This is an excerpt from Mastering Snowboarding by Hannah Teter & Tawnya Schultz.
Rails and Boxes
Rails and boxes are intimidating for almost anyone who just began snowboarding. Thinking about riding a board across a metal or plastic piece of hand-built material may not be appealing at all. But then again, if you’re reading this then you must be somewhat interested. The truth is rails and boxes can be a fun experience and a cool way to develop your skill set on a snowboard. Of course they are challenging, but if you learn what to do when approaching, riding, and landing them, then you just might find yourself to be a jib master in no time.
Rails and boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. This can be one of the most intimidating factors of all. Lucky for you, most resorts have beginner boxes and rails. Try flat boxes, preferably only a few feet long at first. These are the easiest features to learn on. Rails are usually more difficult because they are round. However, there are flat rails now, too.
The beginner area in a park should be apparent, but if it isn’t, ask a worker at the mountain or look on the trail map. Parks that are sponsored by Burton designate single runs for beginners and riders looking to improve their skills in zones called Progression Parks. Look for these too when possible.
Once you find the zone, really hone in on what others are doing and take notes. You will notice right away what not to do. Remember the rules of riding park features from chapter 5. Make sure there is plenty of room and there are no other riders around the area before attempting the box.
You will need some speed when hitting features. Find a nice flat box that is almost completely set down in the snow. Start on a box you don’t have to ollie, or jump up, onto. You want a smooth ride-on box first.
One of the biggest mistakes riders make is going too slowly. Watch others if possible to gauge the right speed for hitting a feature. Drop where everyone else does, and understand the speed to hit the box.
As you attempt to drop, make sure you’re strapped in tightly. Face downhill on your heel-side edge with your feet horizontal. Turn your body as you normally would to ride down a run, with your front foot forward. You basically want to head directly toward the box. Try not to make any turns. Just keep a consistent edge and hold your speed. The number one rule in landing is to keep your eyes on the end of the feature and never ever look down. Just as when learning how to snowboard, always look in the direction you want to go when hitting a feature. Keep your knees bent, and as you approach the box, think about staying completely flat on your board, not pressing on an edge whatsoever. Pressing an edge equals destruction. You will crash if you press an edge, so think of pressing directly down in the center of your board and staying flat.
As you approach the box, keep your body sideways down the hill. Don’t make any sudden turns or maneuvers. That comes later. Stay straight, with your nose in front and tail in back. With all of these things in place—keeping your speed, staying flat, and looking at the end of the feature—you should easily ride right onto the box. As your tail makes its way off the box, ride away, turn, and stop. You did it!
If you fall, it shouldn’t be too serious off of this size and type of feature. Remember what you learned about how to fall properly, and use those tools to do so if it happens. If you get scared during your approach and decide not to follow through, try to make a quick turn away from the feature. Try not to crash and burn onto the feature. If you feel yourself falling off the feature, try to stay flat, keep your balance, and look to the end. If you fall, try not to fall onto the feature. Point your board off the side of the feature and move out of the way (in case someone is dropping next) as soon as possible.
As you keep practicing and are feeling confident riding boxes, try your skills on longer flat boxes and move up to rails. The same rules apply when riding rails. The feeling will be a little different, mainly because your entire board won’t be on the rail and it takes a little more balance, but you should have a better idea what to do once you’ve got the hang of boxes.
After getting used to confidently riding straight (boardsliding) on boxes and rails, you will be able to start trying tricks and really showing people up.
Read more from Mastering Snowboarding by Hannah Teter and Tawnya Schultz.