You’d be forgiven to think that snowboarding is just all about sliding down a small hill again and again. You’d be surprised though that there’s a lot more to snowboarding than just that. It’s like football(soccer) where there’s the traditional match, then there’s streetball, panna, futsal, etc. It’s the same for snowboarding! Here we discuss the different snowboard disciplines and different ways of snowboarding!
So to start, these are not hard lines and categories. You will not be forced to select a category for yourself and just stick to there forever. If anything these are usually transitional where you start with one, explore the other, then the next, etc.
Lastly, a disclaimer that these are not industry terms (some of them are) but definitely that catch-all description I have (discipline) is mostly from my interpretation. It’s like if you ask me “if you would classify the types of snowboarders out there, what would those be?”. These are my answers.
The “Normal” Snowboarding
A better term escapes me right now but what I’m describing right now is the snowboarding that you would imagine: riding the lifts, taking on different trails, different difficulties, different mountains.
I want to say Alpine downhill snowboarding but “alpine snowboarding” lately has a connotation for hard boots snowboarding (don’t worry about this for now, it’s a little bit different than the snowboarding you will/know right now)
It’s very fun, very social, and this is when you and your friends discover new areas (as in different mountains, different sections of those mountains).
As you progress and as you ride more and more, you’ll notice that the terrain changes (yup). You’ll feel the difference that there’s a difference between fresh-fallen snow (yey), ice (nay), and everything in between.
If you’re lucky and your mountain has this, you can go through the trees (aka glades) and that even presents a new level of fun (and also danger: tree wells, see vid below later).
If you’re shopping around for snowboards and you hear the term “all-mountain”, this type of discipline/terrain is what those types of snowboards are for: all-around, all-purpose, have-fun-in-any-way riding.
Some snowboarders like speed and racing and this discipline would be the best for them with the groomed runs and wide spaces. In contests/X-Games/Olympics these translate to snowboard cross (aka SBX).
Terrain parks are sections within ski resorts. “So why isn’t this part of the section above then?”. It could be but I decided to separate it because Park Riding can be a world in itself. In fact it is. Some people love it so much that when they say they’re going snowboarding, what they actually mean is that they’re going up and down but then will only hit those sections every time (and it’s not a small section mind you)!
Terrain Parks are the enclosed sections within ski resorts that contain a lot of features. Features are basically obstacles like rails, pipes, boxes (it’s that flat white ‘box’), and ramps. Most of the time it’s enclosed, sometimes it’s not. There are also some interesting and fun resort runs that you would think are part of this definition but actually not. There are banked slaloms, snowboard/ski crosses, speed runs, etc.
Anyways, there are some people who fall in love with this type of riding and all day err-day that’s all they’ll be doing. It’s actually fun actually. At least I can say I can understand them. I go into moods like this where I’d snowboard solo and that day would be my training day and I would choose to just do parks the whole day. I’ve never gotten to a point though where it’s just that the entire season.
As mentioned though, people are not limited to one discipline. So for park riders sometimes it’s mellow during peak winter (because it snows a lot and powder snow takes out speed). The most practical reason too is sometimes it just snows a lot so your features literally get buried under the snow. Sometimes they just go off the resort and build their own jumps as well (more in back country).
It gets to the point where some people go pro at this and they’re the type of snowboarders you see on tv, commercials, or X-Games contests. If you’re a park rider you further focus more as a slopestyle, Big Air, or halfpipe rider.
When you’re shopping for snowboards and the label says “this is a freestyle board” that means it’s optimized for park use. It’s probably conservative on the length and very bend-y.
Street / Urban Snowboarding
This one is basically the most straightforward one. Admittedly I will probably write less about this only because this is the discipline that I know the least.
You’ve probably seen skateboarders jibbing on park benches, walls, or any place in urban areas, right? So same thing, but there’s snow and they’re using snowboard. I definitely understand and can see the appeal for the discipline though I’m more into the other ones.
When you enter a terrain park, you are presented with obstacles in a controlled environment. There’s also a defined way on how to approach those features. For urban riders, the urban landscape is their terrain park. Nothing is defined too so it’s up to them to search and define what ‘obstacles’ they’ll hit. It’s part of the excitement! It’s one thing to spot a handrail in a park (which is essentially like a rail in terrain park), it’s another on how to approach it. World-class urban riders when you see them they’re like jumping off a two-storey building, sliding off a wall, jumping to a trash bin, hop onto a hand rail and then spin 999 times.
I can see the fun but I’ll skip this one for now. Hitting concrete and metals don’t sound attractive compared to falling on snow lol.
Powder (Pow pow)
Powder boarding is the “ooh la-la” / “pièce de resistance” of snowboarding. It’s the most sought-after, it’s the most fun, but it’s also the hardest-to-get. “Powder” is a term for essentially “fresh-fallen snow”. When you ride just after/during snowfall, the terrain/snow is lighter, softer, and very loose. So it’s like powder.
So of course that’s not always the case since snow melts, yada yada yada, and then it gets more compacted and more solid. It’s hard to get because hello global warming and most inhabited places (cities) obviously are warm or if you want to get to the closest ones (tops of mountains) that it’s actually hard to get there.
Every now and then when the snow gods bless you, you’d be riding in your local hill and it would be during/after an epic snowfall and you’d get some glimpse of how good it can be. The most obvious difference that it’s so soft that it’s so good on the knees LOL. The texture also is so loose that if you get it deep enough, it almost acts like water.
It’s just….UGH. It’s an indescribable feeling. Trust me, you want this if you haven’t experienced this yet. You can experience this in and out of resorts.
Backcountry is a term for unregulated, unmaintained snow mountains. Basically if you’re hiking and you see mountains with snow and you hike them up and you snowboard down, that’s backcountry. Ski resorts are the “frontcountry” where in you have mechanized lifts to get you up, and there are companies, people, machineries that groom and maintain the ski trails for you. They also try to control avalanche when possible. Backcountry is the absence of those.
Yes there’s side country as well. This is when you go up using lifts (of a resort) but then you go off the designated trails by yourselves.
No it does not always mean that each mountain has a front side(maintained) and a back side (unmaintained). Maybe that’s how it started before but now there would be ski resorts where it encompasses all sides of a mountain.
What’s the appeal
What’s the beauty here? Well it’s like attempting to propose to the wo/man of your dreams: you guys are together already and a couple and you guys are sharing all the excellent benefits, but now you decide to marry. It gives you next level happiness (but also next level responsibilities, headaches, and challenges–which most people often forget).
Most of the time backcountries are always filled with powder (and I just told you how heavenly that is). They’re in hard to reach places which means there are less people riding them and compacting the snow etc. They also get much more snowfall too. So if powder snow happens today it gets preserved longer than ski resorts. It’s just never-ending beauty.
As for the trade-offs, since it’s uncontrolled, unmaintained, there are no ski lifts so you will have to hike up there yourself. That’s where splitboards come into action. Hiking alone can be challenging, what more for more gear on your back and on your body and doing it on snow.
The backcountry is to be respected every time or else you might pay the ultimate price: your life. Yes. YOU. CAN. DIE. (starting to learn snowboarding is safe, the rest, it depends on you). This is the ultimate responsibility. Since it’s unmaintained, layers of different types of snow might form and an avalanche might occur.
This is Travis Rice, one of the best snowboarder and backcountry rider out there. He got caught in an avalanche; what more for you. You cannot outrun an avalanche. Just imagine you’re snowboarding down fast and there’s a WAY bigger mass behind you, coming in really hot and it’s faster than you and this thing will jostle you around, maybe you get lightly tossed around but maybe you get smashed against a rock face and/or thrown off the cliff. The worst thing that could happen to you is you get buried alive.
Is it still not sinking how big of a deal this is for you? Here’s a clip of someone just sinking in snow in a controlled evironment(resort). This is also the dangers of “tree wells” when you go through trees:
This kid was just partially buried and he was found and got out within seconds. The dad knew where he would’ve fallen. Notice how big of a deal this was for the dad and notice how quick you run out of breath when you get buried.
Now imagine you’re in the backcountry and then as the avalanche swallows you (and you’re still falling down) you disappear from everyone’s view. So as you settle and get buried at the bottom,
it’s one thing for your friends to find where you are and then it’s another for them to run full sprint on snow and gear and then it’s another for them to find exactly where you are when they get there and then if that’s not enough to exhaust your friends already they’ve have to dig you out. I haven’t even mentioned panic. You panicking underneath is not good, but don’t forget that the people above are also probably panicking and it’s not helping the rescue process.
Respect Mother Nature.
And after that morbid note, these are different disciplines of snowboarding! People tend to jump in and out of these baskets and I’d encourage you to the same. It’s more fun and you get to experience new things. There’s so much to do and experience in snowboarding.
Sometimes it goes in order. For most people they would just do resort riding, maybe parks, and as they get wisdom (both in knowledge and in age), they eventually transition to backcountry. It makes sense. Why endanger your life when there’s a controlled resort for you. Resorts are where you hone your skills too anyways and above all, there are sooo many things to enjoy and exhaust first before you get to backcountry.