As there are many ways to enjoy the snow (snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing), there are many ways to snowboard. Some of them are described below.
As with skiing, you can cruise on the mountain with a snowboard, taking each trail as it comes. If you take the lift to the top and ride back down, without hitting the terrain park, you’re probably cruising. Cruising often takes place on groomed slopes.
Snowboarding’s historical connection to skateboarding is most apparent in freestyle, the stuff of video games and television commercials. The emphasis is on catching air, spinning, or performing other tricks. In competitive versions of freestyle, riders are judged on technical difficulty, style, and height (how far they are above the ground or manmade feature).
Freestyle riding often occurs in a halfpipe, a semi-circular trench in the ground that looks like–you guessed it–the bottom half of a pipe. The word “superpipe” is a term of hype, referring to whatever the standard of the day is for halfpipes, in terms of width and height. You may also encounter the term “stunt ditch,” which refers to a halfpipe that may be constructed by hand, poorly constructed, smaller, and not ideally shaped.
Freestyle riding can also occur in a terrain park, which positions manmade objects (tables, handrails, etc.) for snowboarders use in jumps and acrobatics. Professional freestyle events held on the mountain in areas specifically built for competition are called slopestyle.
For more information, see FreestyleTerrain.com
Skiing in powder is fantastic. Riding a snowboard in powder is even better. If you ride in powder, you might benefit from a slight change in technique in equipment. But even with no modification, riding in powder is great way to build confidence in your snowboarding experience. Not only does falling in powder take away some of the sting of falling, it also lets you ride comfortably at a higher-than-usual speed. Many people will recommend that you move your boot bindings further towards the tail of the board if you anticipate a day of riding in “pow,” otherwise known as “freshies.”
Snowboarding, like skiing, takes places on mountains (or hills). So what does “alpine snowboarding” mean? Isn’t that like “golf course golf?”
Actually, no. The world “alpine,” in the context of snowboarding, can refer to both a style of riding and the kind of equipment used.
It won’t take long into your experience as a snowboarder before you hear the word “carving.” Like its cousin in skiing, the most basic definition of carving in snowboarding is making turns without skidding. As you progress to become a more skilled rider, your turns will rely less on skidding and move on carving.
But then there’s carving in a whole other dimension. With its hard plastic boots, “alpine” or “extreme” carving resembles skiing more than any other form of snowboarding. Another distinctive of the alpine carving style is the high angle at which bindings are usually mounted on the board. That is, the rider’s toes are in line with the tip of the snowboard, at least much more than is the case for other kinds of riding. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it, of all forms of riding, is the one dominated by snowboarding adults.
According to the Carver’s Almanac (not updated since 2007), carvers “tilt the snowboard high on edge, leaving pencil-thin trenches in the snow, while leaning into the turn until both forearms are skimming the slope.” With their bodies stretched out nearly parallel to the ground, extreme carvers occupy a parallel universe of riding.
Bomber Online is one valuable resource for learning about this style of riding, which is also called “hardbooting.” It’s got a reasonably active set of discussion forums, which may be why one reader calls it “the cultural center of the sport.”
Lock, Stock, and Two Alpine Snowboards is a video that portrays this style of riding. (We should note that one rider left this comment: “The Lock, Stock video focuses solely on a narrow technical aspect of alpine snowboarding, but it lacks the soul of modern carving.” You be the judge.)
Here’s another video that illustrates this kind of riding.
“Alpine” snowboarding equipment is also used in boardercross (see below).
With its special thrills (remoteness, hidden caches of powder, cliffs to jump off), and dangers (avalanches), backcountry riding requires special gear and training.
Avalanches are one danger of backcountry riding. The National Avalanche Center has information about avalanche awareness and education. The short film, A dozen more turns shows how a wrong decision in the backcountry can be fatal.
Tree wells, which you can also find in-bounds, are another danger of the backcountry. Be sure to read Deep Snow Safety for more.
There are several ways to get to the backcountry, including riding a snowmobile, snowshoeing, or using a split board. A split board is a snowboard that splits into two pieces. Uphill, you use it to ski. Then you put the board back together into one unit and ride down. One web site with information on splitboards is Splitboard.com.
The backcountry can offer exhilaration, a test of your mettle and fantastic snow–and it can also bring death. Educate and equip yourself before you go–and don’t go alone.
Racing events include GS, Duel Slalom, and Parallel GS. In these events, competitors race against the clock, either one at a time, or two at a time on adjacent courses.
A boardercross [actually a trademarked term], by contrast, is a race of several competitors, on the same track, at the same time. Think of it as auto racing on the snow. These courses include terrain changes such as trenches that must be jumped over.
Here’s an example of a boardercross competitor in action. Note the shin guards, hard-shelled boots, and 90 degree stance of the riders feet (meaning that his feet point towards the tip of the snowboard.) In all these qualities, snowboard cross resembles skiing.
Many racing events (as well as freestyle competitions) are conducted under the auspices of the United States of American Snowboarding Association, or USASA.
You can also take timed runs–just you against the clock–through NASTAR. Though first designed for skiers, NASTAR is open to snowboarders. Pay a small sum ($5 or $10), take some timed runs, and your time will be adjusted for the course, your age and the fact that you’re on a snowboard. Do you have a golf handicap? It’s a similar idea.
While the pros wear special protective equipment and hard boots, you can use just about any setup you want on NASTAR. Just star clear of the gates!