One of the biggest mistakes that many new snowboarders make is entering the terrain park too early. I think it’s one part fools courage and one part just being unaware of how hurt you can get by underestimating the park.
You know what I mean, it’s very common for us to start hitting the slopes as a beginner and start feeling invincible… the next thing we know we’re throwing ourselves off 15-20 foot jumps before we’ve figured out how to turn properly.
There’s a certain courage that we all experienced as beginner snowboarders, it’s the courage you get from not knowing the results of concussions, broken bones and torn ligaments on the slopes.
So…when is the best time to start hitting jumps and rails?
Here’s how I see the ideal progression path for most snowboarders who want to hit jumps and rails:
Phase one: Learn turning control
I can only speak from my only experience and from watching and teaching others, but I think the best time to start learning rails/jumps is after you’ve mastered turning and have started working on your figuring out carving.
You don’t have to have complete knee flexion turning control yet (although it does help), that comes with time, but having the ability to at least control your turns and control where you go is a step we all need to learn before hitting the park.
Phase two: Get used to small features
From here, I think it’s pretty safe to start playing on small boxes and really small jumps. There’s no need to spin, just simple straight airs to get yourself used to controlling yourself off jumps and to get yourself used to the feeling of getting air.
Phase three: Carving, spinning and bigger jumps
I think advancing to spinning comes with learning how to carve properly. You need to have basic carving down if you want to really get those first spins consistent. We might land one or two ugly spins here or there, but we won’t have consistency and style until we master basic carving first.
Naturally, as you advance your carving and spinning skills, you start to take your tricks to medium sized jumps.
Phase four: Consistency and ‘click’
With practice and continued spinning comes consistency and that ‘click’ feeling as the more basic tricks begin to feel natural. From here I think most snowboarders go through a period where they really start to have fun with tricks on the slopes.
This is that period of time when you start being able to spin 360s and 180s knowing that you’ll be able to land it nearly every time. It’s that period of time when the whole mountain becomes your playground and you can pop little tricks off lots of little bumps and features as you ride down different runs.
I don’t think this is the ‘be all end all’ path to progression, but I do think this is a good outline of what a smooth freestyle progression should look like.
The key you see here is learning one skill adds on to the next level of your snowboarding. It’s not like those guys that you see heading into the park and knuckling 40 foot jumps when they can’t even hit 15 foot jumps without looking sketchy.
That’s a recipe for injury, pain and life lessons learnt the hard way. Trust me when I say you don’t want to learn to progress safely by being forced to have surgery or sit out an entire season.
Most of all, have fun and don’t feel you HAVE to progress. Progress is great and hitting bigger features/tricks is fun, but I guarantee you’ll end up progressing quicker if you take the time to goof off and have fun along the way.