How to Build a Kicker in the Backcountry

How to Build a Kicker in the Backcountry
Building a kicker for ski or snowboard jumps in the backcountry is not for the faint of heart or the beginning rider. You should already be confident with your skills in launching off kickers and landing jumps, as well as evaluating the avalanche hazard of a slope and traveling in groups in avalanche country. Having your buddies along to help shovel and pack snow is the only way you'll get the kicker done in time to ride it.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Snowboard or skis Avalanche probe Shovel
  • Snowboard or skis
  • Avalanche probe
  • Shovel
Step 1
Evaluate the slope you're thinking of building a kicker on for avalanche hazard. This is a process that requires discernment honed by time spent in the backcountry. If you or any members of your party feel that the slope you've chosen may not be safe from avalanches, scrap your kicker plans for now and come back another day, or select a safer slope.
Step 2
Choose your landing area. You don't want a flat landing--this creates high compression forces that can lead to severe injury. Instead, select a slope that slants downhill in the direction you'll be traveling when you come off the kicker. Use an avalanche probe to probe the landing area thoroughly, making sure there are no hidden boulders or other obstacles that might lead to injury when a rider lands.
Step 3
Work backward up the slope: Estimate how long a gap you want from your kicker to the landing area. This is a judgment that's based purely on experience and assessment of your own abilities. The gap should lead right up to where your kicker will be located. There should be a long, smooth runway leading in to the kicker to let you get up a good head of steam. If there isn't such a runway, you should probably start over by selecting a different landing area and working back from there.
Step 4
Use a shovel to cut and haul big chunks of snow to the location you've chosen for your kicker. Pile the chunks in a line perpendicular to your line of travel down the slope.
Step 5
Continue adding chunks and packing snow between them. Use your snowboard or skis to help smooth down and compact the snow you're packing in until you have a smooth, continuous surface that arcs from the end of the run-up into the air with no sharp transitions; it should be a smooth curve.
Step 6
Trim snow away from the back and edges of the jump as necessary to clearly define the shape of the kicker: It should look like a triangle wedge with a sloped top that faces uphill.
Step 7
Make a speed run--start down your runway, then brake to keep from going over the kicker. You should be evaluating whether riding down without the braking would give you enough speed to get up and over the kicker, then across the gap, or not. Again, this is a call that can only be made from previous experience.
Step 8
Pack down and smooth the runway if necessary to add extra speed to the run-up. Once you're happy with the run-up and the kicker is solidly and smoothly built, you can take your first real jump from the kicker.
Step 9
Evaluate the kicker again now that you've jumped from it. Does the angle need to change? Does it need to be built up for more lift? Add more snow and pack and smooth it down with shovels, skis or snowboards until you're happy with the kicker's new shape, then jump it to your heart's content.

Article Written By Marie Mulrooney

Marie Mulrooney has written professionally since 2001. Her diverse background includes numerous outdoor pursuits, personal training and linguistics. She studied mathematics and contributes regularly to various online publications. Mulrooney's print publication credits include national magazines, poetry awards and long-lived columns about local outdoor adventures.

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