Sliding on a rail on a snowboard

How to ride rails on a snowboard (Advice from an instructor)

Knowing how to ride rails on a snowboard takes your coolness up a notch.

I remember growing up watching riders in the park – grinding and sliding in style. I knew I was going to do that myself someday.

Eventually, I became an instructor. I now work full time in the industry teaching people how to ride the park.

I am writing this article to share my knowledge with more than just on-snow students.

Following the steps in this ‘how to’ guide will have you hitting rails in no time.

Let’s go.

How to ride a rail on a snowboard? Quick Steps

  1. Choose the right rail. Start with a short, shallow rail that is built for beginners
  2. Set up: Give yourself enough run up so you have the speed to clear the rail.
  3. Approach: Start sliding towards the rail. The nose of the board facing forward.
  4. Ollie: Jump onto the rail. Ollie with sufficient height so both feet land on the rail at the same time.
  5. Slide: Spread your weight evenly over both feet and bend your knees. Keep the board parallel to the rail.
  6. Spot the landing: While sliding, look beyond the end of the rail at where you want to land
  7. Exit the rail: Shift your weight slightly onto the back foot and slide off onto the landing area.
  8. Stick the landing: Land with bent knees to cushion the drop. And ride away celebrating.
Riding a rail on a snowboard

What is a rail in snowboarding?

A rail is like a pole. It’s long, narrow and usually round – although it could also be square.

Rails come in multiple shapes and sizes. They will be positioned as a feature in the snow park that you can slide on a snowboard.

The most common rail found in the real world is a ‘handrail’. Advanced riders will also use the handrail to grind down a set of steps.

Some rails are longer than others. Riding a longer rail takes more skill because you need to balance for longer. So new snowboarders will start with short rails until their skill improves.

Snowboarder standing next to a rail

Detailed steps on how to ride rails on a snowboard

1) Choose the right rail

Beginners need to choose basic rails. These can be found in the snow park.

Look for a rail that is only 10-15 feet in length. And has an easy landing onto a flat surface.

The rail should have snow on either side. So you can have a cushioned landing if you bail.

Choose a rail with an easy slide-off at the end. On a shallow slope.

Improve your skills on this basic rail first. Then progress to longer rails when you are more comfortable.

2) Set up to slide

Find the right place to stand and prepare to grind.

You will need at least 30 feet slide up to get enough speed. You must have enough speed to clear the entire rail. And this speed comes from the slide up to the rail.

Sliding rails is easier at speed. It makes it easier to balance. And stops you from getting stuck halfway.

Find a spot where you can generate the speed. And go with a confident mindset.

3) Approach the rail

Start sliding towards the rail with the nose pointing down the slope. Strongest foot forward.

Approach the rail with a solid stance. Looking forward, knees bent, weight evenly spread across both feet.

Feel relaxed in your posture. All your joints should be loose and ready to flex.

The key to the approach is confidence. This is where fear takes over and many people stiffen up.

You have made it this far. Believe in yourself.

4) Jump onto the rail

Perform an ollie (jump) to get onto the rail.

Jump evenly with both feet. The board stays parallel with the slope and rail.

Most people make the mistake of leaning back. Avoid this by concentrating on keeping the board flat.

The bottom of the board needs to be completely flat when it lands on the rail.

Cushion with your bent knees as you land on the rail. And start sliding.

5) Slide the rail

Keep your knees bent and weight over the centre of the board.

Your weight will be spread evenly across both feet. Maintain a relaxed posture.

Keep looking forward as you slide down the rail. Do not look down at your feet.

The nose of the board needs to face forward. So the snowboard stays parallel to the rail.

6) Spot the landing

Look where you want to land as you start reaching the end of the rail.

This will keep you looking forward. And give you something to focus on.

The landing spot should be 3-5 feet from the end of the rail.

Keep looking at that point. And sliding with a relaxed posture

7) Exit the rail

Move your weight slightly onto the back foot. And let the board slide off the end of the rail.

Keep looking at the landing spot. And maintain your bent knees, balanced stance.

Beginner rails do not require you to jump off the end. So just keep your balance and slide off.

8) Stick the landing

Land with your weight spread across both feet.

Keep your balance over the centre of the board. Your knees stay bent and your whole body feels relaxed.

Cushion the landing with your knees. And ride away looking forwards.

Now you can celebrate. You just completed your first rail slide in style!

Sliding a rail snowboarding

How can I practice snowboarding rails at home?

1) Balance training

Rails require good balance. And this is something you can practice at home.

I recommend investing in a good balance board. Here is a link to a balance board I have used and recommend to my snowboarding students.

Make sure you use proper stance when practising on the balance board. So you don’t pick up any bad habits.

2) Read and watch tutorials

Reading this article is a way to practice snowboarding rails at home. You have learned the technique and can visualise the movements.

The next step is to watch some tutorials. Youtube has some good options for you to see what riding a rail looks like.

3) Build a backyard rail

Why not bring the mountain to your backyard?

You can put a rail at home. All you need is a small hill, a piece of wood and a PVC pipe.

This article here shows you how to build one for only $20.

It helps if you have some snow in your yard. But you can still hop on and off the rail without sliding up if you put it on a steep enough hill.

Balance board

Rail riding tips from a snowboard instructor

Relax

Riding rails is not complicated. Even intermediate snowboarders are capable of grinding a basic rail.

The thing that stops you is fear. Being scared makes your body stiff. And stops you from concentrating.

Know that injury is unlikely. You will be going at a slow speed – and you can slide well. You will be falling onto soft snow.

Approach the rail with confidence and you will succeed.

Stance is everything

Having the wrong stance sets you up for failure.

You cannot balance if you are stood too upright. Or leaning onto your back foot.

Make sure your knees are bent and joints are soft. Look where you are going.

And keep your weight centred across both feet.

Getting the basic stance right makes balance effortless.

Start with a short rail

Short rails are not to be feared. You will be on and off in a couple of seconds.

And even if you bail you will fall off the end.

Start with the shortest rail possible. 10 feet is enough at first.

Find a quiet snow park

People watching you adds another layer of pressure.

Some parks have a big lineup for the rails. Everyone watching you is distracting.

I recommend finding a quiet park to practice at first. If that’s possible.

Snowboarding rail

Most common mistakes when riding rails on a snowboard

  • Not approaching with enough speed. This makes balance more difficult and you will lose momentum mid-rail.
  • Poor stance. Balance is impossible if you’re not standing correctly.
  • Wrong board angle. Keep the board parallel to the rail. You will struggle if it’s pointing diagonally.
  • Hard landing. Cushion with your knees as you land on the rail.
  • Leaning back. People lean back when they are scared. But you must balance across both feet evenly.
  • Not keeping the board flat. The board must be flat on the rail. Otherwise, balance will be very difficult.
  • Looking at your feet. This makes balance difficult. And you will not spot the landing.
  • No safety. Make sure the path is clear and nobody else is heading for the rail at the same time as you.
Snowboarder grinding a rail

Summing Up

You now know how to ride a rail on a snowboard. And it’s time to start impressing your friends.

Just remember the basics of stance, technique and confidence.

The main thing that holds people back is fear. Just go for it!

It’s not as hard as it looks. I promise.

A few practice runs and you will be grinding with style.

So what are you waiting for? Get out and hit the slopes.