The Importance of Learning How to Fall Safely
The armchair safety police will say, “Safety should always be a top priority when snowboarding”. But as any snowboarder knows, part of the fun is knowing that it is not 100% safe. Pushing yourself and taking risks, knowing that at any moment you could be eating snow is what makes snowboarding so thrilling.
That said, there is nothing wrong with reducing the risks, as knowing how to fall correctly can significantly reduce the chance of injury. And let’s face it; less pain equates to a more enjoyable experience on the mountain.
Mastering the art of falling safely can also help build confidence. There is a steep learning curve those first few days, and if you are scared of hitting the snow, you’ll tense up, making it harder to learn. As you progress and start doing tricks or tackling more challenging terrain, knowing that you can fall without hurting yourself (most of the time), gives you the confidence to push yourself and try new things.
Recognizing When a Fall is Inevitable
I have been snowboarding for more than two decades and usually know when I am going to fall. I still get a surprise slam from time to time, but recognizing when a fall is unavoidable is key to falling safely.
As your body becomes more in tune with the board, you’ll start to sense when you’re losing balance, an edge is slipping or you’ve messed up a trick and you’re your ass it going to get kicked.
When this happens, relax your body. Avoid tensing up which leads to more injuries, and don’t put your arms out to break a fall.
Transfer Your Momentum Into a Slide
I was taught how to fall when learning how to land a parachute jump. The key to avoiding injury is to plant your feet together, but then crumple in the direction you are moving to absorb the force through the rest of your body.
Applied to snowboarding, this means you should transfer your momentum across your entire body rather than just one body part. So hit the ground and keep moving. This spreads the impact across your body rather than focusing the entire thing on the first body part to slam.
This is easier to do snowboarding than parachute jumping as the majority of your momentum is in the direction you are traveling. Plus, you’ll normally take a spill on a slope, so combined with forward momentum, you don’t slam straight down but at an angle, almost like a glancing blow.
Your job is to distribute the downward force across the body and turn the forward momentum into a controlled slide. This will ensure that most of the force that could injure you is used up more safely.
A note of warning, you need to be aware of your surroundings as it is not always safe to slide when you fall.
Falling Techniques: Backside vs. Frontside Falls
Backside Falls: When falling backward, never try to break your fall with your arms; this is how you break a wrist. Also, try to avoid landing directly on your tailbone. Instead, shift your hips so the impact is taken on one of your buttocks, then keep moving to absorb some force through your back and shoulders. Keep your chin tucked to protect your head and neck.
Frontside Falls: If you’re falling forward, again, don’t put your hands out as you’ll bust a wrist. Bring your arms in, almost in a boxer’s pose, to try to absorb the impact with your forearms. Also, bend your knees and twist, taking the impact on your thigh, side, and shoulder to distribute it away from your knees.
Advanced falling: How to Tuck and Roll
Taking the ‘transfer your momentum’ tip to the next level, tucking and rolling can help reduce the risk of injury. I find this is particularly useful if you dig your tip in powder or over egg a landing getting too much weight forward. Keep your arm across you to protect your shoulder and tuck your chin to your chest to ‘tuck and roll’.
As you fall, draw your limbs toward your body and try to make contact with the ground with as many of the larger muscle groups (such as your thighs, buttocks, back or upper arms). Once you’ve made contact, continue to roll, allowing your body to absorb the impact gradually.
In extreme circumstances, this can result in tomahawking (a.k.a. ragdolling), a rather unpleasant but impressive-looking fall where you cartwheel down the slope. So when you tuck and roll, pull your chin to your chest and keep your arms in a boxer pose to minimize injury. When you slow down, extend your body to turn the rolling into a slide.
Using Your Arms Correctly
While using your arms to break your fall is a natural mechanism, doing so can result in wrist injuries. Instead, keep your arms bent in a boxer pose and use your forearms to absorb the impact.
If you do put your arm out to break a fall, clench your fist to help protect your wrists and fingers. You can also cross your arms over your chest, which helps to protect your collarbones and shoulders.
Falling on Steep Slopes: Techniques for Maintaining Control
On steep slopes, maintaining control during a fall is crucial. Use the above techniques, but try to keep your board across the slope so you can slow your descent by digging it in. If required, use your arms to turn so you can position your board to use it as a brake.
You can also brake using your knees, elbows or hands, but these methods are more likely to result in injury. But sometimes, it is required to avoid other hazards.
Recovering Gracefully: Getting Back Up After a Fall
Once you’ve fallen, the sensible thing is to take a moment to check for injuries before attempting to stand. However, you can often use your momentum to return to your feet without stopping. Then you can ride away from spills looking almost like you meant it.
But if you properly slam, it is worth ensuring you and your equipment are in full working order. When you’re ready, look up the slope to check for other skiers and snowboarders.
Then position your board across the slope and dig in the edge to stop you from sliding. It is normally easier to do this facing upslope so your toe edge is dug in, but you can do it either way. Then use your hands to push yourself up, keeping your weight centered over the board and putting pressure on the edge. Check up the slope again before moving.
How to Stop Falling So Often
There are two ways to stop falling so often. The first is to get better at snowboarding, which only happens by pushing yourself, which will mean plenty of spills. The second is to ride within your abilities, which of course means you won’t improve. There is a reason why snowboarders say, “If you aren’t falling, you aren’t trying hard enough.”
Of course, improving your balance, flexibility, fitness and core strength can all help reduce the frequency of falls. Additionally, learning proper snowboarding techniques by taking lessons will improve your stability.
Always Wear a Helmet!
In my opinion, a helmet is a non-negotiable bit of kit for snowboarders. A properly fitted helmet significantly reduces the risk of head injuries. While good snowboarders fall less often, the better you become the faster you go and the further you jump, so the bigger the risk of serious injuries.
Can You Injure Yourself By Falling Incorrectly?
Yes, falling incorrectly makes injuries more likely. You can save yourself everything from painful bruises to fractures, dislocations, and concussions by knowing how to fall properly.
What are some common mistakes beginners make when falling on a snowboard?
Beginners often tense up and/or reach out with their hands when falling, leading to injuries. Knowing how to use your momentum and the slope to distribute the force of an impact during a fall will help you to avoid injuries.
How can I stay relaxed and avoid tensing during a fall?
Most falls happen so quickly you won’t have time to panic, but you will tense up, which won’t help. For most people, it is only through falling without hurting yourself that you’ll be more relaxed when it happens again. One way to do this is by investing in impact shorts, back protector and knee pads.
But also practicing falling can help, do so on gym mats or a mattress at home. Learn how to redistribute the force across the body to limit the impact. It is no surprise that people who do contact sports find the falling aspect of snowboarding easier. They are used to falling and know how to land.
So get out on your board, try to improve your riding and inevitably fall. But apply as much of the above advice as possible, and before long, you’ll be used to hitting the deck more safely without tensing.
Your snowboarding won’t improve without falling, so embrace it. Learn how to distribute your momentum and turn it into a slide, how to tuck and roll, what to do with your arms and how to fall front and backside. Snowboarding is one of the best extreme sports, and a part of the enjoyment is its associated risks; if you can manage them correctly.