Urban Snowboarding: What You Need to Know to Take Your Snowboarding to the Streets
Looking to get started in urban snowboarding? Check out this guide by Snowboard Expert Gaelen Mast for everything you'll need to know beforehand!
When most people think of doing tricks on their snowboard, they probably think of terrain parks—the mountain area marked with that classic orange park sign followed by jumps and rails. However, getting jibby on your board doesn’t have to be reserved for just terrain parks. It doesn’t even need to take place at a ski resort!
With the right attitude and a little knowledge, the whole world can become your terrain park! So let’s talk about how to hit the city and go snowboarding in the streets.
Before we begin, here's a little disclaimer: I can’t condone urban snowboarding because depending on where you decide to go, it can be illegal and there is potential to get in trouble. But if you’re determined to hit a street handrail or some other urban feature, I’ll fill you in on my personal experience!
First, make sure you’re already comfortable with freestyle riding! Urban riding is similar to riding in a terrain park in some ways, but in many ways, it’s not and is often more intense or can be more dangerous depending on the spot you choose, the conditions, etc. The best way to prepare yourself is to already have the confidence and the skills to do tricks in the park at your local mountain. You should feel comfortable with your tricks and know without a doubt in your mind that you can do them easily. After all, the streets are no place to learn a new trick!
Secondly, you want to make sure you have an appropriate board for hitting urban areas. Ideally, you’re riding a freestyle-oriented snowboard—one with lots of pop and a good amount of flex. I personally ride the 2022 Burton Process and love taking its explosive energy to street spots!
At the very least, just make sure whatever board you’re using doesn’t have sharp edges. Rails in the real world weren’t designed for a snowboard to slide on them like terrain park rails are, so the chance of catching an edge is much more prevalent.
You might also consider having a board that is freshly waxed as speed can also be a challenge for urban (we’ll talk more about that in a bit).
Finding a Good Spot
Half the battle of hitting urban areas is just finding a suitable spot. Almost anything can be a spot if you’ve got the skills and/or the creativity, so always be on the lookout.
One of my personal strategies is to make a spot archive by taking photos of potential locations on my phone and noting any crucial details about them. By doing this all year long, I have a whole list built up in my photo library when winter rolls around and all the information I need to know.
So what is some of this crucial information you need to know when trying to find a street spot? Well, the main things you should take note of are bust factor, snow requirement and availability, and speed availability!
Considering the potential bust factor might be the most important thing because no matter how perfect a spot may be, it’s no good if it’s in a location where you’ll be immediately told to leave by staff or security.
Obviously, some locations are riskier than others. For example, trying to hit a handrail directly in front of an open business is much riskier than hitting a handrail at a public park.
The lowest bust spots are ones where you aren’t riding on private property. If the spot is public or tucked away, it’s less likely that someone will take issue with you snowboarding there. If you are going to try and hit a spot located on private property, make sure to really scout things out first. Try to find spots that aren’t directly in front of entrances, doors, or windows—the less visible you are, the better shot you have to go unnoticed and unbothered. It’s also worth it to take a look at a business' hours and try to plan a time to hit the spot when they aren’t open.
Snow Requirements and Accessibility
Next, you should take into account how much snow you’ll need and how much you’ll realistically have access to on any given day. Different types of urban features require different amounts of snow. For example, a handrail is going to require enough snow to build a lip to pop onto it, whereas a drop or gap might only require enough snow to cover the takeoff and landing. Therefore when scouting out the area, check out where there might be nearby snow you can use.
Some spots, such as ones in public parks, won’t be immediately cleared of snow and are much easier to hit because you have easy access to snow and won’t have to move too much of it around.
Other spots, such as businesses, will often clear away snowfall soon after a storm, so the best time to hit those spots is actually during a snowstorm or immediately after. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself having to move around a lot of snow to build an appropriate run-up and landing zone and the chances of you being busted while doing this can be high.
One of the biggest struggles in hitting urban areas is finding the necessary speed. If you can find a street spot that has a downhill run-up, you’re golden! Having natural speed from a hill is the holy grail of street snowboarding because it makes things extremely easy.
Unfortunately, not all spots are going to have a good hill behind them, and you might have to get a little creative. Many professional snowboarders will use a bungee to get speed on flat surfaces. There are bungees that you can buy specifically for snowboarding and if you want to see them in action, check out this video!
If you don’t want to spend money on a bungee, you can get creative with it. Build a “pump” track out of snow or have your homies pull you with a shovel to get the necessary speed. Where there’s a will there’s a way, you might just have to work for it a bit!
Hitting the Spot
Congratulations, you’ve taken the time to find a spot, ensured it meets all the requirements, and you’re ready to shred! Now that you’re prepped to embark on your urban mission, it’s time to discuss a few last points so you have the best possible time.
The key to success is properly preparing, which includes packing the essentials. Obviously, you’ll want all your appropriate snow gear, that’s a no-brainer. You’re also going to want some shovels because chances are it’s going to take some work to shape a spot into something hittable. If possible, try to bring different types of shovels—the best combination being a regular snow shovel for moving large amounts of snow as well as a metal shovel for chopping up any potential hardpack snow.
You’ll also want to bring some light layers as you’ll likely work up a sweat with all the shoveling you have to do. You might also consider a water bottle to stay hydrated and a camera to capture everything that goes down! Last but not least I would highly recommend bringing a friend or two, the company will keep the excitement levels high and make it a much more enjoyable experience!
Street Snowboarding Etiquette
You’re probably already aware of freestyle etiquette: don’t cut people off, don’t side-hit lips, etc.
but there are also a few etiquette rules to follow when urban snowboarding.
Number one is to stop if you’re damaging a spot. Now this is somewhat of a moral issue and “damaging the spot” means different things to each person, but in general, if you find that riding your snowboard somewhere is damaging the area (i.e. scuffing the paint on a rail), you should probably stop. Damaging a spot creates a headache for whoever owns the property, and you can potentially get in trouble for property destruction.
Etiquette rule number two is to remove snow from a spot when you’re done hitting it. For example, if you shoveled snow onto the sidewalk for a landing, just take a few minutes at the end of your session to clear it away. Be a decent person and clean up your mess. We don’t need to be giving the public a reason to look down on snowboarders!
Etiquette rule number three is to keep a low profile. As exciting as it is to hit a gnarly handrail, hooting and hollering are only going to attract unwanted attention and annoy people. You’re already likely trespassing and snowboarding somewhere you shouldn’t, so try to keep it low-key and be respectful of the area. You’re much less likely to encounter angry citizens if you follow this rule.
After reading through all of this, I hope you have a better idea of how to take your snowboarding to the streets! Urban riding is one of my favorite things in snowboarding. It’s challenging but rewarding and a great way to push your boundaries! It can be intimidating to start, but you’ve got it! Watch some YouTube videos to get inspired and then just go for it! There’s no “proper way” to go about it, so long as you’re having fun and being respectful then you’re doing it right. If you have any other questions either about urban riding or any other general snowboarding questions, reach out to a Snowboarding Expert on Curated and we would be happy to help you! Get out there, explore the possibilities and send it!