James Streater has been a snowboard instructor since 1998, teaching in both Europe and the USA. As a natural development of these coaching skills, James established Maverix Snow Camp in 2007. Maverix provides high quality year round snowsports coaching in the UK and Europe, offering members a discount on their camps.
Part 1 - Trick Progression
During our snowboarding careers we have all at some point asked someone about how to do a trick. Invariably I have found that they could not breakdown a trick into manageable chunks so I could easily achieve the desired result. Their descriptions were a little too general, for example “yeah, just keep looking over your shoulder”
That coupled with the fact that freestyle scared the shit out of me, did not help my progression. I was never gifted enough to just watch someone and mimic their moves.
So what did I do? Well, I took a step back and thought about the elements that made up a trick. Think of all the movements in snowboarding being a massive box of Lego. A combination of different seemly odd bricks could make something really cool. Seemly obscure skills can come into play as you develop your freestyle potential.
I commonly refer to these obscure blocks of skills as ‘Trick Progression’. You can start with the basics, build your confidence and ability and you will be better prepared to achieve the results you want. You would be surprised at how the most basic manueovers can be applied to other facets of riding.
For example... let’s break down the movements in getting off a chair lift:
You run the board straight and flat with initially little or no edging and you are stacked, balanced and flexed over you board, looking in the direction of travel.
Where do you think that body position and movement could be used in freestyle?
A 50/50 uses the similar skill set.
Therefore just through normal riding on the hill you have skills to be applied elsewhere.
With these progressions you develop your muscle memory and confidence to a stage where you will be ready to work on the actual movement you want to achieve.
Phases of a Trick
Once you have worked on your progressions you should be ready to visualizing the trick. If you see yourself achieving the right result then you are more likely to make it happen. I use the American system referred to as ATML. Approach, Takeoff, Maneuver and Landing to help break down moves into their component elements. The US Park and Pipe Instructors Guide sums these up as:
- This phase includes everything the rider does before jumping, grinding the rail, or dropping into the halfpipe.
- In this phase the rider enters the ‘action zone’ transitioning from preparation to actual maneuver. This might entail airing over a gap, mounting a rail, or boosting out of the pipe.
- This phase, as you might expect, is where the rider does the actual trick, which requires style, control, and planning movement regardless of whether the goal is a straight run on a fun box or a high launch and spin in the superpipe
- In this phase, the rider seeks to come back to earth in balance, and with the absorption and speed control that sets up the next move, whether it’s another hit in the pipe or a clean ride away from the rail or jump.
The ATML System
Part 2 - Backside Boardslides
I feel a backside boardslide is one of the most important rail tricks to develop, yet for many is it a time consuming and frustrating trick to master. The ‘backside’ phase refers to your body in relation to your approach to the rail. For this move is means that your back is to the rail as you ollie onto the rail (side on). It is also used to describe a standard boardslide where you ride straight onto the rail. This guide will be focused on the ride on approach to backside boardslides.
Many people find it tough to jump and rotate the body into a boardslide position. Try doing it on the piste. Stop on your heel edge. Drop straight and flat. Pop up, rotate and land on your heels, balance and come to a stop. Obviously you are not landing on a flat base, but we are working on your rotation skills. Then from that position pop back into the fall line. That will get you working on your landing as well. You can do land into switch as well as normal to broaden your skills. You do not need to be going fast for this exercise.
By far the most common issue with boardslides is maintaining a flat base. The problem we have is everything we learn about snowboarding is that when we are facing down the slope we should be balanced on our heels.
It is quite tough the practice both a flat base and movement without trying a boardslide. One way is to utilise your riding surroundings. One of the best impromptu sessions I had was using an ice rink to practice boardslides etc. Obviously we do not all have access to an ice rink, but I know for sure that there is plenty of ice at most ski resorts and indoor slopes.
So if there is a patch of relatively smooth ice, try the body rotation move and work on keeping the board relatively flat and maintaining balance. Be careful with this move, as mistakes can still happen.
ATML for Backside Boardslides
Pick a spot from which you can drop relatively straight into the feature. You should have a solid, flexed and relaxed stance. Watch other people dropping in prior to your attempt, so you can gauge the suitable speed. The speed is generally similar to a 50/50.
As you are moving up the face of the kicker slightly rotate your shoulders to face the rail. Generally your board will follow the position of your shoulders. After you pop the board should more easily rotate into a boardslide position. I generally take off with equal weight between both feet, with a slight pressure on my toes to make popping easier. This stance will also make your landing more stable.
The toughest thing about boardslide is keeping a flat base. Try not to bottle it and sit down. Keep a strong posture, making sure your butt does not hang out too much as that will make you unstable. Look at the end of the rail, as that is your goal. A little bit of speed will help you. If you are too slow you generally slide off the rail or slide out on your butt.
Additional Manoeuvre View
It is very rare for people to catch their toe edge on the rail. So do not be afraid to push your shins into your boots to help you keep your weight forward.
People often find it difficult to commit to a full boardslide, so build up. I often get people to work on nose slides as a partial move towards effective rotation and pressure which is key for future rail trick development.
With the flexed and stable posture you have adopted through the boardslide, you should be able to pop up nicely to free yourself from the rail and give you enough air time to rotate your board back under you. Most of the time people just slide off the end of the rail and land on their butts as everything comes at them too quickly. Your body rotation progression should have prepared you for this.
You have two options for landing, ride away switch or revert back to normal. Generally the body wants to follow in the direction of established motion, so it is sometimes easier to ride away switch. If you are comfortable in switch, then that is the preferred option. It looks stylish and shows great board control.
If you want to revert back to normal, then you will need to use a little bit of upper and lower body separation. Bring your shoulder around to be in line with the direction of travel and as you pop off the feature, give your legs a little whip to bring them back under and in line with your new shoulder position. Once again your body rotation progression will help with this.
Part 3 - Range of Motion
Range of motion is the way in which you can move your body to help you achieve successful freestyle tricks. We all understand that the body can rotate and flex etc in lots of different ways. The most successful riders have an ability to manipulate their body and the board in ever more extreme ways.
This diagram shows you the basic ranges of motion for a snowboarder:
In my experience, many snowboarders have a limited range of motion. They developed a good basic stance when they learnt to ride, but they very rarely experiment with the board. They ride quite stiff with limited life and pop. Experimenting with the board means you can develop key skills and apply them to other more obvious aspects of riding.
As we discussed last month, progressions build confidence and solid foundations for freestyle. The beauty of snowboarding is that it is about having fun and playing with the board.
The easiest way to work on your range of motion is butters, ollies, nollies and basic rotations on the slope.
Work with your mates on games like ‘follow the leader’. They do some moves on the slope and you have to mirror them.
Part 4- Backside 180
The backside 180 is one of the most relaxed and best feeling tricks in the book. That being said, it is quite a tough trick to get right.
Working on your switch riding would be a great start. You do not need to be killing it in switch, but you need to be able to ride away from the jump and not revert too quickly into your regular direction, as that will loose you those vital style points.
The most common issue I see with backside 180’s in the upper and lower body becoming separated in the rotation. You should be aiming for the whole body to move as one solid unit. Think of preparing for a punch in the stomach. Your core is tight and solid.
Have a look at this picture and see how the separation can make you unstable in the air.
You can work on the rotation, whilst you ride down the hill. Turn across the hill on your toe edge, and pop and rotate, turning your back in the direction of travel, and complete your 180. You will land on your heels. Then if you want, complete a new turn in switch and then try and switch backside 180.
The key is to try and not over rotate. You will achieve that by maintaining your body as a solid unit, and looking back to where you have come from. Most often as soon as you look round to where you are going you will rotate your body.
Straight Run Backside 180
Once you have that move dialled, you can work on riding down the hill straight and working your ollie to help you do the backside 180. See the picture below:
Notice how the shoulders, hips, knees and board stay in line as the rotation is carried out. Have a look at David’s head position. Even though he has landed, he does not rotate his head round to look in the direction of travel until his board is settled and he had moved away from the rotation point. Plus he does not keep looking in the direction of travel to begin with, as that would cause his body to separate and stall the rotation.
If you can dial your backside 180’s like this then you should be able to easily get them off a jump.
You will be using a similar speed to that of a straight air. Either try some airs or watch other riders, so you can gauge the speed. Try not to make too many turns on the approach, as that will reduce your speed and make you more likely to hit the knuckle of the jump.
You can use your approach to help the rotation. The following diagram illustrates this point:
Keep your body solid and strong. You should be leaving the lip slightly on your toe edge, but still straight. You should have equal weight between both feet. Everything for the 180 will be achieved at the takeoff. If you keep looking to the direction of travel you will not rotate. Try and look back at the lip of the jump, or between your legs to spot your landing. As you can see I have just left the takeoff and I am moving for the grab and keeping my body solid and not separating.
Going for a grab will stabilise your spin and make it less likely that your will separate your body. Use a grab to aid your rotation. A couple of the nicest grabs are an Indy (back hand toe edge) or Melon (front hand heel edge).
As mentioned before try not to put too much effort into the move. Look back at the lip of the jump, or at your landing zone between your legs. I am going for an Indy grab, and am focused on spotting my landing between my feet.
Generally you will be landing blind on a backside 180. This is where your confidence riding switch will come into play. The aim is to ride away for a brief moment, not seeing where you are going, then look up and round, and most likely you will rotate round into your normal riding direction.
Try to be nice and flexed, so you can absorb your landing, and not be bucked. You will want to try and land slightly on your toes to control the rotation. If you land a little too heavy and flatten out your base, then is a chance you will catch you heel edge. Plus quite often, as soon and your base goes flat you over rotate.
You can see I am nice and flexed and have cleared the knuckle of the jump. I am focused on my landing spot rather than worrying about what is ahead of me. To that extent make sure you have a good deal of run out room, so you do not look up and suddenly see a crowd of people in your way.
Part 5 - Frontside 360
A smooth frontside 360 looks awesome but it does require some commitment and refinement to dial smoothly. The great thing about this trick, is that you can work on the key elements whilst riding normally. You can achieve a frontside 360 jumping off your toes as well as your heels. I am going to focus on what I consider to be the smoother approach by explaining the heel side take off method, i.e. the edge on the inside of the rotation.
Just in case you are not too aware a frontside 360 is the rotation turning your chest in the direction of travel, i.e. a goofy rider would rotate right and a regular rider would rotate left.
Start by working on the standard flatland 360. Firstly ride along on your heels across the hill and start to turn back up the hill on your heel edge. As your board starts to slow down, keep looking over your front shoulder and start to transfer from your heel edge to your toe edge. Keep looking round and the board will come round, completing a 360.
Once you have the basic flatland rotation dialled, then start to think about shifting your weight over the tail of the board as you start the turn up the hill. This way as your board starts to slow as you go up the hill, you can used the stored energy from the tail press to enable you to pop and rotate the board round for the final 180. You are aiming to go from taking off on your heels to landing on your toes to ride away. Remember to keep focused on moving your head around to aid the pop.
Kicker Approach Rotations
Up until now you will be achieving this rotation across the hill. Now you should try to adjust your take off angle, so that you can do the spin off a roller. You are aiming to leave the roller going almost straight down the hill. This is tough, but a great preparation for rotating off a kicker.
ATML for Frontside 360s
I have been helping people with frontside 3’s for a while and I have noticed two main things that hold people back on this rotation. One is people’s approach to the lip of the kicker and the second is peoples commitment to look over their front shoulder to initiate the rotation.
The approach is the key with this move. You are aiming to leave the jump going straight, yet you need to be on your heel edge. Use a couple of setup turns to assist. This is the opposite approach to your back side 180 from last month. As you can see from the photo I am on my toes in a solid stance getting ready to transfer onto my heel edge to initiate the rotation. Due to the mild carve up the face of the jump you will need to take in slightly more speed than you would for a straight air.
The key to this trick is the takeoff. It can be so tempting to start carving up the face of the jump as that makes you think you are helping your rotation by starting earlier. What you are actually doing is loosing all your speed and stored up pop in the tail, so you are likely to knuckle the jump and only achieve a 270.
As you approach you should be thinking calm thoughts. Be patient. Focus on the lip of the jump and try not to initiate the pop until your nose is really close to the lip of the jump. As you can see from the shots I have not initiated the rotation until I have left the lip.
In the second shot you can see I have focused on looking right and going for the grab. I find the Indy grab helps to keep my body compact and more solid in the air. I generally start with a no grab to make sure I can get the rotation, then work up to a grab. If you’re have trouble grabbing, think about pushing your knees apart towards the nose and tail of the board to open space between your knees to enable a grab without breaking too much at the waist. As you may notice I am slightly hunched to reach the board, which is not ideal.
When you leave the lip you have to focus on looking over your lead shoulder, or you will do the classic 90 in the air and land on your heels or your butt. In addition try not to lean back too much to pressure the tail up the face of the jump, as you will most likely just fly off the lip horizontal. As you can see I am not leaning back to pressure the tail.
If you have your approach and the take off right, this trick is easy. You can get super pop and the board floats round really easily. If you have to work hard for it, then revisit your approach and take-off.
There are loads of options for grabs. I often go for the Indy as I can tweak it nicely. Melon can help to speed up the rotation and give you something extra when going for 5’s. Nose or tail grabs are super fun.
Once you have a grab you should start to think about spotting your landing. I often end up looking down at the ground near the end of the rotation to make sure I have cleared the knuckle.
Your landing is similar to that of a backside 180, in that you will be blind to where you are travelling. Once you have spotted your landing you can release the grab, and that will slow your rotation.
You are aiming to try and land with even weight between both feet, so you do not skid out.
Try to land on your toe edge so if you do not get a full 360 you can still ride away cleanly.
Part 6 - Frontside Boardslides
Frontside boardslides are one of the coolest looking rail tricks around. However, they are not that easy, so some solid progressions will be the key to making sure you do not need a new set of knee caps after your first few attempts.
Balance and Body Rotation
The frontside boardslide (Front B/S) requires the upper and lower body to separate, i.e. board travelling backwards down the rail, yet your upper body is facing the direction of travel as much as possible. Check out this shot of Mike McKellar (Maverix coach) to show you the classic pose.
Jumping into this position can often be fraught with disaster for the newbie to rail riding, as quite often you place too much weight on your toes and the edge slides out on you. In addition you can be super unlucky and catch your heel edge, as you jump too aggressively into the position.
The best bet is to work on the position on a static feature. At a recent One Trick Pony session, we worked on Front B/Ss, and we setup a basic rail with some rubber mats to enable us to jump into the right position.
This enabled everyone to work on their balance and confidence early on and we found it to be really effective in building the skills required. You need not do this with a rail. A flat bin lid or small block of wood could do the trick. You will get super tired trying this, so pace yourself.
Have a look at Jeff’s posture, we can notice some key points for the trick.
- Front knee bend. He is bending his front knee to pin him onto the rail. A lower centre of gravity will mean less balance issues.
- Front foot over the rail. I find just getting your front foot on the rail feels most comfortable. Trying a Front B/S on a wide feature and feeling my heel edge scrapping on the metal can be very unnerving. Plus if you slip out on your toe edge, then you have more chance of riding away.
- Back hand to front knee. This aids the body separation and keeping a more centred stance.
- Eyeball the end of the rail. Jeff is focused on his board. Try to look at your goal which should be the end of the rail.
- Board 90 degrees to the rail. This is super tough, but as you get more confident then start to teak the board further round to the ultimate steeze position.
On Rail Body Rotation
I am not a big believer in riding onto a rail in a 50/50 position then shifting your weight on the rail into your desired position. However, I did notice this helping some of the riders. You could use this as a warm up to the move if required.
Try to select a box feature to start this move. It should not be too low to the ground, as quite often you will have a lazy back leg, that could drag on the floor if the rail is too low. Do not choose anything too long, as the longer you are on the rail the more likely you are to slide out on an edge. The box shown below is ideal. Not massive, a solid flat top with filled in sides to avoid catching you board under the box.
ATML for Frontside Boardslides
The approach is similar to a 50/50. Not a lot of speed. I often flex my front knee on the approach to make sure that I am ready to give it a good bend when I try the move.
The enable me to more easily jump into the position, I takeoff just a little to the side of the rail. This way you move into the position and are less likely to jump into a full boardslide (potential heel catch move). Being goofy I approach and have the edge of the box or rail, just inline with my toe edge.
I am aiming to pop with even weight, just a little off my toes to enable a smooth takeoff.
You should be able to pop into the Frontside B/S position straight away and hold it in a relaxed fashion. Think about the points we mentioned earlier. Be nice and low through a knee bend, not bending at the waist. Back hand to front knee. Eyeball the end of the rail. Front foot just on the rail.
You can also aim to pull up your back leg to help deliver weight to your front foot and to stop you for falling off the rail to early.
If you have the right level of knee bend then you should be able to push off the rail to enable you to get enough air time to land and ride away in your normal position.
If you have the knee bend working well, then you can start to think about spinning off the rail. However, be careful with this move, I have seen loads of boards damaged by the infamous earlier pretzel out.
Part 7 - Nosepress