A street rail is probably the most common urban snowboarding target. Rails can take many forms: wood, metal, down rail, kinked, c-rail… and the list goes on. Almost all of them require 3 specific snowy elements to be added before you can start riding. The snow type, the outside temperature, the time of day and the location of your rail will all play factors in how long it takes to build these elements. Typically it can be done in about 20 minutes, or in the worst case, maybe an hour will be needed. But in the end, you should have a good set up and plenty of energy left over to shred.

Rider: Will Mayo. Photo: MacKenzie Hennessey.

What you need to set up your rail

This kind of spot suggests a short list of tools:

  • Shovel
  • Drop in ramp (or Bungee)
  • Jug of water
  • Salt

The shovel is really the only one you can’t skip out on. You’re going to need to move snow no matter what. If the temps and the snow are just right you won’t need salt or water.  And if there is a good hill before the rail then you won’t need the drop in ramp either.  But for the sake of being prepared, these are good to have.

Too easy. Photo: Will Mayo

Unpack and get to work.

When you arrive at the spot, you’re going to check for cops, security or anyone who might call them. Assuming the coast is clear, you will unpack your gear from your vehicle and then will probably want to park it away from your spot so as not to draw more attention to yourselves.

The first thing you want to do is get your drop in ramp set up. If one is not needed you can skip this and move onto the in-run and lip. Choosing the location of your drop-in ramp is intuitive to those who’ve been at it for a while, but can seem ambiguous to the layman. Basically, you want it to be close enough so you get the most speed out of it but far enough so you have a chance to set your line before the ollie onto the rail.

The In-run

The flat patch of snow between your drop in and your lip is known as the in-run. It’s a crucial zone and most people overlook how important it can be. The in-run is where you regain your composure after dropping in and where you set your line for the rail.

Alex Cole eyeing up his in-run from on top an all-snow drop in ramp. Photo: Randy Williams

Begin by shovelling snow in piles along the ground between the ramp and rail. Always add more than you think you’ll need as snow melts and settles just by moving it, even in the cold. To have the best chance of reaching the end of the rail you want to have a good line. The best way to set that line is to make sure the drop in ramp and your in-run are pointed in the same direction. This will give you ample room to correct if you are not on course. Moral of the story – make it wide.

You want it to be fast. Once you have enough snow you want to pack it down and shape it making the top surface smooth. Here’s where you can add salt if the weather is warmer. That should firm up your in-run and make it even faster. You will continually add more snow throughout the session to maintain its shape. The final in-run should be between 3 and 6 inches deep. If space allows for it, a ‘Pump Bump’ 1 to 2 board lengths before the lip can be helpful in keeping up your speed.

The Lip

Here’s where the magic happens, or where the worst bails get started. Begin by adding a bunch of snow in front of the rail. Spilling the back of the lip over onto the top stair is revealed to be acceptable by most critics but beware of going any further as internet trolls WILL find you and shame you. Get a good size pile, about 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Smash the snow with the back of your shovel to pack it down. You want the lip to be firm and withstand the force of your ollie.  

The view just before you drop. Photo: Alex Cole

A good lip for your average down rail should be about 6-8 inches tall or “one stair” for reference. This is also the subject of much criticism by the folks in the comment section. To avoid ridicule, always err on the side of a smaller lip. And as a general rule of thumb the steeper your rail is the smaller your lip needs to be.

Once you have a good shape and height you can use salt again to firm it up if it’s warm outside. If it’s exceptionally cold out and you have sugary snow then use the water. Just take a mouthful of water and spit it all over the lip, when it freezes it will make the lip nice and firm. Once you have applied the salt or water now is your last chance to shape a good transition before it freezes. Don’t make it too aggressive with a ton of pop. Keep it mellow and long so you can stay in control, speed is your friend in the rail game.

The Landing

The last and definitely the easiest element of the build is the landing. Just throw piles of snow with your shovel out over the area at the bottom of the rail. If it’s currently snowing out you won’t even need to do this. But if your landing is a parking lot and it’s spring then you will probably have to do this 3-4 times throughout your session. You want the landing to be 3-5 inches deep and kind of smooth to help you make a graceful exit after stomping your trick. This thickness will also protect your face if you perform the dreaded “harsh zeach to scorpion”.

Rider: Will Mayo. Photo: Brian Nevins.

Is it really that easy? For sure.

The set up actually is the easy part when it comes to rails. Typically a rail session involves dozens of tries before the desired tricks are landed so it’s a good thing when this stage is quick and painless. You want to save your energy for the battle and the bails, you’re going to need it.

For more on info on Urban Snowboard set ups check out our How To’s here