The basics of being able to ride a snowboard down a mountain are simple in theory, even if they’re a lot harder in practice. Base skills can generally be boiled down to being able to ride toeside and heelside and having the ability to transition seamlessly between the two. However, many riders struggle with toeside more than with heelside snowboarding.
Snowboarding toeside involves the rider being able to apply enough pressure through their toes to create friction between the toe edge of the board and the snow. If there’s insufficient pressure, the board will simply slide downhill. Poor balance and posture are the main reasons for toeside falls.
This article will delve into the details of how to snowboard toeside and how to transition from one edge to the other. We’ll also look at why it’s considered the trickier edge to ride on, the most common mistakes beginners make, and a few tips to keep in mind when getting to grips with the technique.
A snowboard works by alternately engaging the two edges of the board to create friction against the snow, allowing the rider to turn left and right, move downhill with enough stability to stay upright, and brake when needed.
The two edges of a snowboard are referred to as the heel edge and the toe edge, the former being the edge that runs behind the rider’s heels and the latter being the edge that runs under their toes.
When an edge cuts into the snow, we call this the “effective edge.” When the effective edge is the heel edge, we call this snowboarding “heelside.”
When the effective edge is the toe edge, it’s called snowboarding “toeside.”
While these descriptions are fairly self-explanatory, actually being able to engage these edges and transition between the two is a trickier process.
Most new snowboarders have a harder time when it comes to riding toeside.
Almost everybody learning to snowboard finds riding on their toeside more challenging than on their heelside when starting out.
Beginners will also say it’s harder to transition from heelside to toeside than vice versa. There are a few good reasons why snowboarding toeside is more difficult.
When snowboarding on your heel edge, your head and body are facing downhill, which is a more comfortable position to be in as you can see everything ahead of you.
When you’re on your toe edge, you should be facing up the mountain, and it can be a daunting experience moving downhill at speed without knowing what’s coming up.
Most beginners subconsciously twist their head and body towards the bottom of the slope when switching from their heel edge to their toe edge, which makes it almost impossible to link the turn properly.
Additionally, to switch between edges when starting out, you must let the board straighten out and point down the slope.
You’ll then start to pick up speed as the snowboard doesn’t have either edge engaged with the snow.
If you’re not confident getting onto the toe edge of your board, you’ll continue to accelerate, making it even harder to stay calm and carry out the maneuver correctly.
Unfortunately, making these mistakes will typically result in falling over with a potential for injury. Constantly bailing will continue to knock your confidence.
Because confidence is a key part of riding toeside, it’ll get harder and harder to execute over time without addressing the root of the problem.
To start, we’ll look at the steps needed to snowboard toeside.
By pairing the instructions below with the right amount of practical experience out on the mountain, you should become more confident riding toeside and one step closer to transitioning between your edges.
The best way to start getting familiar with being on your toe edge is to start in the right position.
Once you’ve strapped your boots into your bindings, roll over from your back onto your front so that you face uphill.
Now, you can dig the toe edge of your snowboard into the snow and stand up, and you’ll already be toeside before you start riding.
Once upright, you’ll want to keep your body in the correct position to avoid falling over.
You’ll also need to keep your weight centered correctly; if you have too much weight on your toes, you’ll fall onto your knees.
Conversely, if you let too much weight fall on your heels, you’ll catch your heel edge and fall backward, which can be much scarier than falling forwards.
For this reason, if you feel yourself starting to lose balance on your toe edge, it’s much better to bend your knees and lean forwards than to try to dig your heels into the snow.
To start moving downhill, you’ll need to ease some of the pressure on your toes; however, too much pressure on your heel edge will cause it to catch an edge.
The best way to set off is to ease the pressure on your leading foot first, that is, the foot you’re most comfortable having at the front of your board.
You’ll notice that as you take the weight off the toes of your front foot, the nose of your board will start to naturally try and point downhill, and you’ll begin to pick up speed.
If you follow up by easing the pressure on the toes of your back foot, you’ll find the board will continue to straighten up.
By facing your head and body uphill and reapplying the pressure to your toes, starting with the back foot and then the front, you should return to your starting position.
By familiarizing yourself with the pressure needed to start and stop, you’ll soon be able to cross from one side of the slope to the other on your toe edge with full control of your speed and without falling over.
To get really comfortable with your body position and the pressure you need on your toe edge to stay in control, you’ll want to practice a technique called “Falling Leaf.”
To start, you’ll want to strap in, roll onto your front, and pop up onto your toe edge. Next, you’ll take some weight off your leading toe edge to start moving down and across the slope.
Then, reapply the pressure to your leading toes and release it from the toe edge with your back foot, and you’ll start moving in the opposite direction.
When done correctly, you should be able to stay on your toe edge, facing up the hill, while traversing from left to right with a controlled stop in between, just like a falling leaf.
Not only will this help you develop the muscle memory needed to stay upright on your toe edge, but you’ll also become more comfortable with the idea of moving downhill while facing up the mountain.
Now that you’re comfortable moving down and across the hill on your toe edge, we’ll look at how to carry out the perfect transition from your heelside to your toeside.
Like Falling Leaf, garlands are another crucial learning technique that will boost your confidence and improve your balance when transitioning from one edge to the other and linking your turns.
In skiing and snowboarding, we sometimes talk about the “fall line,” which is the most downwards direction on the slope.
For example, if you were to place a ball on the slope and let it roll freely, the path it follows with only gravity acting upon it would be the fall line.
When you’re riding toeside and take the pressure off your toes on your leading foot (or your heel if you’re riding heelside), your board will naturally begin to follow the fall line.
Where Falling Leaf consists of keeping your body facing in one direction, garlands involve letting your board straighten up and get as close to the fall line as possible, then re-engaging your edge instead of transitioning from toe to heel or vice versa.
You’ll want to practice both heelside and toeside garlands to get the hang of linking your turns.
When you’re confident enough with your garlands on both edges, you’re ready to try linking your turns.
This time, when your snowboard starts to follow the fall line, the next step is to turn your head and face directly up the mountain.
When riding heelside, you’re facing down the mountain and can see everything ahead of you, which is why many riders struggle with this step.
Fight the urge to look downhill and look up instead. When you do this, you’ll notice the rest of your body – your shoulders, chest, and hips – will start to follow.
When your body starts to face uphill, you’ll need to commit to engaging the toe edge of your board.
If you’ve been practicing your garlands, you should be familiar with the timings, balance, and pressure you need to safely rotate your board from a downhill direction onto your toe edge.
If you can start on your heel edge, point your snowboard down the fall line, and rotate onto your toe edge, you’ve effectively linked your turn.
With practice, you’ll reduce the time it takes to switch edges and spend more time with your board’s nose pointing downhill, which is how the pros can maintain such high speeds.
If you’re still struggling to transition from your heel to your toe edge, these tips might improve your technique.
When you’re ready to start linking your turns from your heelside to your toeside, you’ll need the nose of the board to start turning with enough speed to switch from one to the other.
There needs to be enough weight over the front of the board to achieve this, but many beginners get nervous leaning down the mountain.
In fact, the natural reaction here is to lean backward, which will actually kill your momentum.
To counter this, lean out with your front hand towards your board’s nose when you start to initiate your turn, as this will force enough of your bodyweight downhill to reach the acceleration you need.
While extending your front hand out can help with weight distribution over your board, using your back hand is a great way to help steer your board around to your toes.
We’ve already mentioned how tricky it can be mentally to turn your head and body uphill when moving onto your toe edge.
Pulling your back hand out and around will force your body to turn in the right direction and make it easier to get onto the new edge.
This one may sound obvious, but getting to grips with the basics of snowboarding takes practice not just to understand the techniques but for your body to familiarize itself with the correct positioning, balance, and weight distribution.
Practice your heel and toe slides, falling leaf, and garlands as much as possible, as these will condition your body and mind, too, especially when it comes to getting comfortable facing away from the direction you’re moving.
If you’re still struggling to link your turns or stay on a particular edge, go back to these basic exercises until you’ve got them nailed down.
Now you know the theory behind snowboarding toeside, let’s cover some of the most common practical barriers to success.
When riding on your heel edge, you’ll normally pull your hips in and stick your backside out to get more weight over your heels.
This is a comfortable position to ride in, so it’s tempting to maintain the same posture when riding on your toe edge, but instead, you should be pulling your backside in and pushing your hips out if you want to stay upright.
When you start to initiate a turn, you’ll start to accelerate as the board begins to follow the fall line.
As most beginners pick up speed at this point, panic sets in, and they attempt to turn as quickly as possible so they can use the alternate edge to brake.
More often than not, a rushed turn means the rider focuses on their body position and forgets about their feet, resulting in a caught edge or loss of balance.
For a successful transition, it’s better to execute a smooth and well-thought-out turn at a higher speed than a hasty one at a lower speed.
Another mistake that plenty of beginners make is not understanding how to apply pressure to their toe edge.
While it may sound like the right way to engage the toe edge, standing on your tiptoes will mean you’ll lose balance and control very quickly.
Instead, focus on flexing your ankles like you would if you were kneeling down, and press your shins into your boots.
If you’re struggling to do this, you should tighten the laces at the top of your boot or look into a smaller boot size.
Hopefully, the information above gives you more confidence on how to both snowboard toeside and transition from your heelside to your toeside.
While engaging the toe edge is notoriously more challenging than the heel edge, once you’ve practiced enough, you won’t notice a difference between the two, and you’ll be graduating from linking your turns to full-on carving in no time.