We're kicking off a new video tutorial series here at Whitelines: Powder Basics with James Stentiford - the first Brit ever to compete on the Freeride World Tour. Over the next few weeks we'll be bringing you all the knowledge you'll need to get you started in the deep stuff, or even improve your techniques if you've already made some tracks.
After you've mastered turning and slashing, it's time to start tackling one of the hardest and scariest - but most rewarding - aspects of riding powder: dropping cliffs.
Watch the video above, but we've also included some of the most important bits from the WL Basics below to help you out even more.
Cliff Drops Don't Require a Huge Amount of Skill
Instead, they ask for commitment, and balls. If you've got the confidence to try them, you'll land them easy. First find the perfect 'learner' cliff: something a little over head high, with a flat (ish) take-off and a vertical cliff face so you don’t have to clear any objects. Although riders more experienced than yourself will try to persuade you that anything under 20 foot isn't a cliff and so isn't worth bothering with, ignore them. It's all getting the technique dialled in the beginning.
"Cliff drops don't require a huge amount of skill. They ask for commitment, confidence, and balls"
Look For a Nice Steep Landing
The steeper the better; it might seem less intimidating to drop onto the flat, but the secret all pros know is that a steep landing disperses the impact and ‘catches’ you as you fall. Flat landings mean broken knees!
Make Sure the Snow is Deep Enough
Under no circumstances should your drop be attempted when there is anything less than a foot of powder. Ideally, you want a couple of feet of fresh to cushion the landing.
Scope Everything Out First
Hike above the cliff (always unstrap and look at your cliff from the top – you need to check out where you're going to go) and pat down the take off with your board to make sure there's no spiky rock that might catch your base as you go over the lip.
There’s no way of describing what happens when strap in, and ride towards the edge. You’ve just got to do it. The right speed varies with the cliff, but you shouldn’t go tanking in; something like jogging speed is usually good. Be confident, and as you go over, focus on keeping the board flat. If you can ride off a 2-foot drop and land with your board in the same position as you took off, then take this same movement to your bigger cliff. Essentially ride off it, don’t do a massive ollie, and don’t lean forwards, sideways or backwards. Just suck up your legs a little and stay compact.
There's Nothing More You Can Do
You're in the air and falling, so try not to sit down and bail – concentrate on keeping your weight centered and your board flat. Don't panic and turn 90 degrees, it’s essential that you keep pointing right down the fall line. If you’re going for a grab, now’s the time to reach for it. As you approach the landing, extend your legs again in preparation to ‘catch’ it. In reality things will happen very quickly so you will be relying heavily on instinct. Go with it. You’ll be surprised how natural it feels to be dropping cliffs.
"Go with it. You’ll be surprised how natural it feels to be dropping cliffs."
Here Comes The Landing
Try and put your tail down first, keep your weight centered and keep both legs strong. Some riders push against the landing as they hit the floor. Don't try and absorb too much of the landing with your knees – let the snow do the compressing – or else you risk putting too much weight over your nose (which will result in some forward rolls/cartwheels). So much of landing a cliff is in your head – think “strong legs, I WILL land this" and more often than not that confidence will carry you through.
Ride It Out
If all has gone well, your board should be pointing straight downhill, and you'll be travelling at speed, so give yourself a second or two to adjust – don’ try to turn or kill your speed as you will more than likely lose control. Ride out and gradually dump your speed with a huge powder slash all over your gawping friends and then go and find more cliffs. You're hooked!