Snowboard Riding Styles Explained

James Shaffer
By James Shaffer
Last updated on May 1, 2020

The mountain is a blank canvas. When getting started, riders tend to be focused on just getting down it. With time and practice, however, they are able to transform their riding into a tool for exploration and expression. As their riding progresses, new doors open and fresh terrain challenges their creativity.

How riders approach the mountain—their riding style—plays a crucial role in determining which boards best meet their needs. Often, a riding style is informed by one’s environment. Even if you’re just getting started, understanding riding styles can ensure you select a board that aligns with your interests. Drop in below for an overview of key riding styles. While the boundaries between them are permeable, these styles provide a solid lens for understanding diverse approaches to snowboarding.

Freestyle

With an emphasis on creativity, freestyle riding is rooted in tricks. As a broad category, it can encompass riding that takes place everywhere from the streets to the backcountry. It can be broken down into several subcategories, which riders eagerly hop between:

1. Park

Many resorts have designated terrain parks, which—in competitions—are formally referred to as slopestyle courses. These special runs have man-made features like jumps, boxes, and rails. Park riding stepped into the mainstream spotlight when slopestyle made its Olympic debut in Sochi.

Man sliding on rail in snowboard park

2. Urban

Taking a cue from skateboarders, many snowboarders are approaching the streets with fresh eyes. In an urban environment, features like handrails, ledges, parking structures, and retaining walls can be catalysts for creativity.

In recent years, urban riding has surged among younger riders thanks, in part, to its accessibility. Even if they are miles from a ski area, riders can take to the streets with just a little snow.

3. Halfpipe

 Inspired by vert skating, a snowboard halfpipe is a U-shaped, ditch-like run that is built from snow. Riders carve from one side of the pipe to the other, launching out of its walls and performing tricks before landing back on them. Once comprised of natural gullies, halfpipes now tend to be immense features that require large amounts of snow and that are carved by specialized machinery.

Through the years, events like the Olympics and the X-Games have introduced halfpipe riding to broad audiences. In reality, however, riding pipe is not as pervasive in the snowboard community, as many resorts struggle to justify the time and expense necessary for building and maintaining a halfpipe.

Backcountry

Although backcountry riding often conjures images of exploring distant peaks, many freestylers ply their trade outside of resorts. By building jumps or airing off of natural features like cliffs and cornices, these riders can turn the entire backcountry into their playground.

Freeride

Although freeriding is often synonymous with carving soulful turns down a mountain, this category of riding is just as diverse as freestyle. It can include everything from lapping groomed runs to backcountry missions. As its name suggests, freeriding places an emphasis on riding at one’s leisure.

Freeriders tend to gravitate to natural terrain and may infuse their riding with freestyle elements, including tricks. In the backcountry, freeriders may access remote terrain with a splitboard, which is a specially designed snowboard that separates into two skis for ascending mountains.

snowboarder with snowboard is jumping very high in the mountain forest freeriding

Boardercross and Racing

Arguably fringe elements of snowboarding, boardercross and alpine racing place an emphasis on speed. In boardercross—which is inspired by BMX and motocross racing—a group of riders simultaneously races down a course comprised of jumps, berms, and banked turns. The first rider to successfully navigate the course and arrive at the finish line emerges as the winner.

In slalom and giant slalom races, riders take timed runs down a course that features gates. These snowboard races mirror the format and rules of the ski races that inspired them. In both boardercross and alpine races, riders often use hardboots, which resemble ski boots and afford precise, efficient turns. Although boardercross and alpine races are featured in the Olympics, these disciplines struggle to attract younger riders and remain relevant in the snowboard community.

James Shaffer

James Shaffer

James is a veteran snowboarder and skier. His passion for snow sport dates back to his early life growing up in Colorado. He spent his early adulthood as a ski instructor around popular locations in Europe but is now back in Colorado.
Published April 26, 2020
Last updated May 1, 2020
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