Connecting with the Freestyle Culture by Ronnie Barr

As the winter season fast approaches, all of us passionate educators are getting into our pre-season strides.  Boards and skis are getting waxed, new gear is arriving in the mail, and the early season stoke is starting to hit.  The first turns are coming, goals are getting set, and the planning of the next six months is kicking off.

As those goals are getting set, many skiers and riders are having thoughts of spending more time in the park and enhancing their freestyle skills.  For some it’s a laundry list of new tricks and skills to learn, for others it may be as simple as following through on spending more time in the park to become more rounded, a goal that can easily take a back seat as snow falls, terrain opens, and soft turns become the number one priority.

At many resorts, the early season park is a great way to kick off freestyle learning.  There are only a couple runs open and the quality of those runs diminishes quickly throughout the day.  But what I see happen often is as the early season park picks up, it deters some of us from going in.  Let’s be honest, it can be a super intimidating place to step into, especially if your experience is limited.  On the other side of that coin, the park is filled with eager learners who spray positive energy around and love building up their peers.  So, for those of you who have been wanting to get into the park more, let’s talk about some ways to make it happen and get your goals on the path of achievement early in the year.

Step 1:  Get in there!

While it can be a bit overwhelming at first, the big step is to ride through the baffle, past that SMART style sign, and get into the park.  Before even thinking about the features, check out the vibe, the set up, and think about what you feel comfortable with.  As you process the environment and those around you, you can begin to get ready to meet your goals.

Step 2:  Bring your smile and good vibrations!

Sure, it can be a lot to get in the park and watch all the expert riders start getting their skills back, especially when you’re watching athletes all the way up to the professional level.  But the big secret is that most people in the park are super nice and friendly, especially the high-level athletes.  The best way to work past personal pressure or uncertainty is to embody “respect gets respect” and start handing out compliments like candy on Halloween.  If you see something cool, let that person know you liked it.  It’s not often that a compliment is met with negativity, and on many levels, this can open up opportunities for conversation and connection, just like you do with your guests at lineup.

Step 3:  know your SMART style!

About the only thing that gets to park riders is inexperienced riders in bad places.  Knowing good places to stop, inspect, watch and move is key!  Getting on the safe side of a feature where you’re not in anyone’s way can help you determine if you’re ready for a feature, different ways to get over that feature, and even provide ideas to push yourself on that feature.  It’s also a great way to make some noise and show support and encouragement for others, which is what the freestyle culture is all about.  Then having the right route to the next feature or out of the park will help you remain fluid and build your own confidence as you work your way into focusing on your own riding.

Step 4:  Drop at the right time for you!

Few things are appreciated more than handing off a drop into someone else.  If you see someone else lining up to hit the same feature as you, don’t be afraid to give them the drop.  Not only does it make you look like the good and courteous skier or rider that you are, but it keeps those jitters of dropping in front of someone away and keeps you from doing something you’re unsure of when you don’t feel ready.  Many mistakes happen when nerves kick in, and this can help keep that off the table.  Don’t feel rushed, or like you must drop when you’re not ready.  Give some room, do what you need to do, and give yourself the space you need to focus on your skills!

Step 5:  Have a solid hike session!

Nothing is better for your skills and mindset then a good hike session!  It doesn’t need to be all day, but a good 30 to 45 minutes of hiking a feature will seriously up your reps, help you build confidence, and it’s even a solid workout!  Hiking is such a huge benefit for your riding, and the best way to get some feedback from your peers.  You’ll be amazed at the people you will meet and relationships you can build if you hike with a smile, and it can give you the opportunity to provide feedback to others.

These tips, if used with other knowledge gained from other educators, will help set you up for success.  For cognitive learners, make sure you have enough information to feel confident, and then bring it to the park!  Kinesthetic learners, remember that a little info to help things make sense is a better avenue than huck it and hope.  No matter what kind of learner you are, learning happens by doing, so get out there and do!  In my experience, spending more time in the park, even if you do not consider yourself a park rider, is the best way to build confidence and change your vibe in our industry.  I can’t tell you how many lifelong friends I have made in the park, and early in my career it came from overcoming the fear and intimidation of not feeling like a park rider.

Happy shredding and have an amazing winter season!

Ronnie Barr

PSIA-AASI RM Freestyle Committee

Head Coach of Snowboarding, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail

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