By Kurt Hoy
Break into the world of big drops by picking out a bite-sized (around head high) boulder with a soft landing. The steepness/deepness of the landing has to be relative to the size of the drop for a safe, soft touchdown.
Exposed granite can be a visual deterrent, but the stable nature of rocks makes them a safe choice to start with; riding on and around cornices takes particular backcountry knowledge.
Gauge the speed of your approach by where you want to land– either closer to or farther away from the rock. As you reach the lip, extend your legs and push off the snow to keep the board level rather than just rolling off the edge into a nosedive.
Once you're bird-like, bring the board up to your body by bending your knees and use your hands to stay balanced. Extend again as if reaching for the snow and then compress upon impact. Don't be a full Gumby, there should be a certain amount of resistance in your legs to stomp the landing.
If conditions are right, and you do indeed land on your board, landing cliff and cornice drops should be painless. As you progress to bigger and better rocks, throw in a grab, spin, or flip. Grabbing also helps some riders to stay in balance.
How big is big?
Unless you actually have some sort of measuring device, judging a cliff's size is oddly subjective. Remember that from a vantage point on top of the cliff, a drop will seem higher because you're gauging it from the level of your eyes, not the top of the cliff itself. This perception can add five or six feet.
Anything upward of 25 feet you could probably call big. The beginner drop in the sequence above is about ten feet. Snowboarders have stomped cliff drops of up to 50 feet and jumped almost twice that, but not without putting down a hand or breaking the fall with their body–usually by laying back.
Hold 'er steady, balance in the air is key to coming down on your feet. Extend before touching down so you can absorb the landing. Notice how the board stays level to the ground from takeoff to touchdown.
It seems hardly anyone ever does this, but if you're going to make the leap, you have to check the landing. Big rocks, downed trees, and any variety of not-soft matter could be lurking just below the surface of the snow. From the top of a cliff or cornice, toss a snowball into the landing zone to sample the loft. Better yet, hike around and actually probe the landing area, or have a friend do it and yell up to you with a yea or nay.