Vlogger and podcaster Liam Stevens has been training with airbags for the past decade, using them to get reps on tricks he’d otherwise need months or even years to nail down safely. But while airbags add a very obvious level of safety to freestyle snowboarding, Stevens admits he’s always been a bit sketched out by them. They’re not fail-proof. First there’s the “miss the bag entirely” factor. Or even the unthinkable: an airbag getting loose inbounds at a Russian resort in 2018. For Liam, there’s long been a very specific fear of getting stuck on the plastic and injuring himself.
“This is the most unpredictable and sketchy part about airbags,” he says, referring to how dry and sticky a plastic airbag can get because, well, there’s no actual snow.
To top off the sketchiness, he also says he didn’t want ironing out new tricks on an airbag “affecting my core score or something.” He says those feelings are split among snowboarders he knows and the snowboarders he looks up to. Where there used to be a bit of pushback on airbags, he’s seeing more and more people train with them but…”no one is openly talking about it.”
With all that in mind, Stevens sucked it up and took an open mind back to the airbag. He’d had two tricks in mind that he felt needed a session to iron out the kinks.
“After my first couple of hits, I could tell they had greatly reduced the negative aspects that most airbags have,” he said. “As opposed to other airbags I’ve ridden with quick takeoffs and flatter landings, this one has minimal g-forces on the takeoff, lots of hang time, and soft touch-down landings.” Even the dry cell snow felt real enough to hold an edge, and the whole experience turned into unexpected back-to-back-to-back sessions. Going into it, he’d wanted to work on his switch 1080s, but with enough repetitions found himself trying to tack on another 180 degrees during the second day.
It’s still not the real thing, but by the end of it all Liam counted the training experience as a net-positive. And he feels the same about what airbags have done for the sport overall.
“Do I think airbags are going to destroy the soul of snowboarding,” he asks. “No, I don’t. I think the snowboard community is too strong to be destroyed by something like that. And unlike in many other sports, the majority of its soul exists outside of its competitive realm.”