Expert Tips for Hitting Rails

Learning to hit rails has a steep learning curve, but it is so rewarding once you get it! Ski Expert Abby A. shares her tips so you can get started!

Someone rides the rails and snow sprays off his skis.

Photo by Jörg Angeli

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Learning to hit rails has a very steep learning curve, but it is so rewarding if you put in the work and stick with it! The hardest part of learning is getting the basics down, but the basic skills are going to give you a huge advantage when you progress to new features, so you definitely don’t want to overlook the first stages of learning.

The best way to get more comfortable on a feature is repetition; the more hits you get on a feature, the more comfortable you are going to feel on it. Here are the best tips for beginner rail skiers:

Start Small

Always start small when you are first learning how to slide a rail. Metal hurts when fallen on repeatedly, so stay within your ability level to avoid unnecessary injuries. The best features for learning how to slide a rail are wide boxes and propane tank rails, which feel similar to a box but have less contact with the skis.

Boxes are great for getting the feel of what sliding a rail is like. They are also the least intimidating to hit since they are low to the ground, and they hurt the least to fall on. Most mountains have progression parks with low consequence, beginner boxes, and rails to build confidence in the park.

Use the Step On Method

Someone rides sideways down a box.

Photo by Abby A.

Before starting to learn how to grind a box, you should first 50/50 it a couple of times — this just means when you ride straight on and are facing downhill! You should also be comfortable skiing over patches of ice since boxes tend to have a similar feeling. Once you are comfortable riding onto a box, you are ready to try a box slide.

Start with your leading foot on top of the box (perpendicular to it) and your back foot on the lip of the rail (the jump to get onto the rail). Most rail skiers are right-foot-forward, meaning the right side of their body is facing downhill when they are on a rail. Next, line up the ski so that your boot is centered over the box. Once you have your balance, push yourself down the box using the ski that is on the rail lip — try to keep your feet shoulder-width apart to keep your balance. When you are on the rail, do not separate your upper and lower body; keep them together sideways on the feature. Try to avoid looking down! Your direction of travel is going to be where your eyes are looking, so look at the end of the feature to complete it.

I would not recommend using poles because they are a distraction and may make you look down from your instinct of wanting to put them in the ground when you ride off the box. As you get more and more comfortable, push off the box harder to go down it a little faster! Speed is going to be your friend when learning how to jump onto a box.

Practice Your Run In

Once you have the basic feeling of grinding a box down, you can practice getting on the box without pushing off the front of it. To do this, ski toward the box with your knees bent and shoulder-width apart. Make sure you have enough speed to pop onto the box without hitting the front of it. When approaching the box, use the whole transition of the lip to pop onto the box. Be patient when you pop! Do not start to pop until the middle of your skis are at the top of the lip. The lip is an important part of getting onto larger rails, so boxes are a great way to practice this skill. When you pop off the lip, turn your whole body 90 degrees onto the box but keep your eyes planted at the end of it!

When getting on, also make sure to keep a lot of weight on your downhill foot so you do not slip out. This is one of the hardest skills to learn because the momentum is going to naturally make you want to slip out. You can counteract that by thinking about committing and evening your weight so this does not happen.

Sliding the box and landing sideways off it, onto the snow, is a good way to make sure your body is squared up with the feature. If your upper body is facing downhill but you are 90 degrees on the box, your body is going to want to turn you downhill; however, you want to stay sideways the whole time on the feature.

Dialing Your Box Skills

Once you can comfortably pop onto the box, you can start sliding it to switch! Sliding to switch is a great practice to ensure your shoulders are in line with the feature, as I mentioned earlier. If your shoulders are not in line, your body will not allow you to land switch.

To dial your box skills, get on and look at the end of the rail. Then, turn your head and spot uphill. Your body will naturally turn on the box and you will land switch! This is a useful skill because it ensures that you are committing to getting on fully sideways.

Fully Commit

Someone rides down a rail.

Photo by Abby A.

Learning how to slide a box can be overwhelming since it is so unnatural for skiers to be sideways. Try focusing on one new skill at a time! There is so much that goes into sliding a box that skiers don’t think about until they try it themselves. Take it one step and one skill at a time.

Also, committing is so important for success. If you hesitate on a feature hit after hit or are confused with the overwhelming amount of information, take a step back and work on a basic skill that will help you feel more comfortable on boxes. Hesitation will make it harder to focus on what you are trying to learn. It is hard to commit to something that is way outside of your comfort zone, so if you are not sure why things are not working out, go back to the basics and work on your essential skills to help you feel more confident.

Don’t Zeech Features

“Zeeching” is when you are not fully 90 degrees on the rail. Zeeching features is not good because one, it doesn’t look right, and two, it is a bad habit to get into when trying to progress on larger features. You can get away with zeeching a box, but not a rail.

Fully committing and popping 90 degrees onto the rail is how to avoid zeeching. Make sure you are not zeeching boxes before trying to hit a rail! If you’re not ready for it, you may split the rail (land one ski on each side of it), and this can hurt in some cases.

Taking Your Skills to a Rail

Once you feel solid on boxes, you are ready to try a rail! I recommend trying a propane tank for your first rail since it will feel the most like a box. When you approach it, make sure you are not going too slow. Going too slow will make it harder to get on and stay on. If you are unsure of the speed you need, ask a fellow skier in the park or drop in from roughly where other skiers are starting.

Be confident and commit! If you bail while approaching a rail, you are going to lose focus and this may lead to an increased chance of an unsuccessful attempt. Use those tips you learned from hitting boxes and apply that to any rail!

Hike the Park

Ever wonder how park rats don’t get cold in just a sweatshirt? It is because they spend a lot of their time hiking features! Wear layers to start and take off gear as you start getting warm from hiking. Hiking is great for repetition on one feature and it is the quickest way to learn.

Falling Happens

Don’t be discouraged when you fall, falling happens! Even if you complete all the skills perfectly, you are going to fall at some point. In order to progress, you are going to need to scare yourself a little and try new things. Don’t give up! Rail skiing is super challenging, and anyone who can slide a rail has put hours and hours into the basics.

If you're looking for the perfect park ski for the rails, check out this article or reach out to a Ski Expert here on Curated

Park skiing is amazing for so many reasons! It is a fun way to meet new people and learn new things. Do not get discouraged if you are having an off day or if you are unsuccessful after a couple of attempts. Practice makes perfect, and you need to trust the process. Now, get out there and have fun!

Meet the author
Ski Expert Abby A.
Abby A.
Ski Expert
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Abby A.
Abby A.
Ski Expert
Hello! My name is Abby and I am stoked to be able help customers find comfortable gear so they can enjoy skiing as much as I do! I am grew up in Rhode Island and started skiing over 10 years ago. I have been living in Vermont for about 4 years now! I grew up skiing Sunday River and Jay Peak mostly,...
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