03(Teaching)/Learning to Snowboard part 2

LTR 2, beyond falling leaf


When a rider can descend The Landing (this is our beginner slope) by way of the falling leaf, they have most of what they need to create turns.  (I.e., movement forward and backward across the slope while on one edge of a gliding board; moving the balance point forward and backward over the feet as needed to remain upright and secure).

In essence, the falling leaf and the ‘traverse’ that goes with it resemble the end phase of a simple skidded turn.  The board travels across the fall-line, and the rider is standing on the board in a way that the board remains stable underfoot.  The next thing to do is to bring the rider closer to, and into, the fall-line.


(As in LTR part I, it may be best to point out the path of least resistance down the slope, rather than using the term ‘fall-line’.  Most would try to avoid crossing a line associated with falling.  For the sake of this discussion, the term ‘fall-line’ will be used for accuracy.)


The fall-line represents a physical and psychological barrier.  In order to navigate this region without undue acceleration, the rider must either;

1.    Move from one edge, to the flat of the board, then to the other edge;


2.    Move from one edge, to the flat of the board, and back to the original edge.

The first scenario will create a turn of some sort, while the second option will take the rider back from where they came, though gliding backward.  There is an element of timing involved in the success of either option, though more so with option 1.


Psychologically, if the rider is to move through the fall-line (as opposed to into and then out of), they must come to terms with the fact that they will be pointing downhill for a moment.  Though the moment is brief, for many beginning snowboarders, this moment is a real problem.  Once the board enters the fall line, they will accelerate slightly downhill.  If they are not confident in their ability to control the board, they will hesitate.  If they hesitate, then they will likely ‘hold back’; which will reduce their ability to provide appropriate turning input to the board.  You can guess what happens next.


This is where the W turn comes in.  If done well, this ‘turn’ serves as a means of experiencing the effects of the fall line, without moving into unknown territory.


To clarify, the falling leaf involves more than zig-zagging back and forth.  Each traverse should have some depth or ‘bow’.  As the rider gains ability, they should be able to add to this ‘bow’, to the extent that their progress at one end of the traverse ends in a stall, the board flat on its base, the tip or tail of the board directly in the fall-line.  At this point, the rider  has the choice to go back from whence they came, or to proceed further across the hill on the opposite edge.  In this way, they can go through the mechanics of an edge change without the uncertainty of wondering what will happen next.  From here, it is often a matter of a simple ‘talk through’ before they can make their first turn.


AT NO POINT DURING A LTR SESSION SHOULD YOU INTRODUCE THE NOTION OF ‘CARVING’ A TURN.  A carved turn is, by definition, a turn whereby the tail of the board or ski follows almost exactly the same path as the tip.  This is not a realistic, or desirable expectation for a novice rider.  There was a time not so long ago, when the term carving was used to describe turns made by accomplished riders.  Thanks to the internet, the term has been corrupted to mean almost any circumstance whereby the board points in another direction.


When doing the W-turn, the edge change maneuver should take place away from the edge of the trail, so as not to impose a theoretical obstacle to the rider’s path.  You do not want the rider to have anything large and immovable on which to fix their gaze.


It is not always necessary to do the W-turn in both directions before the rider can attempt actual turns.  This should be left up to the discretion of the instructor.  Once the rider can do a W-turn, they have experienced just about every movement possibility involved in turning, including spinning around backward.  Therefore, no parts of the turning process should feel unfamiliar. Familiarity should significantly reduce fear and thus hesitancy.  Confidence will allow the rider to advance with their board at all times.



The beginner will often have timing issues with their first two or three turns.  They might tip their board too soon or quickly and catch an edge, or halt their movement from one edge to the other, gathering speed.  Your best bet is to provide visual and tactile reference points, which will encourage proper timing.


Heelside to toeside

If the rider is traversing on their heel edge, stand such that they can move across the hill above you.  As they approach, extend a hand for them to tag.  (If they are regular footed, and you are facing up the hill, extend your right hand to meet their right hand.  Do the opposite for a goofy footer.)  As they pass you, you should tag hands.  Their slight reach downhill will move them toward the toeside edge, while your presence will temporarily block their view downhill.  As they pass, they may fix on you peripherally, which will tend to move them further onto their toeside edge, securing their footing as they move through the latter part of the turn back out of the fall-line.

You also have the advantage of being close enough to provide immediate verbal feedback, and you provide them with the sense that, if they make a mistake, you will be there to ‘save’ them, even if you have no intention of doing so.  If they are slightly late, and remain too long on the base of the board, you can make a hand slap out of the original tag.  If you do this correctly, you can pivot them through the fall line, though you need to be careful not to pivot them too far.


Toeside to heelside

Generally speaking, it is easier to transition from a toeside turn to a heelside turn, as it requires less muscle, and the binding high backs provide something to ‘lean’ on, even though this is not their primary, or best function.

This time, you will stand above the line of the rider’s traverse, but you can use the same hand as before.  As the rider reaches uphill for the hand tag, that hand and arm will effectively counterbalance their tendency to ‘sit’ onto the heelside edge, reducing the tendency to catch that edge.  At the same time, their extended arm serves to prevent rotation of the upper body into the turn.  This means that the latter half of the turn will be more stable, and easier to control as rotational momentum has been reduced or eliminated.  Finally, the hand touch will position them slightly back of center as the board crosses the fall line, reducing pivot-induced skid.

More often than not, you only need to do this once or twice before they can effectively time the edge change on their own.


You are not providing physical support, only a reference point.  As a result, the rider cannot deny that they have made the turn on his/her own, which should further boost confidence.


With timing resolved, direct your client to proceed at a comfortable pace, gradually reducing the traverse between each turn.  The goal is not perfect turns, if you will, but rather successful movements from one edge to the other while maintaining control over the rate of descent.



Let the extremities go where they are going to go.  At this stage, if you try to restrict the movement of the hands or arms, you may compromise balance, which may lead to falling.  While it is often beneficial to work with the hand and arms as a means of tuning the rider in to the function of their lower extremities, you should save such tasks for a time when the rider can comfortably execute consistent skidded turns.