An Expert Guide to Freestyle Snowboarding on the Mountain

With a little creativity, make the whole mountain your park to get in some solid freestyle riding anywhere. From butters to ollies, use the terrain to your advantage.

Someone jumps with their legs tucked up.

Photo by Romain Gal

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When you think of freestyle snowboarding, you probably think of terrain parks, right? Perhaps you think of doing airs on jumps or hitting a new trick combo on a park rail. However, sometimes a good terrain park isn’t easy to come by. Sometimes ski resorts don’t have their parks set up until midway through the season, sometimes the parks are icy or overcrowded, and sometimes you just don’t want to ride a terrain park. The good news is that with a little creativity, the whole mountain can be your park and you can get in some solid freestyle riding anywhere!

First thing’s first, let’s address the elephant in the room: your snowboard! While you can, in theory, do freestyle riding on any type of snowboard, certain boards are much more suited for this type of riding than others. The best types of boards for “jibbing” all around the mountain are going to be light, flexible, and have a twin-tip shape. Generally, the lighter and more flexible your board is, the more lively and playful it’ll be. A twin-tip shape is convenient for riding switch after doing some smooth 180s (we’ll get to this later)! However, with all this in mind, you definitely don’t need to go out and buy a dedicated freestyle board. Plenty of all-mountain boards will still do the trick!

Butters

A snowboarder butters on their board.

Photo by Kirill Lazarev

Now that we’ve sorted out what type of snowboard is best, let’s look at one of the most popular (and stylish) freestyle riding techniques that you can do just about anywhere: butters! Doing a butter on a snowboard is a pretty loose term, but it essentially refers to any time a rider lifts either the nose or the tail of their snowboard off the ground and balances in this position while riding. As you can imagine, boards with a soft flex are the easiest to do butters on, as it requires less effort to get your board to bend into a butter.

Butters range in complexity and can be as simple as just doing a tail press as you ride, or as mind-blowing as spinning a 360 on the nose of your board. There are limitless possibilities for butter combos and with some practice, these moves look smooth as butter! If you’re looking for some inspiration, just look up “snowboard butters” on YouTube and you’ll find enough ideas to keep you occupied for the whole season!

Ollies

Two snowboarders ollie on a blue-sky day.

Photo by Colin Llyod

Next up we have ollies! This is a fundamental freestyle trick and it is going to be your best friend! An ollie is simply the act of jumping on your snowboard by pulling up your front leg followed by your back leg until the board levels out in the air. It’s easy enough to do even if you’re new to freestyle riding, and you’ll find yourself using it every time to get your snowboard into the air. I’ve been snowboarding for nearly a decade and yet, doing a simple ollie is still one of the best feelings! It’s an incredibly versatile trick and it is crucial to get down if you want to get into freestyle riding in or out of terrain parks.

If you’re already feeling confident with your ollies, it’s time to step it up a level and throw some spins in there. Doing 180 spins is a great next step after you get your ollie down. It’s a pretty self-explanatory trick: simply do an ollie motion while also rotating your body and snowboard 180 degrees. The trick is to rotate your shoulders and head first, which will cause your lower body and board to follow. You will be landing backward, so make sure you’re comfortable riding switch! 180s can be done off the toes (backside) or off the heels (frontside). Many people find that frontside 180s are most comfortable when learning spins, but both ways are easy enough with a little bit of practice!

A quick side note about ollies and catching air on a board: oftentimes when people first get into freestyle riding, their first instinct is to just jump. After all, the board is attached to your feet with the bindings so it seems pretty logical that this is how you get into the air when snowboarding. However, this is not a good idea and not a habit you want to build. When you jump with both legs at the same time, you are extending yourself. This opens up your body and makes it much easier to become unstable and out of control while in the air.

The key to a controlled air is to make your body as small and tightly compact as possible, which is where the ollie comes in. By first extending your front leg AND THEN sucking up your back leg, you become more compressed in the air, making it easier to remain poised and balanced. At first, the ollie technique may feel more awkward than just jumping, but I promise it’s going to serve you better in the long run.

Carving

Someone carves with their hand out.

Photo by Visit Almaty

While most people may think of freestyling riding as just butters and ollies, you shouldn’t rule out carving as another way to get creative on the mountain! Carving down a run is pretty straightforward and every rider or skier does it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it stylish! One of the most popular freestyle carves is called a eurocarve. It’s tricky to explain without a visual, but just imagine a snowboarder doing a controlled belly slide across the snow during a toeside carve (or you can look it up on YouTube). It’s an awesome trick to try out while cruising your favorite run, just be prepared to get snow everywhere!

You can get as creative as you want with your carving! Ryan Knapton is a popular snowboarding YouTuber whose whole channel is dedicated to different carving techniques. I would highly recommend watching his videos if you want to step up your game and get seriously steezy with your carving this winter!

Using Your Terrain

The real key to freestyle riding is to think outside the box. Anything and everything can and should be treated as an obstacle you can hit! It’s awesome if you dial in your butters, your airs, your carves, and anything else you come up with, but the magic happens when you start incorporating the natural terrain of the mountain!

At every single mountain I’ve ever been to, there have always been side hits. If you don’t know what a side hit is, take some time to ride on the edges of trails next time you go to a ski resort. Chances are, you’ll find little bumps, jumps, and other quirky snow features. These are formed by a combination of natural terrain and riders/skiers hitting the same area repeatedly. The mountain doesn’t create or maintain these side hits, so tread lightly at first as they can sometimes be icy or just awkward to ride. Riding new trails to find their hidden side hits is one of my favorite things to do and it’s extremely satisfying to find new side hit lines you can take! "Side Hits Euphoria” is an amazing video on YouTube that shows you the true potential of side hits if you’re really willing to send it!

Another awesome natural mountain feature that doubles as a freestyle playground is a good roller. Rollers will show up on trails for a variety of reasons — sometimes they are there intentionally to provide extra speed, and sometimes they appear when Mountain Ops blow large piles of snow that they will later bulldoze to add more coverage to a trail. Either way, you’re in for a treat! These humps of snow provide a way to catch some extra air when you blast an ollie off the top of them. Just always make sure your landing is clear first!

One of my favorite things to look for at ski resorts is cliff drops! These are often tucked away in the woods, so they’re easiest to find by riding with a local who knows the resort well. Cliff drops are tricky because you have to make sure you have ample run-up and space to ride away. If the drop is sizable, I would highly recommend making sure the landing has some amount of slope to it; flat landings have more impact and are much harder on your knees. If you can find a good spot and the snow conditions are right, these drops are a huge adrenaline rush and usually make for a pretty dope Instagram video.

Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge (and hopefully the inspiration) to do some freestyle riding, I have the obligation to provide some words of caution: use your head! When doing tricks on natural terrain features, always start small and take the time to scout it out first. Side hits, rollers, cliff drops, and whatever else you find are not designed as park features. The take-off or landings may be less than ideal, so take some time to make sure you’re not going to land on ice, a rock, another person, or anything else that isn’t snow. Freestyle riding across the mountain can be a ton of fun but you can also get smoked real quick if you try to fully send everything you see without feeling it out first. Use common sense, use your creativity, and get steezy with it!

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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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