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Not to rub it in or anything, but my home mountain of Avoriaz opened today and I went snowboarding. Unfortunately this year I made the decision to buy a powder board. As a result, there's definitely a lot less snow than when I turned up last year on opening day with my brand new *ahem* park board. So, we can be fairly sure I've cursed us all to a winter of slush and rocks.
No matter though, snowboarding is still the most fun you can have, even if you are just charging groomers and giving yourself brain freeze from on-piste face shots. Even better, it opened with a park! Not an Olympic-themed monster like Stubai, but still enough rails and kickers to get us hyped/terrified.
Seeing as I’ve already written about how to make the most of a powder day, I thought it would be prudent to write an updated version for that little niche of the resort, the snow park. Shame, fear, pain and excuses are all essential parts of the experience. But here’s how to minimise that side of things and get the most high fives, smiles, whoops and stoke possible - all while hanging with the raddest people on the mountain.
[part title="Timing is everything"]
Unlike The Matrix, you can’t learn snowboarding while at home. Read all the trick tips you like but the only way to get better is hours on the hill. Just like getting fresh tracks on a pow day, the early bird does catch the worm - for the aerial riders anyway. If kickers are your thing, the best time to get airborne is in the morning. The cold lingering on from the night makes it soooo much easier to get speed up, plus freshly groomed take-offs and landings are easier to dial new spins on than the rutted carcasses you’ll find later in the day. After all, ski dads do make a habit of snow-ploughing up the run ins and eroding the knuckle when they hit it funny hat first.
However, if you wear your pants tight with a shoelace belt, hit the slopes with a balaclava/sunglasses combo and love urban jibbing, I’d hit the snooze button a few times. Hitting rails is daunting at the best of times, let alone when they’re surrounded by sheet ice. Let the afternoon sun soften everything up a bit and then ride through the sunset. Nothing beats it.
It has been covered on Whitelines a thousand times, but nothing makes me want to drill it into people’s skulls as much as a family having a picnic on a feature (actually a regular occurrence in Avoriaz’s parks) or finding myself flying towards someone creating a playlist just over the knuckle of a jump. Parks have rules, most of which are pure common sense. Nonetheless, people still wander around like there’s isn't a 12 stone snowboarder with a metal edge heading towards them at speed... Make sure you know what’s what (just check out this etiquette guide) before you hit the park, and educate the uninitiated anyway you see fit...
[part title="Dress Code"]
An essential part of etiquette is the dress code. Nowhere else on the mountain has a greater concentration of fashion police than the park, so if you want park respect, you'd better dress right. From your uber-gangstas in knee-grazing swag and matching Skullcandy headphones to park gypsies sporting whale-watching hats and ultra-practical patchwork jeans, you better find your clan and get down to your local Primark to make sure you fit right in. Otherwise, you risk getting pushed to the back of the lift line. But seriously, for a sport that gushes endlessly about ‘pushing the boundaries of creativity and self-expression,’ you’d think what pants you’re wearing wouldn’t make a difference.
[part title="Progression Session"]
Unless you're really at the park just to show off your new hoody/pants combo, you probably want to learn a thing or two while you’re there.
There are lots of ways of looking at progression from strict training regimes to James O’Hara’s recently published method. I recently met up with an old riding buddy, and even though it had only been a couple of months since I'd last time seen him ride, I was impressed by how much his style had improved in such a short time.
After lecturing me for an hour on how Austrian parks are so much better than French ones, he revealed that he started watching several pros riding his local big jump and spent at hour or two a day, practising the same small spins with different grabs. Gradually he worked his way up to super-smooth sevens.
Everyone is different and will have their own theories. My personal experience is that I can only learn something if I’m in a good mood. I find it damn near impossible to land anything, let alone learn new stuff if I’m angry or hungry (or "hangry"). So keep well fed and stay stoked!
[part title="Watch and learn"]
The very best way to learn new stuff is watch and listen to people that can already do it. Most prodigies come up under the wing of a seasoned pro or two, which is why fitting into and embracing park life and etiquette actually is quite important.
Just like you'll get better at riding powder by trying to keep up with more experienced riders, you’ll rapidly progress to the big boy kickers and rails if you make a few accomplished mates along the way. Having rad friends only increases the fun you’ll have, so don’t be put off by the mean-looking shredder in the facemask. He’s probably only fourteen anyway. Throw away your inhibitions. Get talking to fellow riders and get radder!
[part title="No complaining!"]
Unless you’re lucky enough to frequent Keystone with its three or four ‘rake breaks’ every day, chances are most parks you encounter will suffer from a little wear and tear, especially French parks.
Rutted lines into jumps, non-existent lips onto rails and huge divots in every landing are all parts of the game, even more so during springtime park laps. For most, this induces blinding rage directed towards the oblivious park crew, who sit in a cloud of smoke before copping off early and heading towards the nearest bar.
But I have another way - embrace it! Reshape your own lips or get creative and put them in a different place. Use bomb holes as a continuation of a feature rather than just an annoyance at the end. Find new lines off jumps to the sides or learn some hand drags and frontflips off the knuckles. Where there's snow and a board, there will be fun and creativity.
[part title="Keep it fresh"]
Lastly, there's nothing that kills park fun like your favourite stalefish going, well, stale. Always try and mix it up between tricks and features. If you find you’re cranking out the same stuff again and again, try pushing yourself to do something new. There’s nothing like that feeling of accomplishment you get from nailing a new trick or feature. If you really do find yourself out of stuff to do, kick back with a beer and watch the aforementioned skier dads nails themselves on some boxes. And for god’s sake, if it ever does snow again, get out the park and find some freshies...