Snowboarding legend Tricia Byrnes shares her top secrets for boosting your mountain game.

How to be a Better Snowboarder with Tricia Byrnes

“I think people are intimidated by the half-pipe, especially now, because at some resorts they're, like, 22 feet. But you just have to get in there and kind of feel around. Do some jump turns on the walls. ... Half-pipe is just about feeling it until you can get enough speed to get out of it.” ~ Tricia Byrnes
If you’ve been eager for some powder turns and you’re excited to improve your slope skills this season, you’re in luck. We sat down with snowboarding legend Tricia Byrnes, who agreed to share her top secrets for boosting your mountain game. The half-pipe superstar revealed all of her best tips, from getting into shape to handling choppy snow to knowing when it’s time to go big. Check out our interview below.

First pro tip? Improve your strength

Q: What can snowboarders do to get in shape preseason to help them ride better?

Tricia Byrnes: I'm such an advocate for hiking because I feel like it gets you outside and in touch with the mountains. It also really works your quads, which is the whole thing when you're snowboarding or skiing. Whatever you can do to get your quads strong and your hamstrings flexible is going to help. When I was training, it was a lot of lower-body strength and then a lot of plyometric stuff—box jumps and different agility drills to keep you responsive. I was competing as a half-pipe athlete, so for that you want to be strong, responsive, and flexible.

Q: What other things can people do to get ready for opening day?

Tricia Byrnes: I always get all of my gear out a little bit before the season starts. A lot of times, you're not 100 percent sure how you left it on that last slushy spring day, so it's good to do a maintenance check and see that everything is up to par. Make sure your boots fit, you have good socks, all your screws are on tight. That way you can hit the ground running. You'll be a little bit rusty from not having been on the snow in a while, so you don't want to realize, “Oh shoot, my binding broke last year and I forgot.”

Q: Do you do a preseason wax or tune-up?

Tricia Byrnes: I’m the worst gear person ever. I can tell you what you should do, but I don't necessarily do it myself. (Laughs) But, yes, a good wax is important. Especially if you're riding an older board, it's good to do a hot scrape—that’s where you put the wax on and scrape it while it's still hot so it pulls all the dirt out of the base. In the spring, there’s typically a lot more dirt and it's mushy—things are blowing around and there's dirt in the parking lots, so it's a good idea to clean your base.
Olympic snowboarding legend and half-pipe superstar Tricia Byrnes points out the importance of warm clothes and well-tuned gear
Olympic snowboarding legend and half-pipe superstar Tricia Byrnes points out the importance of warm clothes and well-tuned gear if you want to ride better. The model above is wearing Columbia Sportswear’s Tracked Out Interchange ski jacket with Omni-Heat™ technology.

Have the right gear

Q: What about your jacket, pants, and other gear? What’s your layering system like?

Tricia Byrnes: I wear a lot of layers. I typically wear long underwear and snow pants with zips in them so I can control the temperature. For my top, I like having a warm wicking layer underneath. Then I typically wear a sweatshirt or something like that and a jacket or a puffy, depending on how cold it is. Being cold or wet can ruin your whole experience, so having the right attire lets you have fun and stay out there on a powder day even when it's super cold and windy. You're basically spending your entire day outside and the weather can fluctuate pretty quickly, so you need gear that can be responsive without having to go into the lodge or the car to change. Good gear is essential.

Q: If people want to take their snowboarding to the next level, how should they prepare mentally?

Tricia Byrnes: Visualization is something that's really important. If you're learning a new trick or something like that, have a mental image of it. For me, it helps to be able to see something and then imagine how it would look and feel. Visualize what you want to do and then also look around at people who are doing it so you can translate that. There are all these nuances that if you look and pay attention, you can almost feel by just watching them. It's also so important to keep it fun and recognize that part of the joy of learning is being a beginner. Have fun with it. You learn by trying, so don’t be afraid to get out there and fall, because half the time you're so scared and then you fall and you realize it wasn't that bad.

Q: Can learning to fall actually make you a better rider?

Tricia Byrnes: Yeah, that's what's fun about it—trying new stuff and being like, “Wow, I did this a little better.” It keeps us humble and alive and flexible. Also, remember that snowboarding is a community. When you get out there and you're doing stuff, your fellow snowboarders are going to help you out and look out for you—there's something really magical about the mountain environment. So don't be afraid to ask someone you see out there what they were doing or what they were thinking. Everyone was a beginner once, so I’m sure they’ll share their intel.
Tricia Byrnes competing  at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Byrnes, who is pictured during her competitive days at the 2002 Winter Olympics, nabbed dozens of half-pipe wins over the course of her career. “Half-pipe is just about feeling it until you can get enough speed to get out of it,” she says.
Q: Are there groups or organizations people can join to find a snowboarding community?

Tricia Byrnes: I would urge them to check out USASA (United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association). I work for the organization and we have people of all ages and regions, not just kids. It's a really great way to grow and meet a community that also wants to progress. You get the opportunity to push yourself in new ways, and do it in a way that's welcoming and not fiercely competitive. I mean, it is competitive, but you can also just build skills and have fun. It's the first step in the Olympic pipeline where everyone gets their start. Whether you're an Olympian or you just want to be a weekend warrior, it's the place to be.

Don’t watch your feet

Q: Are there any basic tips can you offer for people who are just coming out of the beginner stage?

Tricia Byrnes: Look downhill. Look where you want to go. It sounds so obvious, but you look at people that are learning and they're looking down at their feet. Another big thing is to bend your knees, even once you move into learning how to ride the half-pipe or things like that, that’s really important.

Q: For more intermediate riders, how can they start riding faster?

Tricia Byrnes: When you start to go fast, your tendency is to sort of lean back. But as you pick up speed, you should actually dip the nose of your board downhill more. Look where you're going, stay centered over the board, and break that tendency of leaning back when you get scared.

Q: How can people handle unexpected changes in the terrain and learn to be more responsive?

Tricia Byrnes: If you're riding really fast and it's really icy or you hit some chop, the tendency is to jam on the brakes. But you want to be soft on your edges in those situations and soften your body so that you can absorb the chop and get your board under control. Otherwise, it will slip out from under you or you’ll get bucked because you're resisting the flow of the situation.
Tricia Brynes snowboarding through trees.
If you want to get better at riding trees, Byrnes recommends picking your line and looking at it. If you look at the trees, she explained, that’s where you’ll head. She also noted the importance of wearing a helmet.

Pick your line in the trees

Q: Is there an easy way people can get better at riding in the trees?

Tricia Byrnes: First pro tip is by wearing a helmet. Secondly—and it's so obvious—but look where you want to go. Pick your line and look at the line, not the trees. If you look at the trees, you will go into the trees. If you look through them, you will go through them. It's as simple as that—although it’s easier said than done when you're going fast. Other than that, just be aware of your surroundings and look ahead so you can see how the trees progress.

Q: How can people get better at rotations and spins?

Tricia Byrnes: It's all about confidence and over-exaggerating what you need to get done. As a newbie, you're probably going to be a little bit more timid, so to do a 180, you're probably going to want to pretend you're doing a 360. You’ve got to really pick your legs up to spin. And then just look where you want to go. Keep your head moving and look for your landing. Also, you can start small. Start by buttering around on the ground and practicing doing flat spins in the snow. Get that feeling of losing sight of the horizon. Because if you're going to do a 360, you're going to lose your horizon.

Q: What about tips or advice for people who want to start exploring the terrain park?

Tricia Byrnes: Terrain parks are built for people to learn in them. All the jumps are built with the mind frame of progression. So I would just say, get in there. Most of the parks are labeled “medium,” “small,” “hard,” or whatever, so you can test it. Ride on the rails or ride on the boxes and maybe that's fun enough. And then if not, you can progress up. Watch what other people are doing. Investigate. Use the community there as a resource. How fast are people going? Can I tell by watching, or do I need to ask a fellow park rider?
Terrain park in snow mountain scene.
Byrnes says that pushing your boundaries as a snowboarder is all about checking in with yourself and making sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Those personal gut checks will help keep you on track and make your more progression safer and more rewarding.
Q: What about the half-pipe?

Tricia Byrnes: I think people are intimidated by the half-pipe, especially now, because at some resorts they're, like, 22 feet. But you just have to get in there and kind of feel around. Do some jump turns on the walls. Ride up and do a little jump turn ... ride up, jump turn. You can always do a legit 180 and then the more angle you have going up the next wall, the faster you're going to go. So if you want to start small, just go do 90 up. Get a little bit more comfortable—you can angle it down more and then hop. Half-pipe is just about feeling it until you can get enough speed to get out of it.

Push your boundaries safely

Q: As you get to be a better rider, how do you muster the courage to push yourself and keep trying new things?

Tricia Byrnes: If that's something that you want to do, if there's this desire for progression, you need to check in with yourself and make sure that it's really progression and not peer pressure. Make sure that it's got the right energy behind it. Just check in. Be smart. You have to have confidence in yourself. And if you don't, you need to also know that it's okay to back down. It's such a personal gut check on that stuff.

Q: How do you personally know when you’re in those scenarios?

Tricia Byrnes: For me, as a retired athlete, when I got to the end of my career I was like, “Not worth it. I’m cool. I've pushed myself and now I'm scared and I'm going to honor the fear.” Whereas before, pushing through fear was totally worth it and I felt so empowered by it. So it's sort of like riding that balance and asking yourself if you’re going to get stoked on it if you push past your limit, or is the terrifying lead-up not worth it. I think there's a line there and only you can know if it's worth it or not.

Q: Tell me about the feeling of winning and what that moment feels like when you have a really amazing competitive run.

Tricia Byrnes: It's like anything where when stuff comes together, you're like, “Oh my God, that was easy,” or it all just clicked. That's how you can get on a good roll. It's just easy. It feels natural. There's a lot of hard work, but when things come together, they feel sort of effortless in that moment. There's something about that accomplishment of all the things coming together to help you do what you came out here to do. What's awesome is feeling like you set your mind on something and you accomplished it.
Need pro tips for skiing? Check out our interview with Alex Ferreira