Tips for Learning to Ride Switch
Teaching yourself to ride a snowboard switch—leading with your opposite foot compared to your natural riding stance—can feel a lot like regressing back to your first painful days of learning how to snowboard. So why would anyone bother?
First, riding switch is a crucial building block for freestyle and park riders, as comfortably controlling yourself in both directions is a prerequisite for learning even basic tricks. But even if your aerial aspirations are limited to perfect powder landings, riding switch is a great way to keep things interesting on a not-so-powdery day at the resort, and getting comfortable using both edges no matter which direction you’re moving will only make you a better overall snowboarder. Keep the following tips in mind to save yourself some frustration when working on your switch riding skills.
GET YOUR RIDE RIGHT
While it’s technically possible to ride switch on any snowboard with two edges, certain gear-related factors can significantly help or hinder you when you’re learning the ropes. Twin or directional-twin snowboards will be the friendliest and most predictable due to their symmetrical (or mostly symmetrical) shape and tip-to-tail flex, but almost any modern freestyle or all-mountain board should work without too much trouble. However, if you’re trying to ride switch on an über-directional tapered or swallowtail board with tons of setback, it’ll feel a lot like trying to back up a school bus through a drive-through lane. You can pull it off with some effort, but it probably won’t be much fun.
Even more important than your board’s shape is the way your bindings are set up. Centering your bindings’ mounting position on your board is ideal, but not totally necessary. Riding a half-inch or an inch back from center is fine; just know that the further you’re set back, the more squirrelly it will feel when riding switch because your snowboard will have more tail than nose.
A centered stance is crucial for balance throughout this board slide to fakie.
Binding angles also make a big difference in your ability to control yourself switch. Many people stick with the rental-shop standard 15, 0 stance because they got used to it when learning and never bothered to experiment. Angling your back foot out toward the board’s tail will make it significantly easier to rotate your line of sight and initiate turns when riding switch, and you might even find it more comfortable when riding in your regular stance. Some riders prefer a totally symmetrical stance—15, -15, for example—but if this puts too much strain on your back knee when riding forward, try a more moderate angle on your back foot—something like -9 degrees. (Learn more about binding setup here).
BACK TO BASICS
If at this point the thought of trying to link turns switch sends you into a mild panic, it’s OK to start slow. Find a mellow, uncrowded groomed trail, ideally one where the fall line matches the direction of the run fairly evenly. Practice skidding while traversing the slope in the opposite direction you normally ride. This will very likely feel more natural on your heel edge (remember the falling leaf?) so focus on also getting comfortable holding a toeside skid across the slope with your opposite foot forward. Once this feels slightly less foreign, it’s time to put the two together, just like when you were first learning to ride.
At this point it’s extremely helpful to take a few runs in your regular stance, riding slower than normal and really exaggerating your form in an effort to make super-clean carves. Pay attention to how you control your turns by twisting your board from your ankles and knees. You’ll notice how you always initiate your turn with your leading foot and then follow suit with the back. Committing all this to muscle memory will make it a lot easier for your brain to conjure up the mirror image of these body movements when you’re riding switch.
Back to shredding backwards: with your normal form fresh in mind, skid yourself around so you’re riding opposite-foot-forward, and focus on replicating what you were just doing. You’ll need to exaggerate your movements because at this point it will still feel unnatural to be riding in the opposite direction. Really commit to one edge or the other, and remember to avoid the cardinal sin of allowing your downhill edge to drop—sagging downhill edges are the number one cause of catastrophic edge catches, most of which happen while trying to make the transition between turns. Which brings us to the next point…
STOP LEANING BACK
Seriously. Stop it. This is important enough to merit its own paragraph. Leaning into the backseat is one of the biggest hangups for most people when learning to ride for the first time, and it’s the same story when you’re getting comfortable switch. Your body will instinctively want to lean back when you start picking up some speed and you feel like you’re getting out of control, and you’ll have to proactively force yourself to bend your front knee and get your weight forward. A squared up stance, with your shoulders, hips and knees in-line is what you should always be focusing on, only shifting your line of sight. This will keep your heel to toe side transitions and changes from regular to switch riding balanced. Some find it useful to shift about 60% of your weight over your front foot while initiating your turn. This allows you to engage the board’s sidecut and initiate a clean and controlled carved turn.
REPETITION IS KEY, REPETITION IS KEY
There’s no other way around it—riding switch is hard at first, which can be quite humbling if you’re used to being able to rip around the resort at your leisure. But just like when you were first learning to link turns, you’ll get exponentially more comfortable the more time you spend working on it. Once you’re confidently linking switch turns on the flatter sections of groomed runs, try riding an entire run switch—it really helps with getting into a rhythm if you have the discipline to avoid turning back around until you’re at the bottom of the lift. And if you’re up to a real challenge, try doing everything switch for an entire day—riding one-footed, getting on the lift, etc. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll improve if you really commit to it, and how much it benefits your overall board control in any situation.
Another tip for truly committing yourself to riding switch for more than a few turns is to flip your bindings so that you’re centered correctly on the board, just are riding with the opposite leg forward. Not only will it feel a little more natural, but you’re not fighting board geometry so you can focus entirely on your technique.