Pro snowboarder is probably up there with beer taster and mattress tester on the short list of “best jobs ever.” Louie Vito—whom your mom knows from Dancing With The Stars—turned pro at 17 and has since taken his sport by storm. Among other accolades, he has won the U.S. Grand Prix Overall Title twice, placed fifth in the halfpipe at the 2010 Olympics and scored gold at the 2011 Dew Tour Killington stop. As he preps to compete in the Dew Tour’s Breckenridge event this weekend, Vito shares how to wow your friends—and ski bunnies—on the slopes with a perfect backside 360. Take notes, then watch him spin in the Snowboard Superpipe Finals this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on NBC.
UPDATE: Vito finished second thanks to an epic run that included two 1080s and a 1260.
Once you are comfortable carving and doing little hop-turn 180s, the biggest things you need to progress to a 360 are speed and air, which work together. The faster you go, the more air you’ll get. “Don’t slow down,” says Vito. “Put pressure on your heel side as you head into the jump, then switch to your toe side as you go up.” Get your front arm ready by winding it up a little—out in front of you in the direction opposite your planned rotation. You’ll use that arm for leverage once you come off the jump.
“The jump is already pushing you up,” notes Vito. “But a good pop gives you the extra air you need.” To get it, timing is critical. Bend your knees and, as the front of your board goes over the jump, reverse the motion to launch yourself. Your jump should come from both feet, with slightly more force applied by the back foot. For maximum air, Vito recommends come off the jump going straight, with your shoulders open.
Now comes perhaps the hardest part: getting the right amount of rotation. “Obviously people have different bodies, so the right amount of force for one person isn’t right for another,” Vito says. Still, there are some ways to make sure you get enough force. Shift your hips in the direction you want to turn as you make your pop. (For regular riders doing a backside air, that would be to your right. For goofy footers, to your left.) Once you’re in the air, turn your hips, shoulders and most importantly your head around. “The second you turn your head back, your rotation dies pretty fast,” warns Vito. About 270 degrees through your rotation, you’ll be facing the slope again and can turn your head back to spot your landing.
Of course, no trick is perfect until you land it. As you descend, push your feet down to meet the ground halfway and prepare for impact. “The harder you throw, the more you might spin when you land,” says Vito. You can now evaluate your jump: Did you spin with too much force? Not enough? Did you not get enough air to complete the rotation? (Painful.) “Remember that this is snowboarding and no one ever really gets it right on the first try,” says Vito. In other words, best to practice when those ski bunnies you’re looking to impress aren’t looking. Wait till you’ve got it down cold to hit those Hollywood jumps under the lift.
Bonus Session: Bigger Rotations
Much as the 360 is just a multiplied 180, so a 720 or a 1080 is just a mathematically enhanced 360. When trying to execute those crazy big rotations, go back to the core components of a good 360—speed and pop—and multiply them as well. Or just watch Vito this weekend and daydream.