An Expert Guide to Terrain Park Etiquette

The terrain park can be an intimidating place for beginners. Snowboard expert Bobby Chadderton is here to break down the basics of etiquette inside the park.

Ryan Dalton with a smooth front flip in the parks at Bear Creek, PA. Photo by Jake Miller
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Learning to shred the park is arguably the most intimidating aspect of snowboarding for many but it can also be the most rewarding! If you’re looking to jump and jib all day, you’ll have to learn to walk before you can run. The only way to progress is through repetition and practice, which definitely means you will fall, and probably often. Once you’ve gotten a few days of lapping the park under your belt, you’ll notice yourself stomping familiar tricks and slashing new features. The only way to begin is to get out there and get after it! So read on for some advice on how to get started - and how to have a great time.

Wear a Helmet

Speaking as a park rat who was adamant about not wearing a helmet for the sake of keeping style points, this one’s a no-brainer (pun intended) for any skill level. If you’re scared of falling and getting hurt in the park, wearing a helmet can drastically reduce your risk of injury. I personally wear a beanie followed by goggles with a helmet over top of both and find this to be the most comfortable and sleek-looking setup. If you’re rebellious like me, consider investing in a low profile helmet like the Smith Holt. For the best brain-saving protection, make sure your helmet has MIPS integrated technology and replace it after a big impact or every three to five years at the most. Whatever helmet you purchase, make sure that you’ll actually wear it! There have been too many instances of Traumatic Brain Injuries that could have been prevented by a helmet that was left in the car.

If you’re suffering from a sore butt and banged-up knees, consider some additional protective gear. Impact shorts, knee pads, and elbow pads can all help ease your growth into becoming a park-rat.

Get a Park Board

Having the right snowboard in the park can make or break your tricks, but don’t worry too much about your setup when first starting out. For the first-time park rider hitting small features, any snowboard is fine. Just be sure you’re relatively comfortable with your board and have a basic understanding of how to control the flex and hold an edge. For the intermediate or advanced rider, consider investing in a true twin snowboard with a centered stance and an equal nose and tail - riding a true twin through the park will make it easier to stomp switch landings when you start introducing spins to your arsenal of tricks. (For more information on how to choose the correct board, check out our article on the subject.)

A snowboarder in a red jacket executes a jump down snowy stairs
The best part about riding park? You can do it anywhere! Urban nose grab by Jake Miller. Photo by Ryan Dalton.

Win the Mental Game

Don’t let intimidation hold you back from becoming a steezy freestyle park destroyer. Remember that every professional rider you see stomping cork 10’s was once a beginner like you! If you find yourself freezing up before hitting a rail, you’re not alone. It’s easy to develop a mental block when jumping out of your comfort zone and it’s likely something you’ll always have to overcome when learning new tricks. I find that by visualizing exactly how I’ll hit each feature, I’m less likely to psych myself out. Before you approach a feature, have a mental snapshot of the trick you’re attempting and imagine yourself going through the motions.

The best place for riders of all ability levels to get park-acclimated is inside the progression park. These freestyle areas feature smaller jumps and features well-suited for the first-timer. Before you move on to more advanced features, get as comfortable as possible with table tops and small jumps. You may feel a bit self-conscious when surrounded by steezy park-rats stomping tricks you can’t imagine attempting, but remember that nobody in the park is there to judge you. The riders that you’re envious of now are the same ones that have been putting consistent time and practice in the park. Your skills will come, and probably quicker than you expected! Don’t let the fear of judgment get inside your head, there are beginners in every terrain park.

Riding with friends is a great way to overcome the mental aspect of riding in the park. With your homies at your side, you can encourage each other and feed off of the collective stoke. In the end, it’s all about having fun anyways.

Hitting the Park

Read the Signage

Before you head into the park, always make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into. Hit the brakes to read the bright orange signage typically presented by Smart Style for a quick course on park safety. For the most part, there are three different tiers of terrain parks in North America: Small (S), Medium (M), and Large (L). Trail maps at most resorts should indicate what type of terrain you can expect inside each park but always be sure to read the signage at the entrance. Of course, start out small and work your way up to large features as you progress.

Scope Your Run

Don’t get complacent just because you’ve hit a particular terrain park before. Parks are constantly undergoing maintenance and change often. Before you drop into a feature, check out the current state of the park by taking a quick lap through without hitting anything. Visualize the gaps between jumps, how much pop you’ll need to hit the lip of each rail, and the distance between features. You can gauge how much speed you’ll need for each feature by watching other riders and noting where they drop in from.

A snowboarder sits at the top of a run listening to music on headphones and looking out at snowy hills
Evan Wilson prepares to drop some hammers at Breckenridge. Photo by Jake Miller

Feel the Flow

Riding eloquently through the terrain park is all about learning the flow of the park. Terrain park features are designed to be hit consecutively and it may take you a few days to learn how to maintain adequate speed after each trick. Riding switch comfortably is a handy skill to have when learning how to flow through the park.

Unfortunately, even the best terrain parks can get crowded. On a busy day, it’s far more likely that the overall flow of the park will be disrupted by crashes, groups of riders filming, or beginners who didn’t read about proper terrain park etiquette. It’s important to always keep your head on a swivel and be prepared to hit the brakes at any time.

In the event of a crash (big or small), you’ll want to get up and out of the landing zone immediately. Any time you fall in the park, get in the habit of popping right back up and riding a bit out of the way to ensure that you don’t get hit by another rider. Once you’re off to the side of a jump or rail, you feel free to flop back down on the snow until the pain resides a bit.

Communicate

On a busy weekend in the park, you’ll need to “call your drop” to let other riders know that you’re next up to throw down. This can be anything from eye contact, a nod, a hand gesture, or verbally saying “drop!”

In larger parks, riders often won’t be able to see the other side of a landing to know if someone crashed. If you see someone crash and struggle to get up out of the way of a landing, hold up your arms in a large X over your head. This universal sign will let other riders know that the landing is not clear. Once the crash is cleared up, throw your arms back over your head in a large O. This gives other riders the green light to start hitting the feature again.

Learn the Culture

You’ll probably hear people complaining about “snakes” in the terrain park - don’t be a snake. “Snaking somebody” happens when you cut in front of a rider who’s already dialed in to hit a feature. No matter your skill level, try to respect the order and hierarchy within the park. Advanced riders who are being filmed often hit features consecutively and may accidentally snake you if you’re not approaching a feature quickly enough. As a general rule of thumb, always give filmers a little extra room and respect. I encourage anybody to take videos in the park - it can be a great way to examine your own riding style and share the stoke with friends and family.

Become a Producer of Stoke

You may notice that it seems like everybody in the terrain park knows one another. Those friendships are a result of cohesiveness within the park. You’re all there because of the same passion, so feel free to make some friends! When you see another rider stomp something crazy, join the stoke with a smooth “yeeeeeeeew!” shout. It gets the people going!

A man in a red jacket stands on a snowy hill with his arms spread out wide
Photo by Jake Miller

The terrain park is responsible for pushing the boundaries of creativity within snowboarding. Although it may beat you up a bit, lapping the park will make you a better snowboarder in all aspects of riding. Not only will it physically improve your abilities, you may also notice yourself becoming more passionate about the sport overall. Ultimately, my memories in the park are the source of my love for snowboarding. Give it a chance and you might find yours too!

Want to learn more about park riding or get advice on a park board? Chat with a Curated expert!

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Written By
As a Canadian living in the Rocky Mountains, chasing winter is in my blood. ​ I joined the snowboard industry in college when I helped lead Temple University's Snowboard Club and caught a glimpse of turning my passion into a career. I’m a snowboard writer, gear junkie, and a self-proclaimed spreader...

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