You’ve got a perfect zone, and the snow covers the landing like a soft blanket. Now comes the hard part. The part where you sweat uncontrollably through layers while simultaneously freezing your nuts off. It can seem like a cruel form of self-punishment. But building the jump is without a doubt worth it. This almost always takes more time than you have to spare, and more energy than you want to give it. But in the end you’ll have a chance to quote R. Kelly in your head while you send it into the abyss: “I BELIEVE I CAN FLY!”

The Different Types of Takeoff Zones

There are 3 major kinds of takeoffs to try. First, there are wind lips, which are Mother Nature’s gift to snowboarding. No building time needed. The wind has pushed the snow around during the storm and shapes a winter wave just uphill of a large pow field. The curvature of the snow can sometimes bare an uncanny resemblance to a kicker and the urge to send ‘er is just too much. A jump is literally waiting to be sent out there, it’s up to you to find it.

Then there are cliffs and Pat-downs which are easy to make and sometimes scariest. A pat-down can be used when you find a cliff or much steeper section underneath a short section with a shallow grade. Simply take your board and pat down the existing snow for 10-20 feet before the edge of the drop. This is so you can set your edge and perform some stunts for any onlookers.  All that’s left is to hike up above, strap in and send it deep into the landing below.

Aspen Weaver Windlip – Credit: yobeat.com

Finally, there are cheese wedges which require you to actually bust out your collapsable shovel and get to work. This is where some know-how comes in handy. Harvesting snow and forming it into a jump might seem easy, but it can be exhausting and ultimately a failure if done wrong. If done right, it will not only save you some energy but will also lead to a more reliable ramp that won’t fall apart.

Making a Cheese Wedge

For Warm and Wet Snow:

In warmer climates and springtime sessions you will most likely be working with bricks. Just like stacking Legos, building with bricks is easy and helps save time and effort. You simply cut the bricks to a uniform size out of the surrounding snowpack.

First shovel all the snow immediately around the footprint of where you want your jump to be. This should leave you with a good outline of where to put snow. It also provides a crucial edge about half a meter deep from which to cut blocks.

Wojtek Pawlusiak chopping bricks Credit: Redbull.com

You want to begin by harvesting immediately to the left and to the right of your takeoff. Don’t cut bricks from your inrun and don’t cut too far towards the landing. If you harvest close to your kicker you save energy and keep from destroying the landing before you even get to hit it. Take your shovel and stab the surface of the snow downward 3 times forming a square at the edge. Then once more underneath to cut a block from the edge of the snow.  When you make the undercut the block will be on top of your shovel just pry it loose then move it to its location.

When building with blocks you can move snow in chunks many times bigger than your shovel. This saves time and provides a natural structure to the jump itself. Assemble your blocks in layers along the outer perimeter of the base of your jump. Remember to make your perimeter at the base bigger than you want the riding surface to be. You will have to make the top riding surface more narrow than the base so that the edges don’t collapse. Alternate the layers so that bricks overlap, this is day one stuff for masonry workers.

A good pile of bricks

Finally, you can fill in the shell of a jump with more bricks and shovels full of snow. It’s important to fill all the cracks with smaller chunks and handfuls of snow. This helps glue everything together. A firm and stable riding surface is the goal and all these steps help create a solid foundation.

For Cold Dry Snow:

Sometimes you will go to cut a block and the thing just disintegrates. No matter how careful you are with the cubes of snow they seem to keep breaking. It’s a sad moment but this is when you realize the snow is not going to work for blocks. The only options are to shovel up piles and piles of snow, way beyond your jumps desired figure, and then pack them in with your feet or snowshoes.

Powder – Credit: Glutenfreesnowboarder.com

In this case, it’s important to remember that you can’t make a building without a foundation first. And when it comes to snow that won’t pack, every shovelful you toss on the pile will slide down the slope to the base. So you can waste your energy heaving your shovel at the top every time or you can start at the bottom and add layers growing outward and upward from centre to save energy.

Throw snow at the bottom until you have a footprint twice as wide as the final riding surface you want then build up from there knowing that the dry snow won’t stack into walls any steeper than a 45 deg angle. Periodically, as it gets taller, you’ll want to pack it down with your feet. That’s right I said walk all over it. It may seem like you’re destroying your progress but it’s the only way. You need to make the snow in the kicker as dense as you can. Continue to build and when nearing the top use boards and shovels to retain snow while your buddies throw snow above.

Choosing a shape

Now that you have begun building you should probably figure out how big this thing should be. A good rule is that your transition should be as long as ⅔ of your gap. That means the distance between where your inrun ends and your lip is should be roughly two thirds the distance between your lip and where you want to land. 

A good balance between speed and pop is ideal – Credit: TravisRice.com

Some jumps have more kick than others. If your landing is exceptionally steep then you want a steep take off to match, or else you may overshoot completely. Steep kickers also mean a shorter gap. If you have a lot of Wu-tang on the jump then you’re not going to be setting distance records. Similarly, if you have a shallow landing angle you may want your jump to be longer with less kick and requiring more speed. A long, tall jump with little transition is always easier to take speed into than a shorter steeper jump.

Whatever shape or size jump you chose to build, always remember to preserve your landing. That absence of snowballs and tracks in your landing not only make it easier to ride away but also make the scene look a little more appealing if you’re filming it or shooting photos. Now that you have a big pile of snow you can begin to make a plan for its final shape.

Click here for Pt.1 on How to Build a Backcountry Jump
Click here for Pt.3 on How to build a Backcountry Jump

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