While park kickers are all well and good, everyone knows that it’s the backcountry that provides the truest test of a rider’s spinning skills. Spotting natural hits and stomping tricks off them requires not only all a shredder’s technical skill, but also a creative eye and an ability to think on the spot. Unlike park kickers, you can’t just catch the button back up to hit cliff s, pillows or rock drops a second time, so the tricks you try off them need to be dialled and stomped first time. With the snow lying deep and thick and un-even on the ground at this time of year, we thought this would be a good time for school to focus on building these skills. To help with this, we’ve enlisted the help of Gigi Rüf. Widely recognised as one of the best riders of natural terrain in the world today, this unassuming Austrian supply teacher is the perfect man to show you how to spin off cliffs.
CHOOSING YOUR CLIFF DROP
It can be very tempting to see a cliff as you’re honing it down a face and just think “I may as well give that a go". This is seriously unwise. For starters, it’s unlikely you’ll have had a chance to look at it properly if you hit it on the first descent. Even if you stop and peek over the edge, there’s no guarantee you’ll be OK - cliff s can look very different from the top, and a protruding bit of rock could be hiding something seriously nasty underneath. On top of this, even if the snow is deep on the rest of the face, there’s no guarantee it will be deep on the landing. Cliff s oft en act as a snow shelter, leaving the rocks underneath uncovered by snow. Rocks don’t make for a forgiving landing. It’s always best to ride past first, have a good look before you ride it, and check the depth of the snow underneath. Even if you feel happy letting a riding buddy or photographer scope it for you, it can still be worth looking at it yourself – you can avoid relying on vague descriptions shouted back up the hill by using two-way radios, but in the end, different people will always have very different ideas of what’s do-able.
To do any of these this month’s tricks, you need to be comfortable riding and jumping in powder. It also helps if you have these spins dialled off regular kickers first. Spinning off cliff s requires a technique similar to hitting step-down jumps, which are more difficult than regular kickers. And there’s no point trying to run before you can walk, is there?
1) For this trick, you’ll be taking off switch, so it’s good to practice riding powder with the ‘wrong’ foot forward, before you find your cliff.
2) When you find your cliff of choice make sure you scope out the landing carefully before you hit it. See the 'Spotlight On' section (left) for some scoping tips. It’s worth checking the depth of the snow underneath the cliff before you hurl yourself into oblivion.
3) Once you’re sure your landing is OK, head back up and approach the edge of the cliff switch, with enough speed to clear it.
4) Keep crouched as you approach the lip – your body will naturally extend as you come off a step-down jump like a cliff, and you don’t want to be completely upright in the air.
In the air
5) Leave the lip with your weight very slightly over your heel edge, opening up your body as you pop. Because cliffs are effectively step-downs – and because the lip is powdery rather than solid - you may find you have to pop a bit more than usual.
6) As your board twists to follow your open shoulders, start bringing them back the other way so you don’t over-rotate. This should happen naturally as you look towards your landing.
7) You want to be landing slightly on your back foot so that you don’t nose under in the powder.
8) Bend your knees and suck up the landing. Ride away with a clean track behind you and a big grin on your face!
Picking the right spot to drop is all-important for all of these tricks. Make sure you’re comfortable with the size of the cliff, bearing in mind that that because of your speed, you will actually be dropping further than the height of the cliff face. A good way to get an idea of your actual trajectory is to stand on the lip of the cliff and throw a snowball off. Watch where it lands and judge your speed accordingly.