Buying Guide for Snowboards
By Steve Kopitz
Are you ready to buy a snowboard? You’re probably overwhelmed by the plethora of snowboard types out there. Sure, you could just pick one that matches your outfit the best, but you could be making an investment decision that you will regret.
Finding the right snowboard could be a daunting task if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Picking a snowboard that is sized poorly or too stiff/soft for your ability can hinder your progression. But with the help of Skis.com, you will be able to make a more informed decision.
What type of snowboarder are you?
First of all, where are you in terms of skill? Do you know what type of riding you want to do or have a strong inclination towards one? This is important to note as it will influence the type of snowboard you should be on. We’ll discuss the types of riding later.
Let’s look into the level of rider you are. It’s important that you give yourself an honest assessment here. Riders generally fall under three levels of ability: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Let’s discuss what these terms mean and the types of boards that generally fit them.
Beginner: We’ll give you one guess what this term means. But just in case, a beginner denotes someone that is new to the sport. A rider who is at this stage is still learning how to link turns properly. Beginner friendly snowboards are soft and forgiving. Most beginner snowboards have a rocker or raised contact points to help reduce edge catches.
Intermediate: If you are linking turns like a boss and starting to get into the groove of carving, then you have officially graduated to Intermediate status. If you’re at this level, you’re probably feeling pretty comfortable with your riding and starting to get your feet wet in different areas of riding. Intermediate shredders are starting to look for more performance out of their gear. Intermediate riders will also be more in tune with the type of riding they prefer. Intermediate snowboards generally run from mid to mid-stiff flex for added responsiveness and stability.
Advanced: So you ride your mountain like a beast. You know how to roost down a fatty carve, ollie everything, and are in complete control of the snowboard beneath your feet. Advanced riders know their strengths and weaknesses and they usually dabble in other areas of riding outside their expertise and do pretty well. Snowboards geared for advanced riders are usually on the stiffer side for the most response and dampening with the exception of advanced freestyle snowboards.
What are the types of riding style?
Now that we got the gist of skill levels and a general understanding of related snowboard types, we will take a look at the various concentrations of riding. Snowboarding is much more than just going down the mountain. There are many styles of riding and a good majority of riders have a mix of these styles. Snowboards are built with the intention of catering to certain styles of riding and have weight ranges for each size.
All-Mountain: By default, we all start out as all-mountain riders. All-mountain shredders utilize the entire mountain in their riding. Snowboards in this category are generally mid to mid-stiff in flex for a do-everything ride. The optimal all-mountain size is going to be the one where the rider’s weight lands in the middle of the range. This places a rider on a board that is well-rounded in terms of flex and sizing. This provides versatility for the board to handle all conditions well.
Freestyle: Freestyle riders are like the snowboarders that you see on ESPN. If you like to spin, jump, ride on rails and boxes in the park, then you are a full fledged freestyle shredder. The ideal freestyle snowboard size is on the shorter end of the weight range. A shorter board will be easier to maneuver on rails and spins. Shorter boards offer more control, but at the cost of some stability.
All-Mountain Freestyle: Your grom falls in this category if he/she makes the whole mountain their playground. This style is a combination of all-mountain and freestyle just like its name-sake. This type of rider will carve into a side hit, make some dynamic turns through trees to find logs to jib, and spin off everything in sight. Optimal sizing for this type of riding can be the same as an all-mountain size or a little shorter for a more freestyle bias.
Freeride: A freerider concentrates on carving and mastering challenging off-piste terrain. They have a craving for speed, fresh pow, and unique lines. Optimally, a freeriding shredder will be on a longer board. This will provide them with a more stable and damp ride. It will also hold an edge better during carves.
There are three types of snowboard shapes. Each shape provides a different feel for the rider and is best suited for certain skill levels or conditions.
Directional: All snowboards were directional in shape in the beginning. A directional snowboard is wider at the nose and narrower at the tail. Directional snowboards have a setback stance which means you have more nose than tail. This is because the binding inserts are moved further back towards the tail. The flex pattern of this shape is also directional in that the nose is softer than the tail. The directional shape is a best utilized for all-mountain or freeride.
Twin: Twin snowboards are the same width in the tips and have a centered stance. Twin snowboards come with directional or twin flex. A directional flex will offer a stiffer tail while a twin flex has equal flex in the nose and tail. Twin snowboards were originally for freestyle riders, but have since become a popular shape for almost any rider. Twins are great for riding switch (other foot forward) since the boards are designed to be symmetrical.
Directional Twin: Directional twins are a versatile shape and offer benefits of both a directional and twin snowboard. A directional twin snowboard is a Jack-of-all trades if you will. Directional twins borrow the setback stance of a directional board, but keep the geometry of a twin snowboard. Directional twins are the weapon of choice for all-mountain freestyle shredders.
What is the Rocker Profile?
On Skis.com the Rocker Profile refers to the profile shape of a snowboard when laid flat on its base. While there are a ton of profiles out there, this next section will help you familiarize yourself with the different types.
Traditional Camber: Traditional camber is original profile shape for a snowboard and is a tried and true shape. Traditional camber has an upwards arching shape in the mid-section of the board. The carvability of a snowboard is constantly compared to traditional camber’s performance in this area. Camber is also known for its springiness resulting in powerful turns and pop. One caveat is that traditional cambered snowboards are less forgiving in terms of edge catches.
Rocker: Rockered snowboards are popular for their playfulness and reduced likelihood of catching an edge. Another huge benefit of a rockered snowboard is improved float which is superb for powder surfing. This shape is the opposite shape of a cambered snowboard. When laid flat, the tips are raised because the arc is curved downwards. A couple of downsides are that rockered snowboards lack the edge hold or snappiness of a traditional camber. However, there are various types of tech in snowboards that add edge hold and snap to rockered boards.
Flat: Flat camber means there is 0 camber so when it’s laid flat, the whole base will be in contact with the ground with little rise in the tips. While rockered snowboards offer less edge catch, flat camber still offers less than traditional camber. Flat camber provides a stable platform for landing and isn’t as washy as a rocker on carves. Flat camber snowboards tend to be a faster, smoother ride than other shapes. This is due to the longer running surface. One common complaint is that flat camber snowboards lack liveliness. This is why the majority of flat camber options come loaded with tech to vastly improve the feel.
Hybrid: Hybrid rockers have a mix of various camber profiles. There are a ton of variations from rocker in the middle and camber underfoot to camber between and rocker underfoot. If we even attempted to cover all of the different hybrids here, you would be stuck on this page for a few years. Generally speaking, expect the performance of a hybrid to be a well-balanced mix of the various types of rocker and camber profiles.
Specific Terms and Features
So we have now covered the most important terminologies in the snowboard product world. Here are a few more that you will come across while perusing snowboards.
The core is the guts of the snowboard. The core is usually comprised of various woods that are wrapped with laminated fiberglass. However, expect to find a variety of other technologies included that are designed to affect other areas of your ride. Companies are constantly playing with new technologies and cores to tweak the overall performance of a snowboard. The more technology that goes into a snowboard, the more expensive they typically are, but the customer enjoys an upgrade in performance.
Less expensive snowboards will usually lack the extra technology, but are still built around a wood core. Without extra technology like carbon stringers, these snowboards tend to lose their flex faster. As the level of expected performance increases, the complexity of the core will too, often using a combination of materials.
There are two common references in relation to snowboard construction: capped construction and sidewall construction (also known as sandwich construction). Capped construction is a method where the top sheet is pinched over the sides of the snowboard, meeting the metal edge.
The more commonly used construction is sidewall (sandwich) construction. This type of construction is exactly how it sounds; the core and the sidewalls are sandwiched between the topsheet and the base of the snowboard. Sidewall construction distributes more power to the edges while minimizing energy loss. English? Quicker edge to edge performance.
The effective edge refers to the part of the edges that make contact with the snow while you are riding. When you shift your weight to your effective edge, you are able to turn and carve.
Many designs on the market are intended increase the effective edge of the snowboard. Mervin Manufacturing infamous edge technology, known as Magnetraction, is essentially a wavy sidewall and edge akin to a serrated steak knife. The benefit of this design is more contact points (7 to be exact) with the snow, and ultimately an increased effective edge. This will give you more control, increased edge hold, and help immensely in any icy snow conditions. Additionally, freestyle riders can detune these types of boards freely without worrying about sacrificing edge hold outside of the park.
Snowboard sidecut is the arch that can be seen on the side of the board between the nose and the tail. This arch would complete a circle if continued and determines the snowboard’s turning radius. Thus, sidecut is what allows the snowboard to turn. A board with a drastic sidecut will make quick, sharp turns and will have a small turning radius. Boards with a less severe sidecut will make long, wide turns and have a greater turning radius.
Base is a snowboard’s underside. Bases are a very important part of a snowboard because it is what’s constantly in contact with the snow. Bases for the most part are made with a polyethylene material called P-Tex.
You will typically come across two types of bases, extruded and sintered. Extruded bases are low maintenance because they are easier to repair and can be ridden with minimal wax. Extruded bases by nature hold less wax, but are faster unwaxed than an unwaxed sintered base. Waxed sintered bases are much faster and have superior wax absorption properties. However, sintered bases are harder to repair, are slow without wax, and are generally more expensive.
The width of a snowboard is measured from edge to edge from the center of the sidecut. It is important to be on a proper width snowboard for your boot size. A board that is too narrow for your boots will cause you to have toe drag which means your toe/heel hangs over the edge too far and will make contact with the snow when you engage an edge. On a board too wide for your feet, you will experience sluggishness because your feet do not hang over the edges enough disabling you from getting enough leverage over the board. This occurs because it takes longer to transfer the energy to the edges. Generally speaking, if you wear a size 11.5 or larger, you should be looking at a wide snowboard with a width around 26cm. Keep in mind that newer boots feature profile reducing tech. So in some cases, a size 12 boot will have the footprint of a size 11 negating a need for a wide snowboard. Also note that a board is wider at the insert points where your boots will lie. So don’t stress over waist width differences like 0.2cm.
Sizing a snowboard is writhe with myths and misconceptions. The biggest offender is the “size it up to your chin and nose”. This is a poor way to size a snowboard. Think about it, not everyone has the same anatomy. Two people could be the exact same height and weight. What if one person’s chin/nose is lower than the other’s? They would end up on a different size snowboard. What if one person is just an inch taller than the other, but weighs the same?
The two most important factors in snowboard sizing is weight and boot size. Nearly all manufacturers will have a weight range for each size. The best starting point is the center of this weight range. You can size up or down depending on skill and riding style. See a full snowboard size chart to make your decision easier!