How To Build A Backcountry Kicker

How To Build A Backcountry Kicker

High flyin' CVA aka Corey Van Aken breaks down building a proper kicker in the backcountry

Follow @vanakenbacon for more pow slayin' greatness. 

When it comes to building jumps in the backcountry, there are 3 topics that will always affect what type of jump you're going to build, where you are going to build it and how.

  1. How big are you trying to go?

  2. What type of terrain are we talking about?

  3. What tricks are you going to throw? 

Before we get into these questions lets go over some of the basic essentials you're going to need to build a proper sized + photo worthy jump in the backcountry.

1.) Find Your Team

Magic number = 4-5

Find a team of people that are all on the same page as to what type of feature you're going for. More than 5 and it starts to get crowded. Keep in mind how many people are going to session the jump when it's done. If there's more than 5 people trying to hit the feature, you might only get 3 hits before the landing turns to a bomb field, any less than 4 people and it's going to take some serious individual work to get a jump built in less than a day.

2.) Grab Your Building Tools

The number one tool for building a kicker is... you guessed it, shovels! The best lightweight shovel for building a kicker that i've found is called a Tuffy. Avy shovels will work fine too, however they're smaller and are not made for moving large amounts of snow as they are for cutting through it. Ideally, you want something that you can chop out large blocks (or bricks) of consistent snow to build your kicker like you would build a structure out of bricks or Legos.

Another great option for a building tool is the DMOS Stealth/Alpha 2 Shovel, its quite a bit heavier and more expensive than a Tuffy, however its a metal shovel that has pointed edges on the end designed for breaking through ice, these edges however can be put to use as a snow rake to help shape & groom the kicker once its all built and filled in (life hack). Other essentials include all of your typical backcountry gear including avalanche probe, beacon, shovel, stash packs, and of course water and food. It usually takes at least a full day to build a proper jump with a good crew so be prepared to spend that amount of time in the backcountry.

3.) Identify Terrain & Scale How Big You Wanna Go 

These two will play hand in hand together when looking at spots to build a jump. Where are you trying to take off from and where are you trying to land? Usually this will give you an idea of how big you're going, which will then also play into how much of a run-in & landing you'll need to get the proper speed. As with any type of feature built in the backcountry (jumps, log jibs, cliff drops, lines etc.), I always try to make the feature work with the land around it naturally, having some sort of natural gap to clear like a holler, valley, crevasse or ditch, combined with a natural slope to create a run in for speed and a transition for landing with said speed & amplitude.

To help get you in the mindset of what style of jump to build to compliment the layout of terrain, here is a few basic styles of jumps and brief descriptions for each style.

A.) The Classic Cheese-Wedge 

Trajectory sends up and out for a landing usually about the same or slightly more angled than the takeoff with smooth transitions.  

B.) Step-Down 

Usually involving a low angled, almost cliff drop style take off with more of an out and downward trajectory, sending to a landing of steep to much steeper angled transition. This usually results in feeling of "free-fall" in the air rather than a classic jump. 

C.) Step-Up 

Typically involves a more aggressive angled or "poppy" style takeoff, sending upwards in trajectory to a landing that is significantly above the point of takeoff. The landings are usually mellow with a lower angle slope. This results in a feeling of being shot into the sky but then with a mellow touchdown to a higher ground for landing.

Each of these styles can be combined to ultimately increase the risk of the trick, depth of the shot, and overall radicalness to the feature depending on what you're going for. Remember, there's no rules to what you can or can't build. Just as an artist is to their sculpture, your creativity will play a huge part in what type of feature you can build to go with the terrain you choose, all in all, the sky is the limit.

Once you've nailed down your...

 (x)  Take off point
 (x)  Landing point 
 (x)  Necessary speed for run-in 
 (x)  Landing space for said needed speed

Now what type of tricks are you going to throw off this beast?

Spinning frontside? Backside? Hitting it switch? Flipping? Each of these are things you should have in the back of your mind while building your jump. You want to make sure that your takeoff is wide and firm enough to allow you to throw these tricks off of the jump with ease. Another thing to consider is the transition from run-in, to belly of the jump, to the takeoff, and how aggressive that transition is going to be with speed. You'll want to try to set everything up to throw your tricks as easy as possible without extra risk or complications involved, as if it were a perfectly manicured park jump. This allows for maximum stompability resulting in more shots gained and overall more fun vs. having a jump that's so tough you can barely get your stock tricks off the takeoff. Thus, plowing a good run-in is going to be just as important as having a properly shaped takeoff & lip.

Things to Avoid on the Run-In:

  • Bumps and chatter
  • Major turns or changes in direction
  • Dodging trees, rocks, darting squirrels or any other natural obstacles
  • Thin layers of snow or changes in snow consistency

One of the biggest issues that is almost always overlooked is allowing for a long, smooth transition from fall line ---> belly of the jump ---> takeoff.

However much of a transition you think you might need for your jump, take that and double it. Apply this rule of thumb always and you should be fine for a smooth takeoff. 

  • Bluetooth speaker
  • Celebratory beers for when you land your tricks! (Outer Range & Upslope recommended for extra bonus points)



Whether you're out there getting shots for video, magazine, season edits, brand content or just out dialing in some new tricks in the powder, remember to KEEP IT FUN! There's nothing quite like being out in the middle of nowhere hitting a homemade jump with your friends. 

Photos courtesy of @jacobjphotography , @rawmedialabs , Corey Van Aken

Follow @vanakenbacon for more pow slayin greatness.



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