Snowboarding a rail is often pretty intimidating for beginners. Not unless you are prepared for it in the previous seasons, your first attempt will more often than not result in a fall off right away.
Mind you, these falls are not always as light as I make them appear here. I’ve witnessed some of my buddies get some serious injuries after the board slipped out under them on several accounts. As you may guess, not many boarders will want to face these features again after slamming their heads and limbs on them. So, some people give up after their first failed attempts or after falling off several times.
But grinding the snowboard rails doesn’t always have to end like this. As most snowboard rail pros and coaches would tell you, everybody can snowboard rails without getting worked. It only requires confidence and the desire to take your boarding skills to the next level.
The fact that you are on this page means that you are ready to give it a try. So, mine is to help you build your confidence and offer you some helpful techniques of how to snowboard a rail. Let’s get this party started!
Tips on how to ride a rail when snowboarding
Be good with the boxes first
I would like to start with this because it’s doubtlessly the most essential. You see, riding a snowboard across a round rail isn’t something that you just wake up and do. It is not only challenging but can be very intimidating.
But it has been found that people who are good with boxes always have a smoother learning curve on the rails than those who have not perfected them yet. So, it pays to hone your box skills first before proceeding to the tracks.
Lucky for you, most resorts and parks have areas designated for snowboard amateurs who want to up their game. These zones, also known as Progression Parks, have all sorts of boxes. Since you are just starting out, you’ll, of course, want to start with those with the low height.
Go for flat boxes that are only a few feet high. These are not just the easiest to learn on; they are also less likely to cause severe injuries in case you bailed out. Boxes that are set to the height of the snow also mean that you don’t have to Ollie or jump onto them as it’s the case with most rails.
It’s advisable to have at least ten box tricks before heading for the rails. Build your skills on longer boxes and those with elevated heights. Once you are comfortable with these, then it’s time to give the rails a try.
Riding the rail: Go for the easiest one possible
No matter how good you are with the boxes, the rails are a whole new world. Unlike snowboarding boxes, riding a rail (for the first time) becomes somewhat tricky since not the entire board is supported by the rail.
When starting out, you really want to grind on a low rail with more forgiveness. Avoid extra long rails with lots of twists to it. Ideally, target low-profile rails that do not require jumping too high or complex Ollies. However, if your local park does not have one in sight, you might have to start with bigger rails.
Approaching the rail: Get some speed
There are two things that you really want when approaching any feature down the slope: speed and confidence. Usually, you approach the rail just like you ride down the slope. Ensure that you have some good speed, but that which you can control.
Good speed helps you jump onto the rail quickly. It also offers enough momentum to keep you on the rail until the end. Jumping onto the rail at slow speed makes it hard to balance yourself. You are also more likely to slide off the sides at slow speeds.
Jumping onto the rail
The easiest and safest way of jumping onto the rail is by doing an Ollie. However, I feel that it would be more important to perfect the Ollie on the ground first, before trying it out on the rail.
Ideally, you start the Ollie when you are about 15ft away from the feature. To do the Ollie;
a) Build a comfortable speed on a straight clear path towards the feature
Straighten your board by aligning it parallel to the rail. Once you are about 15 feet away, mentally prepare yourself for the jump.
b) Bend your knees slightly and crouch.
Here, you need to lower your hands slowly but steadily so as to maintain a good balance. Again, remember not to bend your back so much on either side.
c) Make the jump
Focus is your friend when snowboarding a rail. As you jump onto the rail, ensure that the nose of the board does not hit the front end of the rail. So, you really want to get some good height.
To do this, shift your weight to the back foot and use your front leg to guide the board. Bend the tail of the snowboard and lift your front leg. Then use your hands and your back leg to pop yourself up. As you get into the air, pull your knees up in the air towards your chest to gain some extra height and speed.
d) Landing and balancing on the rail
As you land on the rail, straighten out the board and use your two feet to level it on the rail. Doing this with both feet makes it easy to absorb the shock easy and without the risk of falling over.
For a good balance on the rail, remember to land naturally. In case you need to make any adjustments, do so in a slow motion. Again, be flexible and not overly stiff. Stiffness may cause you to bounce off or change direction.
e) Ollie off the rail
Never get your eyes off the end of the rail! You’ll only get to the end of the rail if you remain focused. As you get near the end, do another Ollie off the rail. You don’t need to do this if you riding on low-profile rails that allow you to ride onto the snow comfortably without nose diving. Once you are off the rail, bend your knees slightly to absorb the shock evenly and take a turn to control the speed.
Tips and Warning
- You can never ride a rail without visualizing. It pays to check out what other experienced boarders are doing. Note where they drop and their speed.
- Snowboarding a rail can cause serious injuries. Perfect the boxes and the tubes first before progressing to rails.
- Always remain focused. Maintain your speed while keeping your eyes on the end of the rail. Never look down.
- As a rule of thumb, ensure that you have enough space and that there are no other oncoming boarders. This protects you from being crashed on in case you bailed out.