From the first day many of us step foot on the hill, we dream of taking the chair lift for the first time, getting to the top of the mountain, and riding all the way down carefree. We also know that it takes hard work and hours on the mountain to improve. The leap from being a beginner snowboarder to the intermediate level can be intimidating and inaccessible. This is maybe one of the most difficult stages because it’s hard to feel independent in snow sports when you still feel like you need a lot of guidance.
Snow sports are well gate-kept and expensive. Ski hills tend to be remote and challenging to get to, so it can be difficult to know how to improve. But don’t despair! Our resident snowboard instructor Char Harris has compiled their most important tips on how to bridge the beginner-intermediate gap in snowboarding.
For skiers, click here to read How to Bridge the Beginner to Intermediate Gap in Skiing.
Goal #1: Riding More Dynamically
Why: We have a saying in instructing, “There’s no such thing as a good or bad turn, just more or less efficient ones.” Can we find joy in less efficient movements? Absolutely. But if you’re yearning for more—for that sweet, sweet feeling of making your body move through turns of all kinds with a powerful grace, these are the turns you’ve been looking for. More dynamic turns allow us more precision and control on more technical terrain like steeps, bumps, trees, or narrow trails. They might even, dare I say, make you like snowboarding more.
What does dynamic riding look like? It looks like your lower body (the part closest to that thing on your feet) leading the charge down the hill before the upper body. It looks like your head and shoulders keeping still while the lower body does most of the work. What does dynamic riding feel like? It’ll feel like less emergency-braking on the heel edge and more like keeping a consistent speed the whole way down.
Try this: Making turns the size of two cat tracks wide, practice bending the knees a lot (like almost a proper squat) while still moving across the hill about 2 seconds before changing edges, hold this position to then flatten the board downhill to roll onto the new edge. Once you’re on the new edge, your reward is to stand up out of that squat. Rinse and repeat with the next turn. After getting into a rhythm, try making smaller and smaller turns having the most knee-bending when changing edges.
Pro tip: A common thing that happens is the heebie-jeebies (technical term) creep in as you make turns smaller. Causing the front knee to creep toward the center of the board and taking needed pressure off the front of the board. To correct this, think about bending your front knee out toward your pinky toe on toeside turns; and letting your front hip or butt cheek sit into the turn before any other body part on heelside turns.
Goal #2: Confidence on Steeper Terrain
Why: You’ve decided that green circles and blue squares aren’t enough and you need more, or you accidentally rolled onto a black (that you really think should actually be labeled a double) and you don’t ever want to ever feel that unprepared again. Using upper and lower body separation, making small turns becomes easier, which is how we’ll be able to get down the very steep hill without gaining a terrifying amount of unadulterated speed.
What does upper and lower body separation look like? It’ll look like your front shoulder pointing down at the bottom of the run the whole time, while you move the board from edge to edge underneath you, so that the board and your hips finish each turn pointing across the hill—opposite to where your front shoulder is pointing. What will upper and lower body separation feel like? It’ll feel like building and releasing tension in your spine as you twist your lower spine via hips [opposite of the upper spine and shoulders] to move the board.
Try this: Start by standing at the top of a steep or steep-ish pitch on your heelside edge. Now, twist your upper spine and shoulders so that your front shoulder is pointing toward the bottom of the slope. Keep your shoulders locked in this direction the best you can as you start to move your board underneath you. Your goal now is to twist your hips and lower spine to pivot your board from heel edge to toe edge and back and forth until you get sick of doing this drill. Eventually you will make less of a pivot-y move and a more intentional small turn.
Pro tip: The more flexion you have in your knees and lower you are to the snow makes it easier to do this movement, you’ll also feel more control the more bend you have in your knees and ankles.
Goal #3: Riding Switch
Why: Learning to ride switch is crucial if the next stop on your snowboarding journey is to start park riding, especially if you plan to do anything that involves rotation. You should be comfortable riding to or away from features depending on what your loftier freestyle goals are. Plus learning to ride switch is a fun way to humble yourself if you need your ego checked.
Try this: Another fun saying in instructing is “up a skill down a hill”. When trying to learn switch riding, it’s best to go back to an easy green run. Start by making “garlands” across the hill on each edge, where you practice flattening your board downhill, and then pressuring back onto the same edge, ghosting that turn like you did your date from 2 weeks ago. Practice doing this on both edges until the heebie-jeebies start to feel less awkward. (I really can’t promise it’ll ever feel “good”, only that it’ll eventually feel less weird?)
Pro tip: Switch riding gives people the same heebie-jeebies that getting on steep terrain does. So the advice here is going to be similar. Keeping that front knee flexed and not letting it chicken out is going to give you the most success. So think about keeping it pushed out to the front pinky toe, and let the lower body move downhill before the upper body.
Goal #4: The Park
Why: Honestly, no one knows, but you’re either an adrenaline junkie or you saw The Uninvited 1-3 and now you’re ready for the streets.
Try this: Always start small. Ride-on features and small jumps are where you want to begin. Read the signage and learn the park code. So far in this blog, I’ve mentioned a few times that your hips will ultimately steer the snowboard, this is especially important in the park. When approaching a box, rail, or jump, it’s vital to keep your hips parallel to the board which should be pointed straight at the lip of the feature. If you allow your shoulders and hips to open up and point in a new direction, guess which direction the board is going to go as soon as it leaves the ground?
We’ve also covered the importance of bending our knees. This is incredibly vital in the park, too. Your knees should be bent when approaching a feature, they will extend a bit as you leave the lip of a jump, and even less when doing a 50/50 across a rail or box, but when it’s time to prepare for landing, make sure you suck your knees back up to your belly button as you head into the landing. When dismounting rails or boxes, there’s no need to jump off the end, let your board slide off onto the landing and soften it by allowing your lower joints (hips, knees, ankles) to bend a bit.
Pro tip: Even if no one else is doing it, always call your drop in—it’s the only way anyone else is going to know you’re about to go. Be respectful of the features and only catch air on designated jumps. The little ones that lead up to a rail or box are not for jumping, they are specifically designed to access the box or rail; when we “side-hit” them or use them in ways they aren’t intended for, we degrade the integrity of the lip, making it less safe for people trying to ride the feature correctly. You’ll also save the hardworking park crew a headache when it’s time to re-shape.
Ultimately, skiing and riding should spark joy, so make sure you’re managing your frustration by saying kind things to yourself, taking breaks, and knowing when to switch tasks when the challenge outweighs the joy.
If you have the means to do so, investing in a 2-hour private lesson here and there to help with specific goals is a great way to advance on your journey. We recommend requesting a Level 1-certified or higher woman or non-binary instructor to get the best experience. Outside of on-snow practice to help us level up, there are many great online resources that can help you with shred-specific exercises such as our blog on how to get in shape for winter, plus our how-to video for strengthening our bodies for snowboarding. And Ski Babes has a great course to get stronger and in shape for the season, check it out here. However, other activities like yoga, pilates, martial arts, and other strength-training workouts will help you get ready to feel your best once you step foot on the mountain.
Char Harris is an AASI-certified Level 3 instructor with 17 years of teaching experience and 7 years of experience training other instructors.