How to Snowboard in Icy Conditions

Snowboarding expert Alex Dolan shares everything you need to know to prepare for icy conditions so you can ride hard, stay safe, and have fun!

A close-up image of fractures within a block of blue-tinted ice.

Photo by Joyce McCown

Published on

Ice: it’s hard, slick, and not very fun to ski or snowboard on. Being from North Carolina, I'm quite familiar with the stigma and ultimately the reality of “ice coast” riding. However, icy conditions are something you’ll find at even the best resorts in the United States on the right day, especially in high-traffic areas of the mountain where all of the good snow has been scraped off, leaving a hard and shiny surface that screams “WIPEOUT!”

Proper Equipment

Proper Tune

Keeping your board tuned and your edges sharp is your first line of defense when dealing with icy conditions. Tuners at the ski and snowboard shops closest to the mountain typically have the best knowledge about how to tune your board based on the real-time conditions you'll be encountering out there.

Heel-side edges tend to wear faster than the toe-side edges due to our natural proclivity to face forward while riding. If you are riding a twin board, you might try turning the bindings around every once in a while to promote even wear.

Best Boards for Ice

Some of the best boards for icy conditions have full camber or edge technology like Magne-traction (from Lib Tech) or Grip-Tech (from Arbor). Boards from Gnu also feature similar edge technology.

Full camber will provide the longest effective edge possible. This allows the rider’s weight to be evenly distributed throughout the entire length of that edge.

Magne-traction or Grip-Tech will provide additional contact points that cut into the hard snow or ice like a serrated knife for maximum edge hold.

Lib Tech Cold Brew

Product image of the Lib Tech Cold Brew.

Lib Tech’s patented Magne-traction edge technology cuts into ice and hard-packed snow like a serrated steak knife. Additionally, the Cold Brew has lengthened camber portions to maximize edge control. It also gives you more pop when loading up for jumps.

Arbor Bryan Iguchi Pro Camber

Product image of the Arbor Bryan Iguchi Pro Camber.

With a full camber profile, you'll be maximizing the length of your effective edge, which is a huge benefit when encountering icy patches.

Never Summer Swift

Product image of the Never Summer Swift.

Featuring a hybrid rocker profile that still holds up really well on ice, the Swift is proof that not every profile fits the mold it was cast in. The Swift is ideal for days when you want to carve groomers or slay POW.

Control

Control Your Speed

Recognizing hazards on the mountain is very similar to the practice of defensive driving. We can't always control the conditions that we encounter, but being aware of our surroundings gives us the ability to navigate through them in a controlled manner. If you see a glossy sheen on the surface ahead of you, go ahead and slow down. Anticipate that other skiers and snowboarders probably won't take the same precautions, and develop a defensive strategy for avoiding these moving hazards.

Find the Good Snow

On a busy day, the snow in the middle of a heavily trafficked run can get scraped away, leaving a slick, icy layer exposed. These slick conditions combined with the high traffic are a recipe for disaster. Better snow can usually be found on the sides of a run where fewer people have been riding. Riding there will give you an opportunity to get some quality, controlled turns and allow you to avoid traffic and the moving hazards that we discussed above.

Keep Your Body Weight Centered on the Board

Imagine that your board is the axis point of an angle that the fall line of the mountain and your body create. If this axis is at 90 degrees, the likelihood of sliding out is extremely low. The further you deviate from this center of balance, the more likely a wipeout will become. Put simply, the deeper you try to carve on ice, the more likely you are to slide out.

Don't Fight the Fall Line

The fall line is the course that leads most directly straight down any particular part of a slope. In other words, the line that a basketball would take if you were to let it roll down a slope on its own. It is also the path of least resistance, so it can be the most heavily trafficked area of a run. Take this tip in combination with “Find the Good Snow” and choose your line accordingly.

Know Before You Go

Look up how conditions are going to be before you get to the mountain and choose the gear you are going to bring accordingly. On warm, slushy days, you won't need to worry about ice as much; however, when the snow thaws and then refreezes, it becomes very hard and very slick. Having an awareness of conditions is just the first step in developing an all-encompassing sphere of awareness that will keep you safe, enhance your riding, and maximize FUN!

Someone in a red jacket snowboards down a steep slope. You can see far into the distance with peaks rimming the background.

Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan

Spacial Awareness

Don't Push Your Luck

If you see or even anticipate icy conditions, slow down and take conservative lines. Even the most advanced riders will get taken out by an icy run if they are trying to push the envelope. Crashes on ice happen fast and hard and typically occur when the rider thought they were in control.

Know Where You Are

When the snow is soft and fluffy, you can cut loose and not worry about falling. Powdery snow is great for getting out of your comfort zone and pushing your limits. An icy slope packed with tourists is not the time or place to test your limits.

Here's an analogy: If you've ever done doughnuts in your car after a big snowstorm (Curated does not condone reckless driving), you probably didn't pick a crowded intersection or the middle of the highway to cut loose and drift through the snow. A more controlled environment, like an open field with no other cars around, is a much safer place to explore your boundaries and cut loose. The same concept applies to the mountain. If you want to cut loose and ride recklessly, don’t do it around other people. Remember that there are skiers and snowboarders of all ability levels on the mountain every day and, unlike a car, a license or driving test is not required to hit the slopes.

All of these safety precautions may seem like a downer to some, but keep in mind that injuries on the mountain can be a huge bummer and can often end the day or even the whole season for a rider. You should not just be worried about your own safety, but also the safety of those around you. The only thing worse than hurting yourself is hurting another person.

When encountering ice, hazards can compound quickly, but now you have the tools necessary to handle scenarios that the mountain will throw at you. Remember, knowledge is power! Ride hard, stay safe, and have fun!

If you have any questions on finding the right gear that excels in icy conditions, please feel free to reach out to me or one of my fellow Snowboard experts here on Curated for free advice and recommendations. I hope you all find only the best snow to shred. Stay safe out there and remember rule number one: have fun!

Snowboard Expert Alex Dolan
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Alex Dolan
Snowboard Expert
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Written By
My humble roots as a rental technician at a small ski and snowbaord shop in the hollers of North Carolina in combination with my eventual migration west toward bigger mountains and more snow have shaped me into a master at gearing up any customer, no matter their ability level. I LOVE SNOW! Fortunat...

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