, ‘Go big or go home,’ which was not always a good thing.
If you thought progression was emphasized with on-snow exercises, think again. Woodward’s crew works to build a student’s stance first on a gymnastics-style, spring floor before moving to trampolines. Hitting Snowflex jumps and cliffs, Parmer said, is never the goal for a student’s first class.
“We don’t want to push (students ) to do something they don’t want to do or their bodies’ not ready to do,” Parmer said. “We want it to become instinctual for people.”
Coaches improvise their progressions according to fear level, acting as spotters and putting students into harnesses in order for them achieve confidence in the exercise.
Once on the trampoline, Parmer said the students start with “bed exercises” such as seat drops and back drops, which help them understand where they are in the air. Then, you begin to work on tricks until you are ready to launch off the barn’s Snowflex kickers and into the foam pit.
Snowflex, which Parmer said is “similar to AstroTurf,” is fast and doesn’t hold much of an edge. Remember to wear long shirt and pants because it can burn your skin should you fall.
Even when students are ready for Woodward’s jumps, Parmer said they start with side-slipping and then move to straight air.
Woodward is really pushing for that, said Parmer, because he sees kids throw their biggest trick on the first run of the day and get hurt.
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