For many years, this is what I did in the terrain park: I watched. I cheered. I photographed. I scouted landings. I stayed out of the way and thought to myself, “hey, I wonder if I could do this?”
Then in 2017, I spend a morning with Jason Hartmann of the Snowmass Ski and Ride School. Officially, we were talking about terrain park safety. Unofficially, he was teaching me some rudimentary skills.
How to Learn Terrain Park Skills
I recently published a post at Liftopia called “How to Know You’re Ready for Boxes and Rails?” In it, I point out the two most important factors for learning terrain park skills: desire and progression.
The first — desire — is self-explanatory. If you want to ride park, you can ride park.
The second — progression — is also pretty easy. You aren’t going to start in the Superpipe. You’re going to start small and work your way up.
But this doesn’t mean you should ski immediately to the smallest park on the mountain either. Instead, start on the mountain.
The Mountain Is Your First Terrain Park
As with everything I write, I turn to experts for their advice.
Brian Donovan is the Director of Skiing and Riding Services at Mount Snow in Vermont, home of Carinthia, one of the top terrain parks in the country.
Donovan believes in treating the mountain as one big terrain park. This is something kids do intuitively, so it’s a good reminder for adults.
“Look for terrain that isn’t a standard, straight groomer. Practice balance as you ski over rollers or go through turns,” suggests Donovan.
Try hopping off of small moguls and skiing banked turns in the trees. Look for ways to make your skiing more dynamic. This is important because your all-mountain skills will become your park skills.
Stop. Look. Learn.
Just as watching really good skiers and riders can make you a better skier or rider, hanging out at the smallest of small terrain parks and observing beginner riders will also make you a better rider before you even ski up to a box.
To do this safely, stay well out of the way, on the margins of the park. A tip I learned from Hartmann is to look for untracked corduroy and stand there. No previous tracks equals no one skiing there.
From the sidelines, observe your kids and other riders. Notice where they stop. Notice where they don’t stop. Take note of how much speed they’re carrying. How are their skis and boards positioned? Visualize yourself doing these same thing.
Next, before you hop on the features, mirror what you’ve learned on the snow.
For example, Kevin Jordan, a PSIA Freestyle Examiner and Senior Coordinator for Snowmass Kids, suggests placing your ski poles on the snow next to a box, box width apart. Flatten your skis, commit and ski straight between the poles.
If you’re on a snowboard, don’t use the poles, but try a board slide for the length of the box. If you can do these skills, you can ride a box.
What About Jumping?
Want to jump? Lucky for you, the tips are basically the same. First, practice jumps in safe spots (know your landing!) around the mountain. When you go to the park, watch other riders to see how they jump. Mimic them. Start small and commit. Momentum is your friend.
Another option for learning any park skills is to take a lesson. One of the most challenging experiences I’ve had was a Barn session at Woodward Copper. It took all my concentration and a lot of fortitude to try some of the skills, but I did. And the next day, I was jumping in the small park.
Terrain Park Safety
I’ve got a full post on terrain park safety which you should read and review with your family before any of you go into the terrain park. It’s full of good information and riding tips, too!
Here are the highlights.
- Read. At the entrance to every park, you’ll find orange signs. Read them before you ride. If you don’t understand something, ask other riders.
- Listen. While observation is a great way to learn, listening is an important way to stay safe. “Sometimes people find themselves in landings or places they shouldn’t be. To stay safe, everyone needs to listen to each other,” explains Kevin Jordan.
- Mantra. Every time you enter the park, use this mantra: Pre-Ride, Re-Ride, Free-Ride. Take an inspection lap to see what’s new and different and to get a feel for the terrain. On your next lap, ride your chosen features at a slow pace. Repeat this lap if necessary. When you’re comfortable, ride to your level of skill.
What park skills do you have? What do you want to learn? What tips do you have to share with other parents and adults? Thanks!
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