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Riding the Half Pipe
for Your First Time

How to Ride the Half Pipe
by Chickie Rosenberg

AASI Level 2 Snowboard Instructor
Killington Ski & Snowboard Resort

author of
Snowboarding for Women: a guide for the Betty Shred wannabe
Snowboarding for Men: a Guide for Guys

So youıve learned to snowboard and can now navigate trails without major catastrophe, but thatıs not the only place you are yearning to explore. Itıs the half pipe that gets all the attention. The half pipe is where it's at.
Hereıs how to get there:

The Half Pipe - How to Ride it

1. First of all, you should go to a quiet area of the hill, with an easy slope pitch and work on doing a "falling leaf."

In case you never learned this maneuver, it is basically a pendulum-like movement to the right and to the left, progressing downhill. Start on your heelside and do a traverse looking in the direction of travel and swing both arms to that direction. Proceed about 3-4 yards distance, edge to a stop, then swing both arms to the opposite direction, weighting the tail of the board, looking back to that opposite direction, and ride switch for about 3-4 yards to a stop.

Proceed doing this motion, sliding back and forth across the trail then make a turn and try doing the same thing from toeside. Know that your legs will quickly send you a message of complaint accompanied with possible cramping in your leg calf area. Which way would you step on a soda can to crush it? Heel or toe? Certainly, the heel. Heelside is skeletal using body strength, whereas toeside relies on muscle, which is why we are stronger doing the falling leaf heelside.

2. The second thing you should do to prepare for the pipe is to practice making carved turns.

Beginning snowboarders make skidded turns which scrub speed (slow you down) as they drag the tail of the board through the turn, whereas the carved turn shows a clear letter C in the snow, cutting the path of the board edge from front to rear without lateral skid. Thatıs a simple description of a complex move, but it suffices as a goal in this circumstance.

Next, imagine the ski trail you are on as rather narrow, and try to make short radius turns rather than those wide traverses. Half pipes are not wide and the more comfortable you are with narrow terrain, the happier you will be when in the pipe.

One last admonition: wear a helmet.

Now that you have confidence in your
falling leaf,
short radius turns,
and some ability to carve,
you are ready to set forth.

But first you must know the rules of the territory.

Usually these are posted by the resort, but snowboarders themselves adhere to strict standards. Hang out a few minutes at the half pipe and you will see how it works: everyone waits patiently for his or her turn and there is no cutting of the line. A raised hand or spoken word announces who is going next. (Say "DROPPING!") Itıs casual, but very specific. And a person NEVER enters the pipe until the previous rider has exited.

Editors note: Unfortunately these rules are not always adhered to. And I have too rarely seen them posted. So be aware that others may jump in the pipe and sometimes try to cut you off. At least you will know the rules and not be the guilty party acting like a rude fool.

I always consider the pipe one of the safest places for beginning snowboarders. They canıt fall off the trail because the sides are high, like a babyıs playpen. And they wonıt fall out (be "decked" or "cased") because they donıt have the skills to ride very high up the sides. So, the only scary part is actually entering, sort of like going off a diving board as the surface drops from under you.

The first time, you should enter the pipe heelside at the very top with a jump in. In other words, simply stay on that edge doing the falling leaf the entire length of the pipe, and if you are up for it the second time, occasionally switching to toeside then back to heelside.

Treat the space as a rather narrow trail. People make the error of trying to go straight across, but it is better to proceed down on an angle. In other words, go across and down the pipe, not just across. You wonıt have as many "hits," but your speed will carry you further.

The falling leaf will give you a feeling for the surface and an understanding of how, by pumping your legs in the flat you can use the speed to go slightly up the side walls. (Remember when you were a little kid and learned that by "pumping" your legs on a swing, you went higher and higher...this is the same motion, going up and down, bending and straightening your knees) Donıt forget that your head faces the direction of travel and your arms act like the pendulum of a clock, both arms in unison.

Thatıs a starter. The big thing in riding the pipe is being comfortable there and not intimidated. Fear causes muscles to stiffen and stiff muscles donıt turn a snowboard! The more time you patiently ride the pipe, the better you will feel and therefore, the better you will do. Go back to the ski trails and work on your turns, then go back to the pipe and try doing some short radius turns. The better you can carve, the more speed you will have in the pipe; the more speed you have, the higher you will go. Your success in the pipe is truly predicated upon your success on the trail so work on those basics and go for it in the pipe!

And, how about signing up for a lesson? A half pipe clinic will save you the crash and burn system of self-education plus be a bonus for your weary body. I did not write about the pipe in my first book, Snowboarding for Women: a guide for the Betty Shred wannabe, although there is much information on the falling leaf, and carved versus skidded turns. My second book, Snowboarding for Men: a guide for guys did go into some detail with a chapter entitled "Freestyle Moves, Park, and Pipe." Both books are available here.

Editor's note: Are you wearing the right protective gear when you learn new skills snowboarding? Read "You Don't Have to Hurt Yourself to Snowboard."


"Let's Ride!"






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