What is Snowboarding exactly?
Snowboarding, a winter sport with roots in skiing, surfing, and skateboarding where the primary activity is riding down any snow-covered surface while standing on a snowboard with feet positioned roughly perpendicular to the board and its direction, further differentiating it from skiing, which riders face forward. Moreover, no poles are used as in skiing, and the majority of participants wear not hard but soft- to mid-flexing boots for support. The sport developed in the 1960s and ’70s grew in popularity in the 1980s and became an Olympic sport in 1998. To die-hard riders and enthusiasts worldwide, snowboarding is a special kind of “medicine for the soul,” combining the beauty of nature, the thrill of competition, and the opportunity for self-expression. There is no single way to snowboard.
Since snowboarding’s inception as an established winter sport, it has developed various styles, each with its own specialized equipment and technique. The most common styles today are freeride, freestyle, and free carve/race. These styles are used for both recreational and professional snowboarding. While each style is unique, there is overlap between them.
Urban and Jibbing
“Jibbing” is the term for technical riding on non-standard surfaces, which usually includes performing tricks. The word “jib” is both a noun and a verb, depending on the usage of the word. As a noun: a jib includes metal rails, boxes, benches, concrete ledges, walls, vehicles, rocks and logs. As a verb: to jib is referring to the action of jumping, sliding or riding on top of objects other than snow. It is directly influenced by grinding a skateboard. Jibbing is a freestyle snowboarding technique of riding. Typically jibbing occurs in a snowboard resort park but can also be done in urban environments.
Where there is no slope to gain speed on, urban jibbers will “sling shot” each other toward rails, using a banshee bungee—essentially a gigantic rubber band—mechanical winches, or even (most dangerously) automobiles. The bulk of jibbing takes place outside judged events, but jibbing is part of slopestyle contests and of dedicated rail jam events.
Because of their limited use and the need for the best possible manoeuvrability and flexibility, jib boards are usually the shortest and softest of all snowboards, used with soft boots and bindings. Their edges are often intentionally dulled (“detuned”) to prevent friction and to avoid catching on small obstacles and burrs that may present a danger to the rider.
Freeriding is a style without a set of governing rules or set course, typically on natural, un-groomed terrain. The basic allows for various snowboarding styles in a fluid motion and spontaneity through naturally rugged terrain. It can be similar to freestyle with the exception that no man-made features are utilized.
Because the goal is to be able to handle all terrain and snow types, freeride boards tend to be longer and stiffer and are matched with stiffer boots in order to give riders more float over deep and varied conditions. The boards are generally directional in style (with a distinct nose and tail, differentiating them from twin-tipped boards that can be ridden either way).
Freestyle snowboarding is any riding that includes performing tricks. In freestyle, the rider utilizes natural and man-made features such as rails, jumps, boxes, and innumerable others to perform tricks. It is a popular all-inclusive concept that distinguishes the creative aspects of snowboarding, in contrast to a style like alpine snowboarding.
Freestyle riders usually choose a shorter snowboard, paired with softer boots, which gives them the manoeuvrability and flexibility needed to execute their moves. The boards typically have deep side cuts for tight turning and are generally twin-tipped, meaning the style of nose and tail are mirror images, which allows for riding the board both ways after swift switching and spinning.
Is a discipline within the sport of snowboarding. It is practised on groomed pistes (hardened snow). It has been an Olympic event since 1998.
Sometimes called free carving, this takes place on hard-packed snow or groomed runs and focuses on carving linked turns, much like surfing or longboarding. Little or no jumping takes place in this discipline. Alpine Snowboarding consists of a small portion of the general snowboard population that has a well-connected social community and its own specific board manufacturers. Alpine Snowboard equipment is a ski-like hard-shell boot and plate binding system with a true directional snowboard that is stiffer and narrower to manage linking turns with greater forces and speed. Shaped skis can thank these “free carve” snowboards for the cutting-edge technology leading to their creation. A skilled alpine snowboarder can link numerous turns into a run placing their body very close to the ground each turn, similar to a motocross turn or water-ski carve. Depending on factors including stiffness, turning radius and personality this can be done slowly or fast. Carvers make perfect half-circles out of each turn, changing edges when the snowboard is perpendicular to the fall line and starting every turn on the downhill edge. Carving on a snowboard is like riding a roller coaster because the board will lock into a turning radius and provide what feels like multiple Gs of acceleration.
Alpine snowboarding shares more visual similarities with skiing equipment than it does with snowboarding equipment. Compared to freestyle snowboarding gear:
- boards are narrower, longer, and stiffer to improve carving performance
- boots are made from a hard plastic shell
- bindings have a bail or step-in design and are sometimes placed on suspension plates to provide a layer of isolation between an alpine snowboarder and the board
Competitors perform tricks while descending a course, moving around, over, across, up, or down terrain features. The course is full of obstacles including boxes, rails, jumps, jibs, or anything else the board or rider can slide across. Slopestyle is a judged event and winning a slopestyle contest usually comes from successfully executing the most difficult line in the terrain park while having a smooth-flowing line of difficult, mistake-free tricks performed on the obstacles. However, overall impression and style can play a factor in winning a slopestyle contest and the rider who lands the hardest tricks will not always win over the rider who lands easier tricks on more difficult paths.
Big air competitions are contests where riders perform tricks after launching off a man-made jump built specifically for the event. Competitors perform tricks in the air, aiming to attain sizable height and distance, all while securing a clean landing. Many competitions also require the rider to do a complex trick. But not all competitions call for a trick to win the gold; some intermittent competitions are based solely on the height and distance of the launch of the snowboarder. Some competitions also require the rider to do a specific trick to win the major prize.
Each athlete may hit the jump five to six times during the competition. A panel of judges rate the athletes’ tricks based on difficulty, execution, and style, awarding a score for each jump. Winners are typically awarded in the categories of best overall winner (the sum of all of the rider’s total jump scores) and best trick winner (the highest-scoring single trick of the competition).
Because they can be staged with scaffolding and do not require an outside venue, Big Air competitions can be held virtually anywhere that a drop-in, take-off ramp, and landing can be constructed and coated with a layer of snow or ice shavings, even indoors. This flexibility in venue has exponentially increased the event’s popularity and marketability.
The “Air and Style” competitions are the largest and most prestigious Big Air events in the world.
Half-pipe and superpipe
Snowboarding’s most-famed contest, the halfpipe, is performed in a half tube of snow. Halfpipes are approximately 11 to 22 feet (3.3 to 6.7 metres) high, with slopes between 16 and 18 degrees, which is enough of a pitch for snowboarders to maintain their momentum. (Though official definitions and dimensions do not exist for these terms, halfpipes with walls higher than 16 feet [4.9 metres] and with vertical walls of nearly 90 degrees are often called superpipes. The Olympic standard height is 22 feet [6.7 metres].)
Snowboarders “drop-in” by entering the upper end of the pipe at high speed from either the left or right side, carrying that speed and flying high as the shape of the opposite wall slingshots them into the air and then back onto the same wall. While airborne, they perform spins, flips, and board-grabbing tricks before landing back in the pipe. After landing, they travel slightly downhill to maintain speed and continue their trajectory across the “flat bottom,” the section between the pipe’s walls, and up the opposite wall, launching again into the air to perform other tricks. The athlete’s routine of five to six runs is judged by a panel of experts on the technical difficulty of the tricks, their execution, and the height and style exhibited while performing them. The athlete with the highest score wins.
Boardercross, also known as “Boarder X” and “Snowboard X”, is a very popular but relatively recent winter sport, starting in the 1980s and earning its place as an official Winter Olympic sport in the 2006 Turin games. In Boardercross, several riders (usually 4 to 6) race down a course similar to a motorcycle motocross track (with jumps, berms and other obstacles constructed out of snow on a downhill course). Unlike traditional head-to-head races, competitors use the same terrain, sometimes resulting in accidental collisions.
Typically a field of 40 to 60 competitors will each take one timed run down the course alone to establish a seeding order and to allow competitive brackets to be created. Once these brackets are established, racers will go head-to-head, with the top three in each heat advancing to the next bracket. In this way, the field is narrowed to a final group of racers. In the final heat, the first rider to cross the finish line is the winner of the competition.
In snowboard racing, riders must complete a downhill course constructed of a series of turning indicators (gates) placed in the snow at prescribed distances apart. A gate consists of a tall pole, and a short pole, connected by a triangular panel. The racer must pass around the short side of the gate. There are 3 main formats used in snowboard racing including; single person, parallel courses or multiple people on the course at the same time (SBX).
Rail jams are among the most grassroots of all snowboard competitions because of their minimal requirements. They can be staged almost anywhere at any time given a small space, a rail-type feature, and some snow or ice shavings from a hockey rink. Competitors take turns creatively riding a rail set-up or other urban-style features. There is no running order to the competitors: riders take their turns whenever they want and in whatever order they choose. There is typically a set time period for the jam, and athletes may take as many turns as they want during the allotted time. Judges watch the competitors and, rather than award scores, simply name winners in two categories at the conclusion of the event: best overall and best trick.
Backcountry and big mountain
Focused entirely on riding outside a resort’s boundaries, backcountry and big mountain snowboarding take the fluid flow of freeriding to more remote wilderness locations. While riders often use resorts to access out-of-bounds terrain, there are no artificial features or elements in backcountry snowboarding. Riders access wilderness terrains in various ways, from hiking, snowshoeing, and split boarding (in which a snowboard can be converted to alpine skis) to the use of snowmobiles and even helicopters.
The goal is to ride untouched lines, and the backcountry journey often leads riders to peaks and locations deep in the wilderness. Riding in these situations demands high attention to mountain safety and usually a slower, more strategic approach to descending a mountain. Competitive backcountry riding is virtually non-existent.
Because of the deeper snow and rugged conditions, backcountry riders use some of the longest and stiffest snowboards available, with stiff boots and bindings to match. Increasingly popular are split boards, traditional snowboard decks that have been cut in half in order to double as Alpine-approach skis for accessing the backcountry. Snowboarders can now climb a slope like an Alpine skier, which involves transporting a snowboard on one’s back and then descending as a snowboarder.
Backcountry freeride competitions
There is limited formal competition for this style of snowboarding, which spectators mostly encounter via films and video documentaries.
These backcountry free riders might snowboard down a pitch that has never before been negotiated or jump off a cliff that has never before been attempted. They may snowboard on mountains that have already been ridden but do so with a level of technical difficulty or style that establishes a new benchmark for the sport and that venue.
Some backcountry and freeride competitions have found some measure of success, most notably the annual “King of the Hill” competition that was held in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska in the 1980s and ’90s. Riders descended ridiculously steep faces while a panel of judges watched and awarded scores based on the riders’ command of the terrain. Though this competition no longer exists, the newer Freeride World Tour draws an international class of riders who take turns descending a predetermined section of a mountain while judges rank them on line choice, degree of difficulty, style, and control.
In common with ski racing, snowboard slalom races involve weaving down courses made up of offset poles, or “gates,” protruding from the snow, which the athletes must navigate around as fast as they can. These are considered technical contests because of the required tightness of the turns.
Each athlete’s run through the course is timed, and the rider with the fastest time wins. The spacing of the gates in a slalom race is relatively close together (25 to 50 feet [8 to 15 metres] apart), forcing snowboarders to make dramatically quick tight turns. As the name implies, the giant slalom is the same type of race but with the space between the gates roughly doubled (80 to 105 feet [24 to 32 metres] apart), compelling riders to execute longer and less frequent turns but at faster speeds. The gates are still farther apart in the Super-G (100 to 130 feet [30 to 40 metres] apart), with riders often reaching speeds of 60 miles (97 km) per hour. The parallel versions of these races (the “parallel slalom” and “parallel giant slalom”) pit riders in head-to-head competition on side-by-side tracks.