‘Ball Riding’; It’s hard to keep a straight face when saying it but it works.
Not unlike ‘bull riding’, or life for that matter, our sport is all about balance. If you are well balanced on your snowboard, you will enable yourself to more effectively develop all the other necessary skills.
It would be hard not to see how unbalanced our beginners are as they descend for their first time down a pitch with both feet strapped to the board, fingertips barely scratching the snow in an effort to slow down that inevitable sliding feeling. Those that are brave enough to stand and look up the hill, start to slide as their eyes try to turn 180degrees in their sockets, as if to look through the back of the head to see what lies behind/ahead!. Their speed builds and builds until suddenly out come the tiptoes. The board lurches to an instant stop…and then slides…tip toe stop…and then slides…tip toe stop…and then slides until a sudden catch of the heel edge and then……well you know the outcome.
I spent years holding people on their toe edge side slip, telling them to ‘stand up’, ‘look over my shoulders’, ‘relax your ankles’, ‘just relax!’, ‘just relax!’, ‘just relax!’. It took me a long time to realize that telling somebody to relax sounded great but was about as effective as yelling at a beginner to ‘just turn!’ Through time and experience we learn the smaller and finer details, the details that have immediate effects and amazingly huge results. Here is one simple one I love.
Have your students do the crab walk on their toe edge. (I like to call it the monkey walk) This is the critical point to emphasize how we create edge angle on the toe edge through a movement of the knees toward the hill and flexion of the ankles. I explain to stand on the balls of the feet rather than the toes – this will get your student adequately flexed in the ankles and allow for a balanced stance through the rest of the progression and with all future riding. Now you can develop your students into the toe edge sideslip again with a focus of standing on their ‘balls’. You should see a much smoother sideslip as your students slide comfortably down with flexed, relaxed ankles. Your students will be able to more comfortably apply edge angle through ‘sideslipping’, ‘pendulum’ and the ‘fall line edge change’.
The idea of riding the balls of our feet is not restricted to the beginner level. I use it constantly to force angulation in riders that have a tendency to either break at the waist or edge through inclination. It is hard for intermediates to trust initiating earlier onto their toe edge especially when they stand on their toes (how balanced are you on your tip toes??!!) By using our toes less and applying the majority of weight to the balls of our feet, we leave our toes free for fine-tuning our edge angle, pressure and allowing for greater balance through less inviting terrain. As an exercise, have your intermediate/advanced students do half a run or more keeping their toes pressed to the tops of their boots (feel the toenails on the tops of boots) to see how this forces greater flexion of the ankles and therefore a more balanced way of creating edge angle. Once they gain some positive feelings through this exercise, have them start using their toes again but remember to keep the ankles flexed and ride their balls!!
Professional Ball Rider
Technical Director of Snowboarding
Mount Washington Alpine Resort & Section 8 Snowsport Institute