There are three kinds of older terrain-park riders: the experienced, who can still trick things up and get air; the once-experienced, who haven’t ventured onto a rail in years and figure it’s in their past; and never-evers, who’d love to give it a try but don’t know how to start. If you want to refresh your skills or learn for the first time, we’re talking to you.
Jared Winkler is the former terrain-park manager at Brighton, but he still rides terrain-park features “every day I possibly can,” he says. Winkler, a snowboarder, is 36. He no longer tempts fate with tricks like a double McTwist; these days, he just has fun—as do many of his peers.
“People like myself, who’ve been snowboarding for many years, now are out there snowboarding or skiing the parks with their kids,” he says.
Most resorts offer parks with varying levels of features—a “feature” being anything in the park that can be “hit” or slid upon—ranging from beginner to advanced. The most important rule is to never, ever let your ego get in the way. It doesn’t matter what you once were able to do. Start off small—possibly on just a small snow jump—then work your way up. Get re-accustomed to the effects of gravity and centrifugal force on skis or snowboard, based on the way your body is today.
Winkler says the best feature to start with, whether refreshing skills or trying a park for the first time, is a low-to-the-ground “fun box”—a strip of straight plastic a few feet wide. Try it first with a low center of gravity, crouching or bending your knees. With skis, point straight forward; with a snowboard, head straight down the hill and straight on (and off) the box without trying to turn before or after.
Riding onto the box can be intimidating, but not if you start easy and work your way up. Initially, avoid a takeoff where you have to time an actual jump onto the feature.
Instead, practice on a “ride-on,” where packed snow will carry you up onto the feature. “Any time you approach a feature for the first time, look it over and make sure you really want to hit it,” Winkler says. “If there’s a big pit at the end where other riders have landed, you might want to avoid that one.”
Advance next to a “flat down fun box,” which starts off flat, ignoring the angle of the hill, but then kinks downward to match the slope. The next feature-challenge advance is a “rail,” a length of metal much narrower than a box. It requires more balance and a different body position, whether on skis or a snowboard.
“Try to stay as centered as possible, while keeping your balance,” Winkler says. “Building up a little speed definitely helps. You’ll ride the rail faster, so you have a better chance of being off it before you lose your balance.”
Try a small grind rail, close to the snow. Ride sideways, down the middle of your skis or board, keeping as balanced as you can. You will slide until there’s nothing of the rail left underneath you. “You have to totally commit to a feature when you get on it,” Winkler says. “He (or she) who hesitates once aboard a feature will immediately crash and burn.”
Also remember that you can’t carve or edge on a feature that isn’t made of snow. On anything plastic or metal, the base of your skis or snowboard must be kept flat, even when turning sideways or spinning. “Always keep your feet under you,” Winkler says. “If you try to carve or edge on a box, your feet will slide out from under you.”
Always look before you leap off of or ride down a row of features. Never cut across the landing area of a feature (important advice for your buddy aiming at you with the GoPro). Always be aware of your surroundings and the locations of riders near you. Make sure there’s enough space between you and anyone in front of you.
With each practice session, you’ll get better. Within a short time, you’ll discover why playing in the park has become one of the most popular fun things to do on snow.