Inspired by the insane airtime of the Winter Olympics skiers and snowboarders, RSNG travelled to LAAX to check out the resort’s indoor Freestyle Academy, train our riding chops and then get airborne in the snow park – here’s what we learned...
The thing about the best in the world is they make it look easy – when watching titans of snow sport, such as Shaun White stomping insane tricks to win his fourth Olympic gold, it’s hard not to be inspired to at least try and hit the snow park on your next holiday. Thing is, it can be an intimidating prospect; do you just strap in, point your skis or snowboard down the hill and go for it?
It sounds good in theory but some of those kickers are massive, and the landing is hard, icy and unforgiving. What if there was an alternative route? Some kind of way to practice jumping high and spinning fast that didn’t risk eating snow on your first attempt? Well, in Switzerland’s LAAX resort, there is…
1. Enrolling In Freestyle School
Like many on the pistes, I’m an OK rider when going along the snow, or very occasionally popping up into the air, but going big and rotating in mid-air are out of reach right now. So, RSNG has challenged The Freestyle Academy and LAAX snowboard instructors to take me from a freestyle zero to a 180° landing ‘hero’ in just one day.
The first thing I see when walking into LAAX’s Freestyle Academy is a dude bouncing high off a trampoline to do a couple backflip – he almost makes it around, but even from here I can see he’s going to under-rotate and come up short. Fortunately, he crashes down into a massive airbag, untidily, but none the worse for wear. It seems this is the place to come to get your aerial chops, without getting chopped.
I’m introduced to the trampolines by instructor Neil Rechsteiner. It turns out that having a strong core is vital to keeping control in the air. ‘As you land on the trampoline it will push back – stay strong here but also when you are in the air. It’s pretty much the same when you are jumping off the kicker as jumping off the trampoline,’ he says.
Many ski and snowboard tricks rely on mid-air rotations. These are also affected by how you hold your body when airborne. ‘When you jump off you give the impulse to rotate with your arms, and not with your torso. Then you are in the rotation and if you are too slow, you can tuck your arms in to get faster. And then stretch them out to brake and stop.’
2. Dialling It Up A Notch: To Slow Things Down
The Freestyle Academy also has an even bigger airbag at the bottom of two monster Snowflex artificial kickers. Strapping into my snowboard at the top of the intimidatingly steep run, I shuffle the nose over the edge and then hop down. The speed of the run in takes my breath away, then the lip of the jump rushes up at me. Fortunately, I keep enough presence of mind to resist the surprising amount of force that hammers through my legs.
‘You need the perfect moment to jump off – when you are coming down the kicker and you go up, you have a force pressing you down through the knees – when you cannot fight back you’ll slow and maybe fall,’ warns Rechsteiner.
‘When jumping it’s good to tuck your knees to be small – then you’re stable in the air’
As I fire off the jump I realise I’ve leaned backwards at the crucial moment and I start to wheel through the air, my shoulders heading down, while my legs and board arc overhead. I smack into the airbag the wrong way up, very glad of the soft landing.
This has shown me how the smallest adjustments of body position in the jump have huge effects, and it’s also been the perfect opportunity to get my head around flying through the air. At first everything happens too fast to follow, but after a few runs my brain has processed what’s happening enough for me to actually observe and act during my airtime – I’ve slowed things down.
I also learn a valuable flying lesson: ‘When you are in the air but too loose and stretched out you are losing control because of the wind. So when jumping it’s good when you bend your knees and tuck to be small – then you’re stable in the air,’ says Rechsteiner.
3. Carving Your Path
I’m ready to transfer my new aerial skills and awareness to one of LAAX’s four snow parks with freestyle instructor Matthieus Birrer. First things first, before we even hit the Park, Birrer checks out my carving ability on the piste. It turns out this is important for stylish rotations off the kickers, in order to take off on one edge, and land on the other (it will be heel to toe in my case).
‘Really push your back foot into the carve so that the board is riding and not sliding – but too much pressure and you start to slide. Make sure that you have enough angle for carving – 60°-90° is a combination of sliding and carving whereas 90° you are full carving.’
4. The Take Off Zone
It’s time to get some air – rocking up to one of the snow park’s smaller kickers might seem a bit ‘weak’ but these jumps don’t have much of a flat knuckle before the sloped landing, which makes them good for taking it slow and dialling in your technique. Birrer recommends a first run, straight air jump as a speedcheck because how fast you go decides how far you fly.
I carve up to the jump and use some of my trampoline skills to press the board off the landing as I leave it – an active jump. Landing cleanly I head back up and this time go a bit faster, long enough to grab the front edge of my board with one hand, in the air. This also handily stabilises my flight. ‘It’s better to have something to do when you’re up there!’ says Birrer.
Considering I’d never even landed a trick before today, I’m pleased with my progress and we switch to a bigger kicker. But confidence takes a bit of a beating when I put a bit too much ‘pop’ into this one by attempting to ollie off the lip. I take off OK but I’m too stretched out in the air, pushing my torso backwards, I land on the tail of the board and wash out. ‘You have to hold your body tension and be stable in the air when you go over big jumps. A small misalignment of angle gets amplified the bigger you go,’ warns Birrer.
‘Imagine a straight rod through your head and body – you need to rotate around that’
5. In A Spin
The next ingredient in your freestyle is the rotation off the kicker. The stylish way to do this is when your upper body goes with the snowboard, tracking its direction. This creates a slower, more chilled out rotation that creates the ideal platform for a host of tricks, and further rotations. There’s a knack to it though… As I approach the kicker, left foot forwards, I rotate my shoulders back to the right, without tilting my torso.
‘Imagine a straight rod going through your head and body – you need to rotate around that,’ says Birrer. As I carve up the face of the kicker, on my heel edge, I rotate my torso back around again to put Birrer’s advice into play: ‘At the point where you push off and lose your connection with the snow, you should end your upper body rotation, maintain tension in your body and let the board turn.’ It sounds straightforward and my legs and board do rotate around underneath me – the problem is they don’t come far enough. Result = sitting on my arse, hard!
My next attempt is better – I remember to stay standing in the middle of my board, actively jump off the lip and time my pre-airtime rotation perfectly. I’ve converted the force of the takeoff into the rotation, spinning 180° and landing as softly as stepping down a stair. It feels amazing and I can’t wait to put in some more runs to progress to the next level… Addictive, much?
HOW TO GET THERE
RISING flew to Zurich with Swiss Air and then used a Rail Pass to transfer to LAAX, via Chur. We stayed at the newly refurbished Rider’s Hotel with its brand new yoga studio. The Freestyle Academy runs introductions and courses tailored to your skill level and needs. Find out more about how LAAX is aiming to be a sustainable resort here.
WHAT NEXT? Watch the LAAX snow parks in action this season…
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.
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