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Start small to get 'big air'
Wednesday, 11 February 2004





Give a kid a snowboard and he'll find a jump. It seems like every newbie wants to "get some air," and understandably so. One of the greatest things about board sports is the freedom and the thrill that comes with airborne acrobatics.

I'll be the first to admit that it took me forever to get confident jumping. I was much better at falling. But despite this, I mastered the art and can now boost big air with confidence, if not grace. You can, too.

Think big, but start small. Jumping, like any snowboarding skill, requires a lot of repetition before your body responds predictably and reliably. If you are at a resort that has a teaching park, where the obstacles are purposefully built small, you have the ideal environment.

But you can learn the basics anywhere there is snow - even in the park down the street.

Before you begin, let me say that I am a strong advocate of wearing protective equipment for snowboarding. A helmet is a must when learning to jump. You might also consider wearing wrist guards. Given the widespread acceptance of safety gear among today's snowboarders, you won't stand out. In fact, safety equipment tends to show a person's serious riding ability and advanced experience.

The best terrain features for learning are jumps with long, shallow transitions that give way to slightly curved lips.

On the landing side, having a mild-to-moderate slope makes landing easier than on a flat, level surface. If you can't see the landing zone from where you begin your setup, jump with a spotter there to give you the all-clear signal.

The last thing you want is to get airborne and find that somebody is blocking your flight path.

Stay low and relaxed as you approach the jump. If your speed builds too fast, scrub off some speed by kicking the tail out on your backside edge, a move known as a "check turn." You don't really turn, but actually dig the uphill rail into the snow, scrubbing off speed but maintaining the same line and direction. If you can't do this, practice it before jumping.

In most cases, you will want to shift your weight very slightly onto the front-side edge as you ride up the transition. This helps gather the board slightly underneath your body and will keep you from catching an edge or getting sideways in the air.

As you become more advanced, you can learn to leap from either edge and with the board flat, which both help to set up certain maneuvers. But for now, try to pressure the front-side edge very slightly before you leap.

To get air, you have to get some spring in your legs. Do this by lowering you body as you compress into the transition. Spring upward with your body rather than your arms as you hit the lip of the jump.

Throwing your arms up looks goofy and it will disrupt your balance and make it harder to maintain good position in the air. Finally, make sure to spot the takeoff point with your eyes, as this is critical to aligning your body and setting you up for the jump.

Once in the air, continue compressing and drawing the board closer to your body. Staying relaxed, spot the landing. Among the biggest problems beginners encounter is getting over the back of the board and landing on the tail. By being a little aggressive, looking down slope at the landing, and staying relaxed, you will stand a better chance of nailing the landing.

If you have to bail, try to do so by balling up your body and rolling, rather than staying straight, tense and rigid.

You'll protect your arms and legs better by rolling in a tight ball than jabbing an extremity into the snow. Have fun, but remember: think big, start small.

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