Three ways to change how you look at snowboarding this winter.
“You could ride the same run all day then change to a radically different board, and all of a sudden, you’re riding a different mountain.”
If there is one lesson to be learned from pro-snowboarder Rob Kingwill’s 2016 PowWow (aside from the fact that Kinger knows how to orchestrate a damn good soul shred session), it’s that there’s no shortage of new, unique snowboard shapes. During the annual board demo event where the leading and most innovative snowboard manufacturers come together, I noticed decks shorter, wider, with more of a setback stance and a swallowtail than what I brought from home. Yes, the surf influence is all the rage this winter.
But this trend is not just to please the faithful followers of Taro Tamai (of the legendary Gentemstick); it’s changing how people ride, and how they look at the mountain. Two of the young sensei of this new philosophy are Aaron Lebowitz, founder and head shaper at Missoula’s Soul Motion Snowboards, and Jackson local Alex Yoder, who’s taken a left turn from the gnar-above-all-else style of snowboarding in the Tetons and sought its more artful, sensual counterpart in every transition. All riders, Lebowitz and Yoder posit, can benefit from this new world of board design.
1. Forget the fall line and stop thinking linearly
“For the longest time, boards were designed to conquer the mountain,” Lebowitz said. “They were built to go straight down the fall line, like a skier. But there’s 100 turns that could be made in the course of that same experience … and each turn is its own, slow-motion moment.”
Part of this is simply self-preservation; as you age (and perhaps become more wise?) you’re not going to charge and huck like you did in high school (sorry). The other part though is connecting with that feeling of flow between turns, or as Lebowitze describes it, the moving meditation.
“It’s trying to connect with that moment of snowboarding, that first time you strapped in and just went, and the motion of the mountain carried you down,” he said.
While some of it is decoupling our ambitions from the technical challenges we’re naturally drawn to as our skills increase, it’s also changing the challenge: improving your execution of the turn, improving how well you read the side of that gully and set that carve. It’s these micro-challenges, not the first descents, which will keep snowboarding fresh for a lifetime.
“Surfing’s been around for a lot longer than snowboarding,” Alex Yoder pointed out. Indeed, surfers have been thinking about, obsessing over, and tinkering with board design for much longer than their snow-footed denizens. As the de facto North American ambassador for the ultimate boogie soul boards, Japan’s Gentemstick, Yoder explained that most people are skeptical of the narrower stance he encourages them to take when they head out on a demo board. They’re also leery of the shorter boards he wants to put them on (Yoder is six feet clean and rides a tiny 141 regularly).
“But it’s about allowing your body to be open to a different feeling,” he explained. “You could ride the same run all day then change to a radically different board, and all of a sudden, you’re riding a different mountain.”
3. Think about a quiver, or at least set yourself for mellow days
“Having a quiver is first of all, a privilege,” Yoder was quick to note. “But it allows you to have different experiences on different days based on what mood you’re in. Some days, I don’t feel like getting extreme, and I’ll whip out a tiny little board that’s only going to want to go slow, a second or third-gear board, versus always being on a sixth-gear board that wants to straight line Cody Bowl.”
Just as surfers might break it up and leave their quad at home in favor of a lumbering longboard, Yoder encourages riders to seek out a range of boards that allow them to have a blast every day no matter what. Because sometimes it’s just about making those soul turns.
Aspiring to surf the Earth since 2016, Ryan Dunfee is former managing editor at Teton Gravity Research now working at the Sierra Club. @ryandunfee85