There are several reasons to ditch the piste and head out in pursuit of powder, but backcountry kicker building is way up there as far as incentives go. Open spaces, soft, forgiving landings, and an excuse to spend time with your mates away from the madding crowds.
However, picking the perfect location to build your kicker isn’t quite as straight-forward as you’d think. There are three key elements of the perfect kicker spot - the run-in, the take-off zone, and the landing - and it’s vital you pay close attention to all three.
The aim of the game here is to travel through the air between the lip of the kicker and land smoothly somewhere on the landing. Sometimes, this might mean jumping over a flat area or a raised ‘knuckle’ that might sit just in front of a steeper landing.
When you approach the location, the run-in is likely going to be covered in white fluffy powder. You'll never get enough speed through this, so some of your group will need to smooth this out and compact the snow into a firm stable approach.
Get one or two of your party to hike the run-in and side slip slowly down the where you will build the kicker. Be sure to make it wide, and go back over this new run-in a good few times. Catching an edge when building speed for a kicker is never going to end well.
The Take-off Zone
This is the area where you’re going to build your kicker and it’s a good idea to build it wider at the bottom to give it good structural support. Mark the edges of your proposed kicker with skis or snowboards.
Using a snow shovel, carefully cut blocks away from the snow pack and place them in the marked out area, gently building a transition and back-filling gaps with loose snow.
Be sure to support the sides of the kicker as you pat down the top, and try not to stand or dig near the precious landing - you haven’t gone to all this trouble to land in anything but fresh pillowy powder.
You’re almost there. The kicker is built and the run-in should be firm and compact, but before you drop in there are a few things to bear in mind.
The run-in and take-off need to be completely smooth, any bumps of unevenness could throw you off and risk ruining those first fresh hits - that landing won’t stay soft forever.
Take a few dummy runs up to the edge of the kicker and use the edge of your skis or snowboard to shave any imperfections away. These dummy runs might also reveal whether the compression from run-in to take-off is too much. You want to approach the kicker with confidence, not be struggling to maintain your balance.
Time to hit it
You’re ready to roll, it’s time to drop in and sail across to that cushy landing. Limit those speed checks as you hurtle towards the take-off and remember to keep that nose up when you make the landing.