Snowboards: How to Choose

snowboarding

Like to cruise groomed runs? Float through powder? Hammer chutes? Or ride the rails? The right snowboard for you is one designed for the terrain you prefer. This article helps you understand the types, sizes and shapes of snowboards out there and how to make a wise choice.

Types of Snowboards

All-mountain: Performs anywhere on a mountain—groomed runs, backcountry, even park and pipe. All-mountain boards may be directional (meaning downhill only) or twin tips (for riding switch, meaning either direction). Most boarders (perhaps 90%, and maybe 95% of novices) ride all-mountain boards. Because of their versatility, all-mountain boards are good for beginners who are still learning what terrain they like. This category is sometimes referred to as all-mountain/freeride.

Freestyle/park: Light, short, flexible snowboards with twin tips that excel when grinding rails, jibbing boxes or hitting jumps, spins and tricks. Some offer heavy-duty edges and bases that can absorb a beating from rails and tree trunks. Good for riders who want to push their limits in terrain parks; not so good for stability or cruising fast on hard snow. Wide: Extra-wide versions of all-mountain boards, freestyle/park boards and other snowboard styles designed for riders with large feet (men U.S. size 11 and higher; women size 10+).

Why? Toes or heels that exceesively overhang snowboard edges could cause drag and diminish performance. A little overhang is fine, though; it gives you more leverage during turns.
Splitboards: These backcountry-specific boards split in half to create 2 skis and permit climbing on untracked backcountry slopes. You later reattach the halves and ride downhill. It’s a great design for adventurous backcountry devotees who have the knowledge, skills and confidence to safely explore unpatrolled slopes. You’ll also need climbing skins and a split kit, usually sold separately.
Freeride: Primarily designed for off-piste (backcountry) terrain—riding the steeps, in chunder (erratic, clumpy snow) or on powder. Also good for traveling fast top-to-bottom on groomed runs. Freeride boards are stiff and provide good stability when cruising hardpack. They are intended for directional (downhill) riding only; not for tricks or terrain parks.
Powder: For riders spending almost all their time in deep, fluffy snow among trees and in backcountry bowls. These boards offer wide waists, even wider noses and rockered (upturned) tips and tails to keep edges from catching or sinking. They’re only so-so on groomed slopes or in the park.
Women’s: Women-specific boards match a women’s frame and stance, with narrower waist widths (for smaller feet), slightly less camber and softer flex (engineered for the way women drive energy into a board). Taller women, particularly those with a boot size of 9 or higher, may find it useful to look at some boards in the men’s category.
Kids’: While kids grow fast, parents should avoid buying an adult board, hoping your child will grow into it. An oversized board can be unmanageable for a child and slow their skill development.
Snowboard Basics
Other snowboard-selection factors in a nutshell:
Parts of a Snowboard

Choose Boots First

If you’re going to splurge, splurge on boots. Boots play a major role in a rider’s comfort. It’s usually best to choose boots and bindings first, then find the perfect deck.

Budget

The higher initial cost of a quality snowboard usually translates into better performance on the slopes, a more satisfying overall experience and a better long-term value. High-performance boards start around $400 and can go much higher.

Shapes

Directional boards are dimensionally designed to be ridden forward (downhill).
Directional snowboard
True twins are symmetrical in construction and exhibit no difference in performance whether you ride them forward or backward. This makes them a popular choice for pipe and park riding.
True twin snowboard
Directional twin boards are good for people who ride all over the mountain, from groomers to the park.
Directional twin snowboard

Camber or Rocker?

Camber delivers a lively, stable ride and provides pop and responsiveness on hardpack or groomed runs, especially when powering out of turns. Experienced, speed-oriented riders favor cambered boards. Camber is also known asregular or positive camber.
Rocker (aka reverse camber) creates upturned noses and tails. The design excels in powder and when jibbing or riding rails in the park. Rockered boards are softer than cambered boards and often appeal to novice riders. Experienced riders, though, can still coax powerful rides out of them.
Mixed camber (or, modified rocker) has exploded in popularity, and manufacturers have hatched lots of rocker variations to address specific performance attributes, too many to explain here. Look to a snowsports specialist or snowboard manufacturer to explain the nuances of rocker variations. A few examples are shown here:

Sizing

Length: Stand a board on its tail. Its nose should reach somewhere between a rider’s nose and chin. Fast, aggressive riders often prefer a longer board. Park riders eager to hit lots of jumps and twists may want a very short board.
Weight: Recommended rider weights are listed in the spec charts of individual boards.

Sidecut Radius

Directional twin snowboard
This term describes the curve of a board’s edges.
  • Deeper sidecut (lower numbers, in centimeters): These boards have narrower waists, so they turn quickly and easily. Good for beginners and park riders.
  • Shallow sidecut (higher numbers): Because they have wider waists, these boards float more easily on soft snow. They do a good job of handling high speeds and powering through crud.

Effective Edge

Effective Edge
Snowboards have metal edges that bite into snow to provide control and steering. A snowboard’s “effective edge” (measured in centimeters) is the edge section that actually touches the snow or ice throughout your descent.
  • longer effective edge provides stability at high speed and good grip in turns or when descending icy slopes.
  • shorter effective edge creates a board that is easier to turn and spin.
“Multi-radial” edge designs also exist, another variation that snowboard makers offer to make their boards stand out. Usually it means they offer better control on ice.
Edges need to be routinely sharpened for optimal grip while riding groomers or in the pipe. Deliberately dulled edges are best for jibbing and rail riding. Stance
Snowboards all offer some type of binding interface. Some popular examples:
Snowboard mounting options
4×4: Holes spaced 4cm apart vertically (nose to tail) and horizontally (edge to edge).
2×4: More vertical holes, spaced just 2cm apart, for more stance options.
3D: Found only on Burton boards. Opinions vary on whether this approach offers any benefits over rows of holes.
Channel: Burton-only design uses slots instead of bolt holes. The objective: Make finely tuned, customized stances possible.
Choosing your stance (involving width, angle, setback vs. center, and more) is a matter of personal preference.
Construction
Between a snowboard’s topsheet and base are layers of wood, woven fiberglass and sometimes proprietary materials (to boost performance). Slanted sidewalls enclose the finished package. This is known as sandwich construction.
Cap construction excludes sidewalls and simply wraps the topsheet around a board’s edges. This is a less-expensive method, and it may produce less-exacting results.
Three primary construction factors influence a snowboard’s performance characteristics and price:
  • The flex of its fiberglass weave.
  • Core materials.
  • Base.

Flex

Flex refers to a board’s give, its receptiveness to twisting. It’s determined by the fiberglass weave used inside the board. Biaxial (2-way) weaves are more flexible; triaxial (3-way) and a few quadaxial (4-way) weaves are stiffer.
A board can flex 2 ways:
  • Longitudinal flex: along its length (most important to most boarders).
  • Torsional flex: flex across its width.
How to correctly test flex at a store:
Longitudinal flex: Place a board’s tail on the ground, preferably on carpet. Boards have 2 binding mounts. Place an arm around the higher mount, as if wrapping an arm around a friend’s shoulder.
With the board at about a 45° angle, use your other hand to press down on the lower mount. The idea: Mimic the pressure feet apply to a board. Don’t grab a board by its nose and push on its center. Lots of people do this, but no one rides on the center of a board.
Torsional flex: Place both feet on the tail. Grip the nose with both hands and firmly twist in opposite directions. Realize, though, that maxing a board’s torsional flex requires more force than most people can apply in this manner.
What the tests tell you:
  • Soft (easier to flex): Forgiving and easy to turn. Usually preferred by beginners, riders with lower body weights and park riders.
  • Stiff (harder to flex): Provides more grip when turning; holds speed better than a softer board. Can better hold an edge when descending fast. Usually the choice of freeriders.
Note: Manufacturers usually do not provide flex ratings for their snowboards, so flex is not included in snowboard specs.

Core Materials

Wood (beech, poplar, even bamboo) is used in virtually all high-quality boards. It is long-lasting, lively and proven. Wooden cores can be reinforced with different types and weights of fiberglass, carbon fiber, aramid fibers or metals to achieve various performance characteristics. Stiffness, for example. Manufacturers are often secretive about their core technologies.
Bargain boards often use injected foam cores; these sometimes result in uneven performance and lower durability.

Base Materials

Two types of polyethylene (PE) are used in snowboard bases:
Extruded bases (if PE was cheese, extruded bases = spray-can cheese) are:
  • Less expensive.
  • Relatively easy to repair.
  • Low maintenance (nonporous surface won’t hold wax).
  • Sometimes vulnerable to warping.
Sintered bases (in the cheese analogy, the equivalent of a block of fine cheddar) are:
  • Faster on snow.
  • Stronger.
  • Lighter.
  • More durable.
  • Used on more expensive boards.
  • Need waxing (tiny pores hold wax for smooth, fast runs).

Experience Level

Snowboards are now categorized by terrain preferences (all-mountain, powder, freeride, whatever), no longer by ability level (beginner, intermediate, advanced). Your experience level, however, might still influence your selection process:
Experienced riders have learned over time what matters most to them in a board. They benefit the most from fussing over a snowboard’s performance characteristics and finer technical details.
Novice or casual riders need to figure out where they plan to ride and choose a corresponding board. Most beginners benefit from an all-mountain board (good on groomed slopes and the park) with some flex to it.

Summary

  1. It’s usually wise to choose your boots and bindings first. Make sure your feet are comfortable.
  2. Choose a board made for the terrain you plan to ride most often. Don’t plan to ride the park? Then don’t buy a park board starting out. Not sureexactly where you’re going to ride? Go with an all-mountain board.
  3. The learning curve on a snowboard is very fast, so a) buy where you want to be and b) aim for a board that will accommodate improving skills.
  4. Realize snowboard prices are mostly determined by 3 construction factors:
Construction factor Lower-cost board (up to $400) Upper-range board ($400 and up)
Fiberglass weave Biaxial Triaxial
Core Softer, simpler design Stiffer, technical design
Base Extruded Sintered
Beyond this come the bells and whistles—rocker, camber, mixed camber, stance options, high-tech edges, carbon inlays, graphics (a big deal, we know) and more. Prices for high-end snowboards climb well beyond $499.
How much should you spend? If you’re the demanding, performance-focused type, go with a more advanced snowboard.
Are you a recreational/occasional all-mountain rider?
  • A quality board in the sub-$400 range will likely work just fine for you. Or, if you can afford to splurge, you might benefit, skill-wise, from the subtle extras that upper-tier boards offer.
  • If you can only selectively splurge, spend extra on boots. Comfortable feet are every boarder’s top priority.

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