Park to Freestyle: How to Take Your Skills Beyond the Park

Gaelen Mast gives his best tips on moving from the park to the mountain and explains natural features to look out for while you're there.

Skier mid-jump while going down the mountain

Image courtesy of Dynastar

With freestyle riding, most skiers and snowboarders gravitate toward terrain parks. These designated areas on the mountain contain features specifically created for practicing tricks. However, freestyle riding doesn’t have to be limited to the park. With a little creativity and skill, the entire mountain becomes your terrain park and you’ll have a blast doing it!

Master the Basics

Before taking your freestyle skills to the entire mountain, make sure you’ve mastered the basics inside the park first. Master is a strong word with skiing and snowboarding because there is always more to learn. However, having a handle on the freestyle fundamentals makes your life easier when you take your skills to natural features.

The terrain park is the best place to dial in your tricks because it’s intentionally built for jibbing. If you’re new to the freestyle scene, take the time to get comfortable being in the air. Hit as many jumps as you can. Practice different grabs to find what feels best. Developing your aerial awareness is crucial to ride the mountain like it’s your own personal terrain park.

Get comfortable sliding on rails and boxes. While you’re less likely to find natural features outside a park, you can slide. Sliding is an excellent skill to have. And the more time you spend skiing/riding on park features, the more confident you’ll be with your overall skills once you take it outside the park.

Before you exit the terrain park, master your approach, takeoff, and landing. Your approach should be controlled and have the amount of speed necessary for whatever feature you’re hitting. Takeoffs should be smooth and level, and have a plan for what to do as you pop into the air. To absorb your landing properly, prepare exactly where you plan on landing ahead of time before getting airborne.

Get Creative

Once comfortable and confident with your freestyle skills in the park, it’s time to take them to the rest of the mountain. This is where things get fun! The key to successful all-mountain freestyle skiing/riding is thinking outside the box. Anything and everything is a jib-able feature. Ollie onto that downed tree or carve under that slow sign.

Next time you ski/ride on your favorite trail, don’t zone out and simply carve down it. Be intentional about observing your surroundings and look for natural features to catch some air. Do a slide, stall, bonk, or anything else freestyle related.

It’s a skill that takes time, but the more you view your average groomed trail through a freestyle lens, the easier it becomes to pick out solid jibbing opportunities. Below are some of the most common natural features you should look for.

Rollers

Man does a quick method off a little roller at his local resort.

Doing a quick method off a little roller at my local resort. Photo courtesy of Gaelen Mast

Let's start it off with a classic, the roller. A roller is a loose term used on the mountain, but it’s essentially any area where the snow and/or natural terrain forms a small hump with a flat area on the top that has a steeper pitch on the backside.

Rollers provide an excellent opportunity to catch air because skiers and snowboarders can do an ollie on the flat part and land on the downwards pitch. They are great because you can catch as much or as little air as you want.

If you’re getting a feel for being in the air, pop a little ollie at a controlled speed and land a few feet down the backside of the roller. Or if you’re feeling rowdy, go Mach 10 and pop as high as you can to catch some big air.

Cliff Drops

One of my favorite cliff drops I've hit at my local resort!

Cliff drops are another great natural feature with the potential for serious airtime. They are found all over the mountain but are often tucked away in the woods. The best way to find good ones is to talk to and/or ride with locals who know the mountain well.

Cliff drops range in size, so exercise caution when hitting bigger ones. To make sure you’ve got an adequate landing, check the snow base is deep enough to not land on any rocks, stumps, or anything else that’s not snow. Also, make sure there’s a clear line to ride away where you’re not in danger of running into trees.

While it’s not imperative, it’s ideal if the landing has a downward slope (a transition) to reduce the force on your body. If you’ve found a cliff drop that checks these boxes and feels relatively safe, it’s an outstanding opportunity to practice grabs you may otherwise only do off jumps in a terrain park.

Side Hits

Using a well-placed side hit to my advantage to pop over a trail sign!

You’re missing out if you aren’t riding side hits! They are any sort of bump, jump, bank, ditch, or other transition on the side of a trail. Side hits are often formed by people repeatedly riding in the same area. If you find a long line of them, they feel like a roller coaster!

Side hits open the door to creativity, as you can choose how to hit them. And they constantly change shape throughout the winter. If you’re looking for inspiration on how to use side hits, check out the YouTube video Side Hit Euphoria. It’ll psyche you up to try some side hits on your next day at the mountain.

Butters

You can always do butters. It's another loosely defined term for any press and/or spinning where your skis/board rarely leave the ground. You can butter on just about anything, including flat ground. They make a solid option if you can’t find any natural terrain to jib.

The world of buttering is endless and there’s always a new combo to learn. If you want to get creative on your mountain, but don’t know where to start, buttering is the way to go. Find your favorite mellow groomer and start messing around to see what you come up with!

Making Your Life Easier

Hopefully, you’re stoked to ride the entire mountain like it’s your personal terrain park. However, there is one more thing to do to ensure you have the best time possible; have the proper gear!

Riding a snowboard or skis meant for freestyle makes your life a lot easier and fun. If you’re in the market to upgrade your gear and unlock your full freestyle potential, make it easy on yourself and do it with Curated. At Curated, you can chat with an Expert and get personalized recommendations on gear, for free. It’s the easiest and quickest way to find your next perfect set-up and it’s only one click away!

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Written By
Heya! my name is Gaelen and I've been snowboarding for longer than I haven't! I was practically raised by the mountain resort industry, my mother and father were both full-time "snowboard bums" when I was young and so I've been around ski resorts since I was a kid! As soon as I was legally able to w...

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