Taking the pain out of rails
VAIL – Many snowboarders try to avoid hard, punishing, inanimate objects when they ride. Others try to hit them and make the contact last as long as possible.When asked why they ride rails, snowboarders reply the same way as individuals when asked why they sniff glue. Why do they do it?”It’s fun.”OK. It’s harmless enough, right? (Riding rails, that is). As long as teeth and metal never collide and as long as one doesn’t mind dull edges and a whole lot of dings in the base of one’s board.”You figure out ways to hide it from your parents,” said 16-year-old Thomas Pentzinger from Parker, who was one of hundreds of non-pro riders competing in the Salomon Session public rails contest Sunday at Vail. “With one board a season, you can’t scrape it up too bad.”Pentzinger is one of those riders that spends every day on his snowboard in the park, even powder days.
“If it’s really bad weather, maybe I’ll go to do some backcountry,” he said. “But usually we’ll figure out a way to scrape it all off the rails and ride anyway.”Frisco’s Jenni Mullins is a proficient snowboarder on all kinds of terrain. The park, she said, is one area that she had never ventured into before last season. Just looking at rails made her teeth hurt.”I was really intimidated,” she said after winning the beginner’s division of Sunday’s public rails event, her first-ever snowboarding contest. “Boxes aren’t as scary to me, but the double-barreled metal rails, those are really scary. There are a few things (to always remember when sliding rails or boxes). Keeping your board flat is important, and looking at the end of the rail. Because if you look off, that’s where you’re going to fall. You just try to do it really smoothly and be comfortable with shifting your weight.”Balance and speedMichelle Hartel of Edwards won the women’s expert contest Sunday, humbling all the other riders with her board slide nose presses on the biggest bench. A snowboarder of 14 years, Hartel was inspired to get started on rails seven years ago while living back East so her male counterparts knew that she wasn’t going to be left behind.”Women’s snowboarding was just starting to push the limits, and I liked riding rails and being one of the only girls with all of my guy friends,” Hartel said. “I just took it step by step. I started with 50-50s (a trick wherein the board is parallel with the rail) and just the basics to get my balance. You just need to get the feeling of edge to edge and right to left. And speed is so important. That’s why I start off with really easy tricks and figure out how much speed I’ll need to get onto something else.”
Speed is an important factor because controlling it is out of the question once the board is in motion across a bench or a rail. There is another element that plays a key part in riding rails. “You definitely need balance,” said Jeffrey Holland of Breckenridge, who won the men’s expert category of Sunday’s contest. “You have to start out easy so you can’t get hurt and go until you can’t get any better at what you’re trying. You gotta ride switch really well.”The board and the beaterLike everything, rails riding has a best aspect and a worst. “The best part is conquering a new trick,” said Rachel Vogel, who won the women’s intermediate category Sunday with the first switch 180 of her rail career. “I’ve never done a 180 on a rail, much less a switch 180. I had a smile on my face from ear to ear. The worst thing about riding rails: You can hurt yourself.”In other words, there’s no such thing as a soft landing.
“The first day of the season, I was at Loveland. I hit a rail, and I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing,” Vogel said. “I tacoed the rail and gashed my leg up so the muscle tissue was poking out. It was so gross.”Nobody will argue that boards can handle the brunt of a slide better than flesh, but a rails board definitely takes a beating. Rail riders intentionally dull the edges of their boards and don’t bother with wax on the base.”Boards are meant to be ridden,” Vogel said.”That’s what you get a board for; you gotta thrash it,” agreed Tyler DeWitt of Denver. “And besides, with all of them big, pointy rocks, I F— my board up more doing powder turns than I do riding rails.”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado