Riding down rails is a very strange thing for snowboarders to do. Yet they are currently the most fashionable trick for the modern snowboarder to have in his or her repertoire. How did that happen?
To answer that question we must first trace the rail riders’ lineage which, almost obviously, hails back to one of the mother sports: skateboarding. In the early 80’s skateboarding began to shed its half-pipe image and started the original movement of ‘taking it to the streets’. This involved using the urban jungle as a blank canvas. Curbs, car parks and pavements were the first to be conquered, and to this day are the equivalent of nursery slopes for skaters. After a stint with home made ramps to fly off and develop grabs, more advanced objects were brought into the fray. Handrails were a relatively late-comer to the scene, after techniques to ollie the board off the ground were perfected. Before that skaters had to throw their boards onto handrails and ‘boneless’ on to the board in a move called a ‘caveman’. With ollying mastered, rails were fair game for the forward thinking skater to ride up, jump on, slide down and skate off. With such luminaries as Mark Gonzales, Mike Vallelee and the early Bones Brigade squad, rails were tried, conquered and made the benchmark to which any skater worth their salt would aspire to.
Hence: when snowboarders started to find their own mark on the mountain they took a leaf out of the skateboarders book and started to experiment with the obstacles that appeared in their range of vision. Since the links to skating are deep, the most obvious route to take was to build jumps out of snow like the fly off ramps skaters had been building for decades. When this simple task was completed, the logical step was to ‘street’ up the mountain a little and see what else there was to attack. After experimenting with riding along trees that had been bent low to the ground in forests, and purposefully hitting objects such as snow cannons, tree stumps and protruding rocks (in what is generally known as the ‘Jib movement’) the obvious evolution was sliding the rails that littered the mountain lodges, restaurants and wintery city streets. Rail sliding as we currently know it was born.
Which is where we find ourselves now. OK, so history lesson over, we must stress that sliding down rails will always be fairly hard. The consequences are serious. A fall on twisted metal is always going to be worse than into snow, and the margin of error is slight. Yet this added element of danger, along with the fine balance and skill needed to master rail sliding is paradoxically its attraction. You’re never going to be a great snowboarder if carving down a piste is the pinnacle of your wishes. Confronting a rail and mastering it is challenging yourself and taking risks that yield high rewards from high stakes. The feeling of coming off a rail in control after sliding down in style is not to be underestimated. So how do you do it?
To start hitting rails we reckon you should be confident at turning, basic jumping and have enough confidence to be able to ride pretty much everywhere on the mountain. To be honest though, if you really do think you can do it, go for it; start gently and see what happens. If you don’t think it’s working, then simply try again when your confidence and riding levels are higher. OK, here’s how to do ‘em.