A good boardercross course is more than a series of impressive obstacles. While it’s those features¿negative-gravity jumps, Eigers, snowcones, etc.¿that garner the bulk of attention, a boardercross track has to be designed with speed in mind. After all, it is a race course.
Exciting terrain variations create unique courses that are interesting for the racers, but it’s the proper use of the features that makes a course good or bad, safe or dangerous. Track obstacles and turns should naturally control the racers’ speed down the hill so they don’t have to speed-check (brake by skidding their boards) on their way through the course. On steeper sections of slope, speed should be controlled by directing riders more across the hill while the course should run down the fall-line on flatter sections. Put simply, the competition should be between the riders on the course, not between riders and the course.
Track designers must also consider the dynamics of the racing itself. If, just after the start when riders are bunched, the course pinches into a tight berm, there’ll be carnage. Early course designers ate this up, thinking crashes were the most impressive part of the race and what the TV crews wanted to see. Now at the big events, tracks are almost scientific. Out of the start, there’s typically a succession of jumps in a straight line¿no turns. This allows riders to fall into a line, still in close quarters, but not on top of each other.
Berms and jumps make up the majority of the boardercross battlefield. If negotiated correctly, the berms (or banks) that make up the turns in a course are an opportunity to gain speed. To top riders, almost every terrain feature presents opportunity. The key to berms is recognizing fast lines and knowing how to pump (as you would on a skateboard ramp) for speed. Austrian racer Ine Pötzl says, “It’s best to hardly use your edges. Stay low, almost sit on your board.”
Along similar lines, jumps can either slow down or speed up a racer depending on how they’re tackled. Boardercross courses typically include all manner of manmade madness¿tabletops, quarterpipe-type jumps (negative-gravity jumps), hips, step-ups and step-downs, gaps, and usually something inventive. Again, it’s the placement and use of these jumps that makes the difference. For instance, the last thing a course designer should do is place a Wu-Tang kicker (a severely abrupt jump) in the fastest part of the course. That would result in guaranteed gurneys. On the other hand, just such a jump near the start, before riders are wide open, can serve to break up the pack a bit without breaking any bones.
When jumping, unless gapping multiple jumps, riders typically stay out of the air as much as possible, low and compact. The most important thing is to gauge your speed so that you’ll touch down in the right spot. Speed-checking (braking by turning the board slightly sideways) comes into play here. Go too far and you’ll take it in the flats; come up short and¿well, either way you take impact.
Whoops (small bumps close together) and other rollers are considered some of the most technical parts of a course. They can either be absorbed or gapped (jumping two or more of them at once). Generally, keeping your board on the ground and absorbing the whoops is fastest, but it requires a good pumping technique and about 2,000 replays of Abs Of Steel.
Not a course feature, but undeniably important, is a good start. Techniques and hand positions may differ slightly, but it’s all about strength and reaction time.
Palmer’s advice? “Pull hard!” he says. “Timing the gate drop is key as well.”
Ruling the boardercross course involves a variety of skills and techniques, most of which transfer directly from freeriding; if you only practice one thing specifically, make it your start.¿K.H.