Snowboarding on powder is ridiculous amounts of fun but what if you turn up and the conditions are icy, with no fresh fluffy white stuff around? We still want to go ride! So here are some tips to help you go ride.

Two fundamental skills: Balance & Relaxation

Riding on ice is challenging, especially to boarders not used to the conditions, and two of the main techniques to master are to do with balance and relaxation.

1. Balance

Balancing on the edge is useful in all conditions but becomes more critical to control when riding on ice because there is less grip. There are two ways to get up on the edge and get balanced, each with advantages and disadvantages.

  • Lean over: This is a common and useful technique, it’s easy to do, however leaning over means that the body weight is not evenly distributed over the top of the board and there is way more chance that the board will slip out from underneath - particularly in icy conditions - and ice hurts.
  • Bend the lower joints: Flex your ankles and knees to get your board up on edge, this is more difficult to master, but the advantage of this technique is that it helps to keep the body weight on top of the board while also putting the weight on the edge.

This sounds more abstract than a simple lean so try it standing still first: bend your ankles and knees to adjust your edge angle, have bent legs and push your knees and shins towards the snow on your toeside, and pull your toes up towards your shins on your heelside.

Lean or bend?

It’s not as clear cut as saying leaning is bad and bending is good, good riding will involve combination of the two and there is a time and a place for both, but ice riding tends to be favour the bending technique as it’s more stable.

2. Relaxation

One of the first reactions to a growling bear is to tense up and stop moving - and the same thing happens with growling ice. This tension is bad as makes it harder to adapt to the changing conditions. Here are a couple of tips to help relaxed movement.

  • Keep turning: This is a really simple technique that can help a boarder to relax and move: turning regularly means that constant, small movements with the feet, knees, hips and body are being made. These small movements mean that there is way less chance of locking up and staying on one edge for too long.
  • Breathe! At times of stress we tend to hold our breath which in turn makes our body tense, just breathe to give yourself a better chance of relaxing.

Other important skills x5

There are also some other key skills to snowboard on ice. Here are five of the most important.

1. Control the edges with ‘Slarve’

Edges aid control in all sorts of conditions and one of the techniques that can help when riding ice is to moderate the amount of edge angle that is used.

‘Slarve’ turns help to do this and are a midway point between a carve and a slide turn (a carved turn is when the edge of the board leaves a thin pencil line in the snow and typically the edge angle is quite high; a sliding turn typically has a lower edge angle and leaves a wider line in the snow like a big paint brush). Slarve turns are useful because they make it easier to maintain balance without getting locked up on a particular edge.

The key to ‘slarve’ is to be aware of the edge angles and to continually moderate the amount of edge used so that the edge releases easily. A good way of developing these edging skills is to try sliding 180s on icy groomed terrain – you’ll have to continually adjust the amount of edge to ensure that the edge releases to help the 180s come around. After a bit of practise, these 180s will feel effortless, smooth and controlled with better edge moderation and balance.

2. Minimal Movement

This doesn’t mean stopping movement! It means making continual but small movements that lead to a stronger position on top of the board. Big movements frequently put a boarder in a position that is too far in one direction or the other making it difficult to recover balance or return to centre from.

3. Equipment with Edge

Sharp edges provide better grip on ice – and you can even go a bit further and look at boards with magnetraction/magnatraction: the edge of these boards are like a serrated knife giving more contact points with the snow and helping to cut through the icy layer.

If you’re looking for an everyday, bread-based example of how this magnetraction can work then we have one! Try cutting a crusty loaf of bread with a sharp unserrated knife: See, it’s difficult to break through the stubborn crust even though the knife is really sharp. Now try cutting through the crusty loaf with a serrated knife, it’s a lot easier to break through eh?

4. Rise Later

If you want to avoid the really icy conditions then head out a little later once the sun has been given a chance to soften up the piste a little bit. This is both a useful technique and a useful excuse if you’ve spent a bit too much time après-skiing the night before.

5. Light or Shade

If it’s really icy then it is usually better to stick to the groomed, softer terrain that has been exposed to the sun early in the day.

In rarer cases, the reverse can work sometimes too: if a slope is nearly always in the shade then the top layer of snow might not have been through the freeze-thaw cycle that tends to generate icy conditions.

Use your own judgement but pick the conditions that seem a bit more forgiving if you want to avoid the really icy stuff.

Conclusion

Grandmaster Ice is unquestionably one of the best teachers on the mountain. He can teach us better balance and control – and improve our fundamental skills and technique. In turn, he makes us a better and wiser rider when we get back on the softer snow. So be patient, relax and enjoy his council so you can appreciate the powder even more afterwards.

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