To riders unfamiliar with them, race courses can seem like an indecipherable jungle of plastic poles. But,with some simple sorting out, anyone can tap into the fun of going fast. The red and blue plastic poles called”gates” that delineate a snowboard race course come in different shapes and sizes and are usually connectedby a banner (nylon flag), either rectangular or, specifically for snowboarders, triangular. Gates are placed tocontrol riders’ speed down the hill by forcing them to turn. In this lies the challenge-make it around all ofthem as quickly as possible. You always have to go around the outside of a gate. That’s what creates theturn but also confuses a lot of riders.

From the starting blocks, take a look down the course-there will probably be an established line to follow already. If there’s not, watch somebody else go and hope they know what they’re doing. If you take the wrong side of the gate, you’ll barely have to turn, if at all, and yourfirst attempt’s time will rival that of a pro (because you’ll be going practically straight down the hill). Thereare infinite opportunities to shave time off of a run. Begin by getting a strong pull out of the start, and thenfocus on the line you take through the course.

As with anything else, the shortest distance (and fastest time) between two points-the start and finish-is a straight line, so get as close to the gates as you can. Inspect a race course before going at it full bore, paying attention to the slope and the gate placement. It’s also a goodidea to wear goggles rather than sunglasses (if not a helmet, too), as gates aren’t soft when you’re going fast.Race courses are a lot like normal runs, where obstacles (other people, trees, etc.) dictate your turns. Thedifferences are that most riders haven’t been exposed to gates, and in the race course, you won’t get yourpass pulled for going as fast as you can. -K.H.