Turns and Conditions: How To Ride Whatever The Weather

By Sam Baldwin
Published October 2007
(Originally published in Whitelines in Jan 2006, then adapted and republished in The Snowboard Handbook in Sept 2006)

weather machines are still in development
One day in the future, when we've mastered climate control, we'll switch the weather machine to the 'powder' setting overnight,  and hit the 'sunshine' button come morning,  and make everyday a bluebird freshie. Until then, we're at the mercy of the planet.

Resort brochures and glossy mags would have us believe that everyday is a bluebird powder day. Pictures of rooster tails in knee deep fresh, azure skies, and sun drenched slopes attracts the punters, but unfortunately our dreams of spraying up face shots in champagne pow are often dashed upon the piste when we arrive to find that "good conditions, 220cm base" on the resort website, actually translates as rock-solid-bullet-proof-ice.

For all boarders, especially those who only get to ride for a few days a year, our enjoyment of snowboarding depends heavily on the conditions. So in the likely event that the bluebird powder day has gone A.W.O.L. for your stay, here is a guide to getting the best out of the slopes - what ever Mother Nature throws at you.

Flat Light 
you'll need your goggs in flat light

When the cloud descends, it's difficult to make out the difference between sky and slope. Undulations are hard to see and judging your speed is difficult. If you find yourself caught in a whiteout, follow the poles back down to the lift station. With a little warning though, you can actually have a lot of fun whilst everyone else crowds into the bar. The best lenses for flat light are yellow or rose - they won't give you x-ray vision but you'll be able to see a lot more than with those bad ass iridium ones you shelled out extra for. Then head for the trees and enjoy some fresh lines with your buddies, as the definition is always better amongst the trunks.

Hard Pack
sharpen those edges in hard pack

The father of ice, hard packed piste occurs when there has been a lack of fresh snow. Constant pressure from skiers, boarders and piste bashers, compacts the once fluffy light crystals into something more closely resembling concrete. If the snow fails to show up soon, hard pack will eventually become ice.

To maximise fun in hard pack, ensure your edges are sharp and head for south facing slopes, where the sun will have softened the snow, assisting you to get an edge in. When making your turns, lean out as far as you dare to exert as much pressure as possible, forcing your edges to bite.

If you're a park monkey, now's the time to hit the pipe. You'll find the hard walls give you extra speed and therefore superior airtime, just make sure you stay on your board, 'cos it ain't called "hard" pack for nothing.

Chopped Up Powder
the powder gets chopped if you're late

It dumped last night, but due to you shaking your ass at the local discotheque, you couldn't drag your butt out of bed until midday. When you finally hit the lifts, you arrive at your 'secret' powder stash, to discover it's been cut up worse than a Jack The Ripper victim.

Choppy powder can be deceiving; it looks fun, but constantly having to adjust your riding position to compensate for the uneven terrain can burn your legs out pretty quickly. Keep your knees bent and be prepared for changes in the texture. Constantly going from untouched to cut-up can be a bumpy ride, but it will test your skills and it sure beats riding the hard pack.

It's also about now that the park is shaping up nicely following the fresh fall, so quit mourning over missed face shots, and make it up to yourself by going big on a perfectly formed table top.

as cool as ice? ich don't think so...

Despite the song, ice ain't cool; simply put - it sucks. Ice strips us of our confidence, because it makes it difficult to hold an edge and it punishes us hard when we mess up. This is one area where skiers have the advantage; with double the edges, they bite twice as hard.

No one likes icy conditions, but spend long enough on the slopes and you're guaranteed to come across them eventually. Your only line of defence against bullet proof ice is your edges. A freshly sharpened pair will go a long way in allowing you to dig in and help prevent you from making tail bone to concrete ice contact. So ensure your dull edges have been converted to samurai swords if conditions are looking icy.

Also, stick to the sides of the trails where loose snow tends to get pushed. Here you will find it easier to get an edge in and prevent a skid. If you see ice ahead, check your speed before you hit the danger zone and try to ride it out, as attempting to stop directly on a patch of ice tends to result in an ass plant.

a daunting sea of moguls

Created by skiers, for skiers, moguls are an unwanted menace to snowboarders. Arriving at the top of a run to be confronted by a slope that resembles a small mountain range in itself can be daunting, especially for beginners. Add moguls to ice, and you'll wish you'd taken up knitting instead. Acting as speed bumps, they force us to slow down and all but the most advanced riders will have difficulty riding them at speed.

If you try to ride peak to trough you'll soon pick up speed and start catching air off the tops, which will quickly deposit you on your butt. The key to getting down a mogul field with some pride left intact is to ride the sides of the moguls rather than the peaks and troughs. Take a line through them, rather than over them. This way you can keep your stick under control without slide slipping.

If you're feeling really confident, try popping an ollie from the top of one mogul to the down side of another - just be careful not to pick up too much speed on the ride out!

Wet Snow/Spring Snow
wax up good if the snow is wet

When the weather gets warm, the snow gets soft. Boarders have the upper hand over skiers in these conditions, which feel closer to powder then packed piste. In these conditions the snow takes on a sugar like consistency in which your board is a carving knife so there's no fear of losing an edge, and even if you do face plant, the piste is soft, so the pain factor is greatly reduced. Now's the time to hit the park, and go for those tricks that you've been working on all season. 

But remember, wet snow = slow snow, and off piste it can be like riding through stiff porridge. Apply hot wax with a range of range of -4 to +1 to ensure your plank is ahead of the pack, and for that extra nitro boost of speed, treat your base to a rub on liquid wax such as Zardoz.

everyone loves fresh corduroy

The staple diet for many boarders, everybody likes ripping a bit of freshly groomed corduroy. The groves made by the piste bashers create a surface that allows you to hold an edge nicely with little fear of skidding. You can have yourself a flat out speed fest on this stuff so just head up, strap in, point and shoot.

You'll need to set your alarm clock early if you want to catch the corduroy at its best though, as many resorts don't tend to groom their slopes much during the daylight hours. Failing that, keep an eye out for one the machines at the end of the day when you can cruise down behind it and really piss the driver off!

Being a good rider is all about being comfortable in all conditions, so next time the sun ain't shining, take it as a challenge to hone up your imperfect conditions skills.


The Fukui Fellowship; Snowboarding Japan

Riding High? Skiing, Snowboarding & Drugs

Snowboarding Vs Skiing The Dying Feud

Thugged Out And Fluro, Snowboard Style Gone Mad