Pros uncover the secrets to become a better, faster snowboarder | AspenTimes.com

Pros uncover the secrets to become a better, faster snowboarder

Phil Lindeman
Summit Daily News

It's a saying as old as the original Snurfer: snowboarding is hard to learn and easy to master, skiing is easy to learn and hard to master.

But is it true? Not quite. Ask any coach or professional instructor and they'll tell you the saying is way too simplistic for such complex sports. Both skiing and snowboarding are tough to learn and nearly impossible to master — and that's exactly why folks fall in love for life.

"If you have a goal and clear focus you won't find yourself all over the map, where you're doing trees one run, boxes the next run, bumps after that," said Matt Voegtle, snowboard program director for Team Summit Colorado. "You need that clear focus to really move forward."

Progression is the name of the game for skiers and snowboarders, but it's not always easy to figure out what comes next. Like Voegtle says, clear focus and determination is the first step, then come the bumps and trees and corked 1080s.

The Summit Daily sports desk talked with local instructors and coaches for tips on how to get up and over the dreaded snowboarder's plateau.

Bad habit: Forgetting all about the other edge

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Skis have twice as many edges as a snowboard, but, for some reason, it's twice as hard for beginners to manage just two.

"I think the biggest thing is that students don't realize we have two edges as snowboarders," said Bryant Boucher, the youth snowboard director for Copper Mountain Ski and Ride School. "We call them 'heelside heroes': they just hang out on their heel edge and can make it down a blue or a black, but they scrape the entire way down."

Call it heelside hero, call it perpetual falling-leaf syndrome — either way it's the first major plateau most snowboarders hit. Often, Boucher says youth snowboarders (younger than 12 years old) tend to fall into this habit. Sliding on just the toe or just the heel edge feels safe and comfortable, without the odd weight transfer that's required to link turns.

To combat this habit, Boucher suggests practicing on a green run with a mellow slope. Begin by traversing across the slope (always watch uphill for other riders) on your favorite edge, stop, then traverse back on your weak edge. When you feel comfortable, try slowly switching edges near the end of your traverse.

"I think we have a misconception that good snowboarding is fast snowboarding," Boucher said. "We really want people to work on how confidently they can go between edges, rather than just going fast down the mountain on one edge."

Bad habit: Losing your center of gravity

You've started linking turns on short greens, but they're choppy and uneven, and you still prefer one edge to the other.

Now it's time to focus on your body position. Like skis, snowboards react best when the rider keeps a consistent center of gravity: eyes forward, knees slightly bent, shoulders and head stacked directly over the feet.

Voegtle recommends thinking of your torso as a sphere: every movement you make needs to stay inside a sphere directly over your board.

"You want to keep that sphere over the board most of the time, especially in trees, bumps, powder, even the intro and intermediate park stuff," Voegtle said.

Take a common mistake: bending at the waist to turn. When you initiate a turn by leaning forward or backward, your center of gravity topples over the edges and you lose all control. It's also natural to extend both legs (aka boning out) and lose the athletic stance.

"People can get scared when they start going downhill, and that's when they let their back leg fully bend and their front leg go straight," said Terri Mayrer, head youth snowboard coach with Team Summit. "You want to keep your knees bent, stacked over the board. The only time that changes is in the powder."

Bad habit: Steering with your back foot

Again like skiing, even intermediate or advanced snowboarders can get by with bad habits. One of the most common is steering with your back foot. Boucher and Voegtle notice that riders tend to do this on harder terrain: bumps, trees and other areas that require confident edging, like terrain park jumps.

"You'll see people starting to pick the back foot and throw it around like a rudder," Boucher said. "If you start with the front foot there's less chance to catch and edge and waste yourself."

It's all about pressure: Steering with your back foot puts your weight (and center of gravity) on the tail of the board, which can cut your stability and control in half. Remember the sphere.

"You have to learn to steer your board with your feet," Voegtle said. "Once you have that athletic stance, then you can engage the upper body to throw spins, get boardslides — everything else."

Bad habit: Falling into a rut

Snowboarding is all about playfulness. It's why boards are soft and flexy and made to bend. It's als why Boucher tells advanced riders to mix up their style by riding switch, learning to Eurocarve, and adding freestyle techniques like ollies and nose or tail presses.

Not sure where to start? Then take a few runs with someone who's better than you.

"Try riding with someone new, someone who can push you," Boucher said. "There's so much you can learn just from trying new things on a snowboard."

Find the terrain

Every ski area in Summit County has greens, blues, blacks and expert terrain. But the colors don’t always match up with beginner, intermediate and advanced. Local ski instructors recommended a few of their favorite runs for anyone who wants to keep improving.

Copper

Beginner: West Village area, home to most of Copper’s green runs, a magic carpet and a two-chair leading to a terrain-based learning area with manicured features. Try Vein Glory, Easy Feelin and Scooter for short greens, Soliloquy for a long run to Roundabout.

Intermediate: Center Village area. Try nearly anything under the American Flyer lift, including Coppertone and Care Free for long greens. After your warm-up take American Eagle to Bouncer, Bittersweet and Main Vein for long blues.

Breckenridge

Intermediate: Peak 7 and upper Peak 9. Take Beaver Run SuperChair to Bonanza and Columbia, two groomed blues with bumps to the side. Take Mercury SuperChair for Upper Lehman, Briar Rose, Cashier and kid zone C.J.’s Cabin, found on Upper Lehman.

Advanced: Peak 6. To skier’s left and right of Kensho SuperChair are wide-open bowls (hike-to and not) that funnel into blues Déjà Vu, Euphoria and Delirium. Every run is lined with tree for exploring. They’re wide up top and get tighter near the lift base, so have an exit plan.

Keystone

Beginner: Mountain House base area. Like West Village it’s home to a surface lift and beginner-only terrain features. It’s also self-contained (no upper blues or blacks). Ranger Chair at the top of the gondola is longer and can eventually connect to Schoolmarm, the 3.5-mile top-to-bottom run.

Intermediate: The entire frontside, says ski and ride school director Jeff Lifgren. Spring Dipper and Santa Fe are long blues with alternately steep and mellow pitches. Progress from there to Paymaster, Wild Irishman, Frenchman and Dutchman, most named for long-gone mining claims from the area.

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