By James Lea in 2006.
Instructing pipe is the most rewarding and exciting part of my job.
When I think about pipe it’s like riding a wave; big bottom turn and then try to boost! Putting that theory into practice can be quite a different story however.
As snowboarding moves forward freestyle is becoming a larger part of the equation. As soon as people are turning they either want to move towards rails, jumps or pipe. This is especially true in teenagers and kids, so it’s up to us as instructors to help them move in this direction once they are ready.
Bringing students into the pipe for their first time can be quite tricky; we need to look at an easy and enjoyable way of approaching this.
This is what I have found works the best for me…
We can use exercises on mellow green or blue terrain to start our students off. The exercise I like using is hopping the edge change when making a turn. You can start with a small rotation and slowly work your way up to hopping the entire turn. This allows the student to practice hopping off an edge and landing on an edge. The rotational movement we are focusing on here is through the upper-body, allowing the upper-body to guide the rotation. We can also utilise their strong edging skills as we do this. I think it’s important that our students can hold an edged traverse before we move to the pipe. If they skid across the bottom of the pipe too much they will loose too much speed for transition up the wall.
Secondly we take the hops to banks. Working on stance, more rotation and edge awareness. Edge awareness plays a big part for first time pipe rider. If we don’t have them landing on the correct edge it could cause them to catch the downhill edge and ‘scorpion’. Hopping the edge change is a safe and easy exercise to practice before heading to the pipe. This reinforces edge change and allows them to practice making a lateral movement across the board in the air.
The third step is to get into the pipe. Turns on the wall of the pipe are a good start. This will clarify which edge they should be on when taking off and landing. This can be done by riding up the wall and sliding the edge change as they turn to come down. This will then encourage confidence to move towards hopping the edge change. This also helps speed control with turn shape.
Now we add the hop. Focusing on bring both feet off the snow at the same time for an even air, reinforcing which edge they are taking off from and landing on, plus making the vertical retraction and lateral movement across the board to change edge can be difficult to commit to.
It is important that we show a good demonstration, firstly to illustrate your movements and also clarify height up the wall. Starting low, moving higher with technique and confidence.
We need to look at what the upper-body is doing to aid the rotation. To initiate the rotation the upper-body acts like the anticipation movement we use when riding steeps. This allows the front shoulder to move down the wall of the pipe prepares our body in that direction. If we don’t guide with the front shoulder, we may leave the upper-body behind. This can cause us to make a late rotation or not fully commit to the air.
Remember teaching in a bigger pipe can be an advantage; the wall is more gradual and will give the students more time for setup.
Beginner pipe riding can be made easy if we just break it down into straightforward steps. When teaching first time pipe riders I have found these steps to be a great progression towards riding pipe and mastering that wave.