Being able to build a long gradual jump that chucks you onto a steep natural landing covered in pow is a dream. It is the pinnacle at the convergence of freestyle and freeriding. It will test your patience and your endurance to their maximum. To build a good jump with a long in-run could take many hours or even days. Then waiting for that final fresh layer of snow to fall will drive the anticipation meter through the roof.

But in the end, you might get 10 or even 15 chances to send some lofty massive airs with your buddies. All with the hope of landing smoothly with your nose up and riding away clean.

Anatomy of a Jump

There is an infinite number of ways you can combine the steep faces, rolling knuckles, sharp rocks, trees and countless other elements found in the backcountry. Finding a grouping of just a few features in the right order could present an excellent opportunity for a jump. Typical backcountry jumps require an in-run, a table or gap, and a landing. But the beauty of snowboarding is that you’re able to try anything. As long as you can explain it to the boys without getting laughed at. So don’t feel limited to these concepts, a good rider will always put their own spin on things and try discovering something new.

An in-run and jump – Credit: Boardrap.com

The in-run and takeoff zones are where you put in your hard work. The in-run is any section of slope above the jump where you can harvest some speed. And the take-off zone is wherever you can build a jump to get the desired gap between takeoff and landing. These two sections of a jump can come in many forms. A good example is a long, high-speed in-run. Whole sections of the track could be carved into the mountainside across the fall line. These can be some of the most time-consuming builds.

Kimmy Fasani Sending a Double into a proper landing – Photo: Christy Chaloux

The landing zone is the one that mother nature builds for you. It’s usually defined by a rolling knuckle at the top with a long steeper section below and has good deep snow coverage. That is why when you start to look for a jump zone this is what you should consider above all else. The only alternative to finding a perfect landing is building one. That would take forever and then you would still have to wait for fresh snow to fall on it. ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Discover Old Zones and New Ones Through Exploration

A lot of the easy access jump spots out there have been used over and over again. The ones near the highway in Tahoe or those just off the backside of that other resort in Utah are pretty played out by now as far as the Pros are concerned. For a newbie, these tried and true spots would be useful as a great example of how to do it. The perfect training grounds when you’re learning to land or rather tomahawk in deep pow.

Searching for a zone in Tahoe

Aside from attempting to find these coveted ‘top secret’ places, you could find a spot of your very own by skinning around, snowshoeing, or sledding (or ‘riding a snow-machine’ if you’re Alaskan). Similarly, you want to be on the lookout while hiking and mountain biking in the summer. Looking for long landings underneath places where you can get speed and build a jump above. Keep in mind that you need to be able to get you, some friends and everyone’s gear out there.

South facing slopes (in the northern hemisphere) are moderately dependable as they get more sun during winter. This means the snow is less likely to develop unstable layers due to warming and bonding of the snow layers. In Tahoe and other warmer climates, it means the snow can get too warm and turn into “Sierra Cement” in 2 days or less after falling. Sierra Cement is heavy wet snow; good to build with but not fun to land in.

Safety Considerations Are Key

Make sure you have some good background knowledge of the local snowpack in and around your zone. Would really put a damper on your session if you’re building a jump and your whole crew get wiped out by an avalanche. Would be even worse to find out it was from a zone way above yours beyond where you had explored. Check out www.nohrsc.noaa.gov (in the US) for current info about snow conditions and avalanche warnings.

Credit: New Zealand Avalanche Centre

Anyone can and should take an avalanche safety course to familiarize themselves with the various equipment and practices. Those courses will give you the know-how and your beacon collapsable shovel and probe will be your tools for rescue and survival.

Selecting Your Spot

Now that you have some background info and you’ve got an idea of what to look for, its time to pick a zone. If you want a small jump you probably don’t need one of those massive in run builds mentioned earlier. Similarly, if you have a short landing then you won’t need a mega booter.

Finding the combination of the right elements together is crucial. Look for open areas without a lot of exposure to drops below. Pay attention to where obstacles like trees and rocks are. Make sure you are comfortable.

If you’re new to it then find something that’s a happy medium between your ambitions and your fears. Maybe save the one that pushes the envelope for when you are more experienced.

Remember to work with what you’ve got; if you can’t find a straight jump find a hip. if you can’t find a hip look for a cliff drop. The features are out there, you just have to imagine yourself tumbling uncontrollably creating bomb holes in the landing to see them.

Click here for Pt.2 on How to Build a Backcountry Jump
Click here for Pt.3 on How to Build a Backcountry Jump

and check out more great How to DIY’s here.