One of the concerns that I hear most often from ” surf-curios” snow goers is the question, ” how, or where do you snowsurf. It seems like they think its impossible to actually GO powdersurfing. Short of showing you my spots, I have a few suggestions that can get you surfing in no-time.
Let me first introduce the idea of sessioning. Or “The Sesh” Come with me for a few minutes, if you will, outside of the ski area mentality…. when skateboarders go street skating, they find the spot, such as a ledge, stairs, a tranny, and sesh it. Riding it over and over. Trying tricks, grinds, or ollies. Honing their skills though repetition. Watching their friends progress and getting the stoke to push even harder than you have been. Taking your skating to new levels. Because, that’s “how we do!”….. Not just skating down the street, hitting things as they come to them, like skiers and snowboarders at a ski area. Top to bottom runs, as many as you can get, before everyone else…..Both the skate and snow version of this are fun. Don’t get me wrong. We’re talkin sesh here though….Filming pros, at the top of our sport, already employ the idea of “the sesh”. Being that setting up a camera for one hit would be silly. A feature in the backcountry is found. Hopefully multiple lines are available, and the sesh begins. The focus being, getting the shot. To non- filming riders, this would translate to sticking whatever you might be attemting. Quite often, I do the backcountry sesh. It seems like the question now is,” how do you go up the mountain?”
There are several way to approach this issue.
One foot in front of the other.
Many snowsurfing days of mine are spent in this way. An interesting, feature covered spot is located. Maybe, 100 to 200 vertical feet of pillows or moderately sized cliffs. We slap high fives and start walking up the hill. This may seem like the least preferred way to get proper laps in, but actually, hanging out with your buddies in a zone with no one else around is extremely appealing to me. I’ve been riding at ski areas for almost twenty years. I find this change in my powder consumption very refreshing. Once the bootpack is in, the hike is easier and easier. The pace is determined by your stoke. Much like the street skating session described above, you and your buddies are trying to hone their skills through repetition. Each time you descend, you gain more confidence. Every time you see your homie stick something, it motivates you more. These shorter sessions may at first seem counterintuitive, but after the first sesh like this that you have, it almost doesn’t make sense any other way. The days that I spent doing this last season are the standout memories from that year. Strange, but somehow, so fun!
I do not have a pair of Mountain Approach skis yet, but I plan on getting a pair ASAP. This seems like the best people-powered snowsurf access available. You can skin to the top with less effort than a bootpack. Which means you could session a longer pitch with less energy. At the top, fold em up and put them in your pack. Viola! The other backcountry access tool of choice would be Verts. Verts are very light and packable snowshoes. They have a fixed heel and a short toe. Excellent for going straight up. They are like bootpacking, only you sink about half of what your boot alone would sink. Camera jockeys, such as the Absinthe film crew, swear by them. I tried a pair one time and was sold. Both the Mountain Approach and Verts systems work very well for snowsurf. If I were you, I’d score a pair of both. For the ultimate in powdersurfing access.
Frowned upon by sheltered backcountry users, the snowmobile can give you the most and longest runs out there. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the ole’ “sledski” mish. Used in the right way, the sled can provide super fun times. The ability to get to the bottom of tons of mountains is ridiculous! Not to mention that you and a buddy can stand side-by-side and tandem to the top as well. Riding snowmobiles themselves is crazy fun. So, its hard to lose with this method. You’ll get some nasty looks from “backcountry” skiers sometimes. Usually, they drove their cars up from the city to skin one mile out into the “backcountry”, and meanmug every other user out there. But, righteously ignore those types. For you sir, are killin it! Get some! The smile on your face will defuse\confuse them.
Yes. Some ski areas actually allow snowsurf boards to use their lifts. Whether or not you ride inbounds is a slippery slope. Pardon the pun. Generally I find that inbounds riding is a no go. The skier compaction allows for hard places that must be ridden across sometimes. Not so graceful an endeavor. But, shapes are coming that allow such. More and more every season. I am testing shapes now that are doing surprisingly well on hard snow.
The main purpose of this blog post really is to introduce an idea that you may not have considered yet. For most people, access is the hard part for them to understand. The methods mentioned above may be out of your reach or seem unappealing. What I would suggest is this…..Where is the good snow that is needed to surf powder???? High in the mountains. How would I get there? Your local ski area! Load the lift on your snowboard. Snowsurfer in hand. That should go over with the liftie since you really are riding your snowboard. Then, go to the place where you know the aspect has powder. Plant your snowboard in the snow and hike up. Ride back to your snowboard when you want to leave. Simple, I know. This method allows anyone to get out and sesh up the mountains for their first time or on the regular. Another ski area option would be to access the “slackcountry”. If you are interested in snowsurf, then likely, you are already familiar with these areas. If you actually care about snowsurf, talk to your mountain about allowing it access on the lift. Stevens Pass ski area allows snowsurf boards on their lifts under the same skiers code that is used at all ski areas. It states that you must ride in control. Very simple. If you are flying down an icy groomer with no hope of avoiding an obstacle, ski patrol has every right to stop you and “have a talk”. That’s not what you would do though, right? Powder is the name of this game, as well, the knowledge that it takes to ride powder safely. Now……GO GET SOME!
Snowsurfing is about free footed fun. Not being attached to the board is both a thrill and a skill. You are attached in a couple ways though….
There are a few schools of thought on leashes. Snurfers, back in the day, we’re leashed at the nose. I assume it was attached there for control and board loss prevention. The Turkish version, the original snowboard, was ridden with a nose attached leash as well. A stick was held in the trailing hand. I’m not sure what was up with the stick…ancient ski pole? Greg Todds and the Noboard crew in Canada, had their own thoughts on the leash. They offer a leash intended for attachment in the front and back of the riders feet. The idea would be to hold the board to your feet in not-so-perfect conditions. Their design also allows the rider to drop the rope and surf it with no hands. Noboard pads have traditionally been attached to snowboards. I’ve seen a lot of Noboard leashes being used on Sharks with favorable results.
I use and recommend a coiled poly leash. Like a telephone chord. Ungi Bungi makes the leash that I like so far. I have modified it though…..
The Ungi Bungi comes with a vecro ankle mount cuff. Leashing to your ankle while powder surfing is a no go for a few reasons, in my opinion. For one, if you fall forward, you are going to tumble. Head over heels. If your leash is attached to your ankle when it comes flying over your head, then you are about to experience some wicked “snapback”. Two, the leash at your ankle is long and can snag on trees or whatever. Walking with it on is sort of a hassle too. Not to mention “running it out”. The waist is a much more neutral place for your leash to be attached. So, I took off the cuff. Very easy to do, by the way. Then I added a biner in its place with a loop of chord. As seen above, I attach the biner to a short webbing loop that is run through by my belt in my pants. This set-up let’s you detach the leash easily, and you can just leave the webbing loop on your snowpant’s belt. Do not attach the leash to the belt loop of your pants. The board will rip it off and you might cause an accident like hitting your friend with your runaway board! At the other end of the leash I used the other Velcro closure to hold a snaphook. The snaphook is easy to operate with gloves on and hooks to the back leash attachment on the board. Behind your back foot. YOU SHOULD ALWAYS BE LEASHED TO YOUR BOARD! You don’t want to lose it forever, right? The risk of runaway equipment is always a concern. If you and your boo are in a short zone having a sesh, and there was a run-out that would stop your board, its ok to go leashless. Skatepark rules though. You have to be aware that your buddy might shoot his board at you…..He didn’t meeeean it though….Walk it off by bring him his board.
Sharks leash attachments are held to the board with good ole snowboard inserts.
This is why I put the front leash attachment on my boards. No binders means it can be hard to carry in a pack without slipping out. It can also receive a Noboard rope. Not me. I’m a “no roper”! Part of the challenge and experience is finding the route that you can freely ride down. Using your hands for balance only. Not to say that I haven’t grabbed edge and side slipped down a couple hard chutes when I had to.
Leash responsibly !
Get ready! Here comes winter!!!!!!!
The safety rules of back country travel have been established. I hope that you are familiar with them already. If not, you are here by mistake or curiosity. Please, do not enter the back country without understanding the risks that you are taking, and how to mitigate them. Either way, I’m not going into it here. Instead, I want to talk about the safety rules of snowsurf…….”RULES!!!What??? I thought this was about freedom!!”……Yes, asshole……rules.
Powder surfing has its own set of rules……there….is that better? OK. All of the regular cautions should be taken, but there’s some other things that one has to consider when attemting to ride lines with no bindings.
Leash: you have to leash your board to yourself. If you lose it while riding, it really sucks to walk downhill through the powder. The only exception would be if you are in a controlled zone, that wasn’t too long, and you wanted to try tricks. That’s the only time that leashless is OK. Still, you have to think about your buddies who are downhill from you. Which brings us to the next point about leashless. If your leash were to break, or you weren’t leashed, and you lost your board downhill, there could be incredibly dire consequences. You could straight up kill some one! I’ve seen runaway equipment take people down before. Its always ugly. You, as a responsible back country user, have to think about the other people who are on, or might be on the slope above or below you. You do not want the weight of that preventable accident on your conscience when you go riding again. Really.
Avalanche: Again, one needs to consider the other back country users in proximity. Besides that you need to know that when you are caught in an avalanche, or even a sluff, you will not be able to use your board to fight the avy in the same way as conventional equipment. When I get sluffed on my snowsurf board, I have found that I can still traverse out of the slide. Not with as much force as I can on my snowboard, but you still employ the same technique. Traverse, if you can, to the side of the slide that looks like you can get out easiest. On a snowsurf board, that traverse will have a steeper angle, but you can still do it. Just don’t expect it to happen as quickly as on a snowboard. There are a couple things that are working for you though. Since you aren’t bound, if you are in a larger slide that you aren’t getting out of till it stops, your feet are free. Not locked into your board. So, you can swim a bit better. As well, when you stop, in your obviously distressed situation, your feet will be free. This makes tree well escape a bit easier too. Ever hang upside down from your binders after you launched head first into a tree well? Getting out of your straps can prove too much for some. If you want to breath again, you will get your feet unstrapped……I’ve also found that your snowsurf board can double as a self arrest device in an avy. Grab both sides of your board and dig in! Have faith. That snow wont run forever.
Steeps: Yes, steeps! In the right conditions, you can ride some pretty steep pitches. Those runs can be insanely fun and rewarding. Conditions are what lets you go there, not bravery. Don’t be too ambitious. Work your way up to dropping steeper and steeper stuff. CONDITIONS! Powder. Not hard underneath. Denser snow is the best……When riding the steep stuff, you might carry a self arrest device of some sort. If you screw it up or it goes shallow on you, you are gonna slide. When and how will you stop? Trees can stop you. Only, trees can break your pelvis and kinda ruin your day, season, your life….. The leash by Noboard is an option for big mountain riding. It allows you to drop in on places that might be wind scoured at the top, and then firmer at the bottom. As altitude sometimes changes condish on a rider. I would however caution the use of “the rope” in steeps. A rider needs free hands for the amount of balance and pure thrash factor that it takes to pull such lines. I must confess that I have never used a Noboard leash. Or any way to hold the board to my feet. I feel that its totally possible to plan a route that is “hands free” in most mountain scapes. Its a big part of the challenge of snowsurf. Knowledge!
Conditions: Condish is paramout to snowsurfing. To draw a parallel, you can’t just go to the ocean with a surf board, paddle out, and ride waves. You have to know where to go, when to go, how to surf……. Same with snowsurf. If you can snowsurf everyday, you are one lucky individual! Most of us have to wait for the right day. If not, a not-so-fun run is in you’re future. When I ride the side country of my local ski area, Stevens Pass, I will take a run on my snowboard first. To warm up, and to assess conditions. If my run is glorious at the top, but hard when I get down to lower elevation, I snowboard that day. No worries! Snowboarding is awesome! If it goes well, I’m pretty much running to the car to gear out for surf. This is a safe way to approach this potentially very dangerous sport. Like most slope users, I monitor conditions daily to keep track of the snowpack. This may be the very best avalanche prevention strategy that there is. As long as you can back off and not lie to yourself about what conditions actually are…….Powder has many forms. Have fun and educate yourself to the rhythms of nature. There are tons of way to have fun on a board with no bindings. Be cautious and mindfull, and you can have the most fun that you could ever imagine. Be unsafe, and we’ll see you in the “funny pages”
Building a new press block is no joke. Lots of time goes into each one of these. So far, in my short career as a board builder, I’ve made 8 of them. Shaping the block is the only part of what I do that is like a traditional surf board shaper. (Well, maybe not the only thing). The rocker and nose/tail upturns are fairly easy to achieve. After you have a square block, the concaves, spoons, and releases are the challenge……….Before I go on……..I suppose I should say that I have no surfing background. At all. So, anything I say about surfing is from an outsider’s perspective. Because of my interest, I have read quite a bit about ski, snowboard, surf, and boat shaping theories. I’ve also watched a lot of videos about surfboard shaping. Besides those things, surfing is foreign to me. I see it as an advantage though. Snow and water, as much as they ARE each other, do not react the same when riding a board at speed on their surface. I don’t have surf shapes ingrained in my head, so I don’t have to re-think anything. Blank slate? I guess, right? ……oh yeah, speaking of, press block…The challenge! When you grab the planer, you’re stepping off the edge. It’s all in your hands and eyes. You have to affect the block in exactly the same way on both sides. Not too much at once. Stopping frequently to eye it up and feel it with your hands. It’s almost better to close your eyes…… I have a very specific shape that I’m going for every time. In my mind, none of the shapes can be too drastic. Clean lines will translate into a clean ride. The essential properties have to be there though. The board has to plane. So, it cant be too concaved or rockered. Flat planes very well. But, flat can’t be the “high performance” shape, in my mind. To me, the board has to be concaved. For one, to hold the riders feet with the proper feel and drive. Two, to give the base of the board more maneuverability. But then, a concaved base starts to lose plane…… This is where I had come to when I realized that the boards need channels at the edges. The channels aren’t put in by the press block though. That’s another post……The nose and tail can’t be too upturned. I’m not making skateboards that need tail to Ollie. Not to say that you don’t Ollie while snowsurfing. You do, it’s not the same though. The tail and nose of a snowsurf board play a different role. The nose cuts and splits. The tail gouges and releases.All these things and more are considered while shaping the block.
This is a cross-lam. Our boards are three 1/8 inch layers of bamboo. Natures Kevlar. The cross-lam is the middle layer to strengthen the board laterally. This one’s a brown noser!
To make the channels, we apply wedges to the lams. They force the base layer downward when in the press. The length of the channels is crucial. More about channels later.
Oooooh. Pretty! A finished shark. Ready to be released into the wild.