If groomed trails and established runs don’t quench your thirst for adrenaline, then a solid hand-built ramp (known as a ‘kicker’) might be just what the doctor ordered. Follow the steps below and you’ll be sailing through the backcountry air in no time. As for landing your jumps, well — that’s fodder for another article.
Step 1: Bring a Shovel
Purists will tell you to use the nose and/or tail of your snowboard to carve out the kicker, but that takes considerable time and effort unless the snow is extra soft. Instead, bring a collapsible snow-shovel — one that’s made of metal, not plastic (unless you prefer to use broken tools). Some of the most popular collapsible models are made by Black Diamond, Bigfoot, and Westward.
Step 2: Pick Your Spot
The typical resort offers acres of prime turf for building a kicker. First, you’ll want to construct the ramp below a sizable hill or grade for momentum’s sake. You’ll also want a hill below the kicker, as well — otherwise your landing may be interrupted by a concussion (or at least a lot of snow in your face). Before you start building, take a peek at the ground below the ramp to gauge the snow depth and ensure there aren’t any rocks, logs or other obstructions (not to mention other skiers or snowboarders) in your path. Trust us — it’s a lot easier to thoroughly examine your surroundings for a few minutes than stop yourself mid-air when you notice that boulder at your twelve o’clock.
Step 3: Line ‘em Up
Ideally, there will be several snowboarders in your party — not just for company’s sake, but also because you’ll need several boards to shape your jump. Stick each board in the snow so that they form a straight line that runs perpendicular to the slope (this doesn’t need to be exact, but precision goes a long way). Then, pile the snow in a large mound against the boards. Width isn’t crucial at this point, so gather up more snow than you’ll need.
Step 4: Shape and Definition
Once you’ve accumulated a sizable mound, begin packing it down with the convex face of your shovel blade (boots will only create irregularities in the surface); the underside of your board may also prove effective. Carve out some medium-sized chunks of snow from both the launch point and the landing, and use these blocks to build a frame that will reinforce the kicker on both sides; otherwise, it will collapse under your weight.
Step 5: Smooth-ify
This is arguably the most important step. Make sure that the entire surface of the kicker — from the base to the launch point — is nice and uniform. Otherwise, you might (read: will) get thrown off balance once you hit the ramp, and nobody likes embarrassing themselves (especially in front of fellow riders). Make sure that the ramp has ample length and width to accommodate all the riders’ boards. The ideal kicker resembles a triangle or wedge jutting out of the snow; once you’ve removed your boards from the tall side, pare down the edges to form a straight line that runs parallel to the base. Steep is good, but too steep will just send you upward (rather than downhill). The path leading up to the kicker should also be nice and smoothe; you and your buddies can achieve maximum glide by making a few runs from the desired starting point to the run-up point.
Step 6: Trial and Error
If you build a kicker that provides perfect aerial accessibility the first time around, take out your phone and call your mom because you’re one of the first people to accomplish this feat. Catching too much air and not enough downhill momentum? Try trimming down your launch point a little more. Rough patch at the run-up? Smoothe it out a little more. The typical kicker takes at least three or four attempts before ideal dimensions are achieved.
Step 7: Don’t Forget Your Helmet
A word about backcountry safety: most resorts allow you to build kickers away from established trails, but that doesn’t mean they condone the activity. For obvious reasons, injured backcountry riders are harder to reach than those who hurt themselves on major runs. So do yourself (and the local ski patrol) a favor and wear a brain bucket — which you should be doing anyway.
Do you have any kicker-building tips that have helped you carve the perfect ramp? We’d love to hear them!
By Brad Nehring