Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of super talented riders struggle with step downs. After all, they’re totally different from anything you’ll find in a park. For the entire air, you’re pretty much falling and accelerating. Popping an indy off of a classic cliff can often work pretty well, but for most other tricks, the feeling can be pretty strange. Even doing a good method on a step down can be nearly impossible, unless you pat down a nice ollie pad to pop off of.
One guy who’s not bothered by step downs is Mat Schaer. These past few years, he’s been super busy with his masters program, so when he takes a day to go out shooting, he likes to be productive. And that’s where step downs have a major advantage. On a good day, you can session three different spots. In contrast, most serious kickers take a full day of shoveling. And after that, they really benefit from settling overnight so that they’re nice and firm the next morning. You do the math… two days for one spot vs. six spots in three days. For an analytical guy like Mat, the choice is pretty easy. He was kind enough to share some of his secrets with us…
Finding the Right Spot
There aren’t too many rules that I follow, it’s actually more about a feeling. In theory, just about any cliff or rock could be a good step down if there’s a steep enough landing behind it. The important thing for me is that the spot looks good and makes feel stoked to ride it.
Otherwise, it’s important to know that things aren’t always as they seem. Judging the correct speed is the hardest part. Sometimes a spot that seems to line up perfectly actually needs quite a bit of preparation to work correctly. You’ve also got to be careful about how you plan your run-in before the take off. Even the smallest turn can create all sorts of problems when you’re coming in at full speed.
To Shape, or not To Shape
If there’s an interesting line to ride or some other fun features before the step down, I usually try to leave the spot 100% natural. Otherwise, I spend the extra time to shape everything perfectly. It’s pretty much all or nothing. I’ve had to learn the hard way that I’m way less productive if I’m lazy about how things are shaped. You only get one chance at a first track landing, and it sucks to have to stop to reshape in the middle of a session if the spot’s not working out.
But in the end, it’s usually the spot that makes the final decision for me. The double line at the end of my part this year is a good example. For the first air, there was just no chance to hit it without a bit of work. The run-in was on an incline with a rock in the middle of it, so I had to do quite a bit of shaping in order to arrive with any speed at all. The second hit was the total opposite. Just enough time for a couple nice powder turns and then straight into a perfect natural lip that didn’t need any shaping at all.
It’s so important to find the perfect arc that lines up just right with the landing. Sometimes I throw a few snowballs from the lip to try to figure out the right speed and pop needed to get to that sweet spot in the landing. If you do make a pat down to ollie off of, it works well to move it back a bit. That way, you have a bit more speed when it’s time to land. If you’re going slowly, you’re going to need a super steep landing, otherwise you’ve go no chance of riding away clean. It never hurts to do some biking, running or hiking over the summer so that you’re sure to have strong legs when you need them.
Whiteout 45 is in the finest snowboard shops throughout Switzerland now. Stop by and grab your free copy to read the rest of this story, and much more.
High five to Mat for the solid advice, and to the crew from Absinthe for the opportunity to share his part. Stay Tuned is will be showing at the Champéry Film Festival this weekend, and is also available for pre-order here.