How to Make the Most of Early Season Snowboarding

The snow is starting to fall and winter is just around the corner. But before you head to the hill, check out this guide for handling those early season days.

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October 26th, 2013. Opening day of my home mountain and the earliest in the season I’ve ever been on snow. Even seven years later, I can still remember the anticipation and excitement I had felt for getting on snow before Halloween. The leaves that were still turning orange and red on my home mountain were covered in snow, signalling a prayer answered by the snow god.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you know the feeling. Like a kid hoping for a snow day, every night before bed you check both the weather and your home mountain snow report. Will they blow snow tonight? Is a freak storm on the way? Do I have enough sick days banked up to take the day off when it comes?

We’re almost ready here in New England. As temperatures start to drop, and snow flurries are showing up across the country, it’s time to get the final touches ready for the season. When the snow comes, you want to be ready for early season snowboarding (or skiing). If you’re a newbie to early season riding, follow these tips for having the best season yet!

A snowy mountain scene with fall foliage in the foreground
Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger

The Set Up

There is no feeling that quite matches the one you get from pulling out your gear and getting it ready for your first day on snow. Those years when you buy a new snowboard, a pair of boots, or bindings only adds to that feeling.

However, you need to wait before you gear up with your new set up and head for the mountains. Early season riding, as fun as it can be, is notorious for wreaking havoc on your snowboard. You’re likely to be riding at mountains with little to no snowpack, leaving room for boulders, fallen logs, and even bare ground to peak through the snow. Hit one of those bad boys, and if you’re lucky you’re only left with a wipeout—but most likely, your snowboard will have a new core shot.

If you don’t believe me, head out on your first day and check out what the locals and veteran riders and skiers are on. I’m willing to bet they’re all rocking an aging, worn-in, beat-down board or set of skis. Then take a look at everyone else—laden with new gear (some may have even forgotten to take off the stickers and the tags)! While they may look good standing in the lift line for their first run, they will be some very unhappy campers after they hit rock bottom their first run (literally). Just save your new board’s maiden voyage for a mid-season powder day and thank me later.

Snowboards leaning against a rack outside
Photo by VisionPic

Another reason why pulling out the old gear for early season riding is a better option than your brand new gear is that you’re most likely going to be rusty as a rider or skier!! It’s been a solid few months since you’ve last been out on snow, so you’re not going to be feeling the same way that you did at the end of last season.

For any early season riding, you want to be as comfortable as you can while you’re getting back in the game—so your older, worn in gear is going to be your best bet. While you’re trying to get back into the groove of things after being off snow, the last thing you need to be worried about is breaking in a pair of new boots or figuring out how to ride a completely different board. Stick to what you know, and you’ll be feeling like you did at the end of last season in no time.

The Weather

Be prepared for soft, sometimes slushy snow and a mix of temperatures! Early season riding varies day to day in the conditions, like any day of the season, but because it’s not quite winter yet, chances are you’ll have some really warm days and really cool days. Make sure you’re prepared with the right layers, and have the ability to layer up, or down, as needed.

Make sure you have a good base layer on! Remember, your base layer isn’t meant to keep you super warm, it’s meant to keep you dry—which you will definitely want while you’re riding early season. Potentiality warmer-than-average temperatures paired with getting your body back in the groove means that keeping dry should be a top priority for you while choosing your layers.

I swear by Patagonia’s Capilene layers—they keep you super dry and are breathable, but they don’t add any warmth. Since this is my base layer and is going to be the closest to my body, having something dry, cool, and breathable is key. You can add warmer layers as you go!

The Muscle Memory

This next tip is not solely for early season riding; it’s applicable to anyone who is just getting back out on snow for their first time that season, whether it’s late October or late January.

Two hand weights and a yoga mat laying on the ground indoors
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich

The first thing to do when getting back into your riding season is to prepare in advance! Go for runs, go on hikes, do your squats (I know, they suck)—just get your body moving, stretching, and in shape for the season.

If you’re reading this the day before your first day back and are thinking to yourself, whoops, didn’t do that! Don’t worry. Your body will adjust, and you’ll be feeling like you did at the end of last season in no time.

The Mountain Scene

Take advantage of those early season days that typically have fewer people around, but don’t necessarily bank on shorter lift lines. While there may be fewer people out on the mountain, chances are only a few lifts or even trails will be open for early season riding. Be patient, and expect a bit of wait at the lift lines. As long as you pack some good tunes and are shredding with good company, you won’t even notice the lift lines.

The Company

Early season riding (hopefully) means warmer, slightly longer days than during the middle of winter. Make sure to take advantage of that! Get your tailgating set up ready, and bring drinks, food, and music for a little aprés party after your last run.

A bunny slope at the bottom of a ski mountain
Photo by Pavlo Luchkovski

Early season riding has its perks, and is a great way to get stoked for the snow-filled days ahead. As long as you remember to dig out your old gear instead of sporting the new set up, have some patience with the weather and with your own abilities, you’re going to have a killer start to your season!

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Written By
Native to the east coast, aka "ice coast" I've been a snowboarder for the past 12 seasons, and a coach for the past 6. I spend my summers above treeline in the White Mountains, and my winters chasing snow. ​ I have lots of experience with youth gear- I know the right boards, size, and setup to get y...

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