How to Get into Terrain Park Riding

Snowboard Expert Gaelen Mast explains everything you need to know to feel confident and ready entering the terrain park during your next day on the mountain!

Terrain park rail at the Park City Mountain Resort terrain park. Snow falling in the background.

Photo by Patrick Kindt

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Riding in a terrain park is an exhilarating experience, but it can also be quite intimidating. As someone who’s been snowboarding for the past 11 years and spent the last 8 or so of those in the park, I have a few tips to give you the best terrain park experience possible!

Even if you’re totally new to the world of snowboarding, I promise that after reading this article you’ll have a good understanding of terrain parks and how to ride in them.

The Board

First thing’s first, if you want to get into park riding, you’re going to need a board that can handle it. Having the wrong board can at best hold you back and at worst be dangerous when freestyle riding. Now, you don’t have to go out and purchase a brand new park-specific board, but you should know what is best for park riding.

Freestyle boards are typically lightweight and have a softer flex. This makes them lively and easier to do tricks. Many freestyle riders also like a board that is a true twin so that they can ride it in either direction with ease, although a directional board isn’t going to ruin your experience. Lastly, some freestyle snowboarders like to ride a board that is on the shorter side so it’s easier to throw around in the park. This is more of a personal preference than something you NEED to do to get into terrain park riding.

All this can sound pretty confusing and intimidating so if you want to read up a bit more on how to find the perfect park board, check out our guide here!

Are You Ready?

Snowboarder does a trick where he grabs his board off of a small snow jump with mountains in the background.

Photo by Lucas Ludwig

Now that we’ve sorted out the snowboard situation, a quick disclaimer: snowboarding in a terrain park can be more dangerous than just cruising down your average ski trail for obvious reasons. Snowboarding itself is already somewhat of a dangerous activity, adding in metal obstacles such as rails and flying through the air off of jumps makes it riskier. All this is just to say, make sure you’re already feeling confident in your basic riding skills. If you’re still working on those toeside turns, then maybe hold off on the terrain park riding for a bit. If you think you’ve got the basics down and you’re ready to take on the terrain park, read on!

A snowboarder wearing a black jacket and tan snow pants slides across a rail on his board.

Photo by Ryan Leeper

Let’s talk about perhaps the most important part of terrain parks—proper etiquette and how to navigate a park. When you first arrive at a trail with features, it may just seem like everyone is going when they feel like it, however, there are a few unspoken rules of every terrain park that you need to learn if you want to avoid angering everyone and potentially causing a collision.

Wait Your Turn

When you arrive at the top of the terrain park, take a look around to see if other people are waiting. If there are, that’s because they’re waiting their turn to hit a feature. It’s common courtesy to give snowboards/skiers plenty of room for a few reasons. First, it can be hard to gauge their speed as they may do some unexpected speed checks, and if you’re following too close, you’ll also have to slow down and this could mess up your run. Another reason is if they happen to fall and you’re coming in hot behind them, there is the risk that you could collide with them. And lastly, it’s just unnerving to have someone close behind you when attempting a trick, and that’s the last thing you want to think about! So if you see someone hitting a feature, just wait until they clear out of the way. As a general rule, most people wait until they see the rider in front of them land their trick and begin riding away.

Knowing whose turn it is to take a run when multiple people are waiting can be somewhat ambiguous, but generally whoever got there first has the right of way. Sometimes people will be fidgeting with their gear, sitting down, or doing something else to indicate they’re not ready, and if this is the case you’re probably in the clear to take your run. Every situation is a little different but with practice, it’ll be easy to read these situations.

Check the Landing

Lesson number two in terrain park etiquette is what to do when someone gets hurt because this does occasionally happen. If someone gets injured on a feature, you’ll likely see someone standing above or next to the feature holding their arms up in an “X.” This is an indication that someone is in the landing and it’s not safe to go yet. If you see someone hurt in a landing zone and no one is around, consider doing this yourself!

A note about landing zones: if you end up falling and you’re not injured, try to get out of the landing zone ASAP because chances are someone might be right behind you if the park is busy.

Respect the Park Crew

Lesson number three about terrain park etiquette is to respect the park crew! The terrain park crew is the group of people who work extra hard to bring you the joys of freestyle riding, and I can tell you from experience it’s not an easy job. At many mountains, some of the crew members will be out on the hill midday doing some work in the park. Whether this is some repair of current features or adding new features in, there is one rule: stay out of their way! If you see someone raking a lip to a rail don’t go and try to hit the feature. That would be disrespectful to their work and dangerous for both you and them. If you see them out there working, just move along and they’ll be done soon enough.

Now that we’ve covered etiquette (A.K.A how to make sure you don’t make enemies in the park), let’s get into the juicy stuff: how to ride a terrain park!

How to Ride the Park

Snowboarder does a grab while going off the side of a half pipe. It is nighttime.

Photo by Travis Colbert

The first thing to know is that not all-terrain parks are built the same—they vary in size, features, length, and much more. If you have your choice of parks at a mountain, start with whatever one is rated for beginners. This will give you a less intimidating first experience and provide you with obstacles that you can learn the basics on.

A quick note about terrain park ratings: they're typically rated as either S(mall), M(edium), or L(arge). This indicates the size of the features within the park and therefore the corresponding skill level it’s intended for (S for beginners, L for advanced).

The more you ride in terrain parks, the more little tips, tricks, and hacks you’ll learn to progress your skills, but let me save you the time and share some of my top ones with you right now!

Take a Lap

The first hack is to take an initial lap through the park where you just assess the snow conditions and features. This isn’t so much a hack to help you progress so much as it is a hack to save you from injuring yourself so that you can ride more. One of the sketchiest things in park riding is when you go to hit a feature and hit a patch of ice, or when you jump on what appears to be a small feature and turns out to be much longer/bigger than you thought. Taking a quick lap to just check everything out can save this from happening to you and ensure you don’t get smoked the first run of the day.

Commit to It

The second hack is to just commit. I know this is easier said than done, but seriously going fast and just fully sending it is the best way to go about things. I’ve gotten hurt way more often when I only halfway go for a trick as opposed to when I just go fast and go all in.

On that note, make sure you can envision your trick. If you’re not sure you can do the trick, don’t go for it because you won’t commit. Instead, work yourself up by starting smaller and building that confidence! I would definitely recommend watching videos of people doing the tricks you want to do—this will help with the learning process a ton. SnowboardProCamp on YouTube is a great channel for this.

Keep It Limber

Snowboarder hits a rail in a terrain park. The bottom of his snowboard is yellow and the sky is blue.

Photo by Ilya Shishikhin

My final hack is to stretch that body. Park riding is harder on your body than normal snowboarding. If you want to progress and get as good as possible at riding park, you’re going to want your body to feel good and the best way to do this is to stretch out before AND after a day of riding. It may feel a bit tedious, but you’ll thank yourself later for doing it!

Start slow, get stoked, stay healthy, and get after that park riding! It’s going to be the time of your life. If you have any questions or want to find the perfect park board, reach out to a Curated Snowboard Expert for a customized recommendation that will be perfect for you!

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Written By
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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