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Snowboarding 101: How to Snowboard in Icy Conditions

Published on 06/07/2023 · 9 min readSnowboarding Expert Alex Dolan shares everything you need to know to prepare for icy conditions so you can ride hard, stay safe, and have fun!
By Snowboarding Expert Alex Dolan

Photo by Ipatov

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. Ice is a snowboarder's arch nemesis. Even the slush in the spring is preferred to slick ice. You'll find it all over the mountain, from the terrain park to the trees and the steepest double black diamonds. 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.

The 3 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.

1. 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.

2. 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. Bamboo stringers running down the center of the board equip riders with additional board control. For riders looking for a more affordable alternative, ask your Curated Snowboard Expert to show you the Arbor Element Camber.

3. Never Summer Swift

Featuring a hybrid rocker profile and fiberglass base 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.

2 Honorable Mentions: The Lib Tech Orca is an all-time ice ripper. Serrated edges help to really dig into hard-pack snow and create excellent edge hold. For the same board with more stiffness (ideal for those looking for a freeride board), the Lib Tech Golden Orca is also highly recommended.

Capita also makes a really great camber board that crushes on ice. The board is known as Capita Mercury. For similar reasons to the Orca, the Mercury is a durable board with excellent edge hold, making it a great option to maneuver on ice. A combo fiberglass and carbon fiber base paired with serrated edges make the Mercury ideal for finding stability on steep, slick lines. Riders looking for an even stiffer version should look into the Capita Mega Mercury. Both the Mercury and the Orca have a slightly directional twin shape making them very versatile. The directional shape adds to their ability to float in powder meaning these two boards can rip just as well in backcountry powder as they do on ice.


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. Ice and high speeds usually do not work well together. Anticipate that other skiers and snowboarders probably won't take the same precautions, and develop a defensive strategy for avoiding these moving hazards. Being in control of your board is the number one thing you can do to stay safe in all snow conditions.

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. This is particularly common on the hard-groomed snow trails that the majority of skiers/riders traffic (think lift lines and the main trails beginner-intermediate riders use right off the lifts). 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. Sticking to the side of the slope 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. This can be tough on narrower trails, but the idea is simple. Most skiers and riders stick to the middle of the trail or the slope's fall line. Because of this, the powder is scraped off to the sides of the trails, leaving the middle bare and icy while the sides have accumulated all the scraped-off powder. This is especially true at family-friendly ski resorts that are easy to access from large metropolitan areas (i.e. Breckenridge in Colorado or Loon in New Hampshire) and even more true at East Coast resorts where the snowfall can easily turn to rainfall and then freeze overnight. For this reason, without fresh powder, heavily trafficked hard-pack/groomed trails are notoriously the first trails to develop ice. Be sure to stick to the sides especially as the day goes on.

Keep Your Body Weight Centered on the Board

For a centered stance, 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. This is hard to do at first since we instinctually attempt to slow down by digging in either our heelside edge or toeside edge to slow down and avoid hazards. By keeping a slight bend in your knees and allowing your body weight to stack directly on top of your shins and through the ankles, you should be able to maintain this perfect 90-degree axis and avoid a skid or sliding 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 snow 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 since the sun will naturally warm the trails and create softer snow. However, when the snow thaws and then refreezes because of cold temperatures, 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!

Photo by Fat Bob

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 about 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!

Alex Dolan, Snowboarding Expert
Alex Dolan
Snowboarding Expert
I’ve worked as a rental technician at a small ski shop in NC and then migrated to bigger mountains from Colorado to B.C. I’m ready to get you the gear you need no matter your ability level..Message me any time and we'll get you out there shredding!
419 Reviews
13077 Customers helped
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Written by:
Alex Dolan, Snowboarding Expert
Alex Dolan
Snowboarding Expert
I’ve worked as a rental technician at a small ski shop in NC and then migrated to bigger mountains from Colorado to B.C. I’m ready to get you the gear you need no matter your ability level..Message me any time and we'll get you out there shredding!
419 Reviews
13077 Customers helped

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