Whether you are a first-time rider, a slope veteran or somewhere in between, it’s crucial that you know what to look for when buying your next snowboard. With so many choices, it can be hard to zero-in on that perfect ride. Take some time and learn about the different elements that go into a snowboard; then you can narrow down your choices based on your ability level, riding style and budget. Read through this buyer’s guide and you’ll have the knowledge you need to pinpoint your ideal board.
Key Terms and Explanations
There are several features that determine the intended use for a snowboard. These include the following:
Board length is typically connected to both a rider’s height and their boarding style. In order to find the right length for your needs, start by holding the board upright to compare it to your own height: Short boards will come up to somewhere between your collarbone and your chin. Because shorter boards are easier to maneuver, they are great to learn on and are preferred by riders who do a lot of trick, park and pipe riding.Medium-length boards will come up between your chin and nose. If you are an intermediate-to-advanced rider who prefers a variety of terrains (parks and slopes), this could be the right size for you. Long boards range from eye-level to several inches over the top of your head, and are best for high-speed carving, deep powder and big mountain terrain.
A few riders might get away without an edge on their board – just point that nose straight down the mountain and go. For the rest of us, however, the ability to make turns and carve is pretty essential to our enjoyment of the sport. Whether you are riding on ice, packed snow or in powdery bowls, you’ll need to feel comfortable with the way your board grips the surface. A longer effective edge means greater stability at high speeds and more edge hold during turns. A shorter effective edge makes for quicker and easier carves, spins and directional changes. Choose a board with an effective edge that best suits your individual needs.
It’s essential to keep your weight in mind when buying a snowboard. In fact, some people will tell you that it is the most important rider characteristic to be considered. The reason? While a snowboard has no clue how tall the person standing on it is, it does know their weight. That’s why you should generally adhere to the manufacturers’ suggestions concerning rider weight, as their boards have been carefully designed with this factor in mind. When a heavy rider buys a board that is too short, the board will have a tendency to perform poorly, especially at higher speeds. On the other hand, when a light person rides a board that is too long, they will usually have trouble controlling their board and initiating turns. Pick out a board that matches your tastes and style, but be sure that it will be as good as it can be on the slopes by shopping in your size.
A snowboard’s responsiveness is the product of its flexibility coupled with its rider’s weight. In order to find a good fit for you, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for board weight classes and know what type of terrain you’ll be riding. There are two different flex/stiffness classifications: longitudinal (horizontal) and torsional (vertical):
Longitudinal flex: There is a high correlation between longitudinal flex and rider weight that must be considered when shopping around. For a light snowboarder, a stiff board is too difficult to control and won’t be very responsive, making riding on icy or bumpy snow dangerous. Assuming that you find a board with the right weight recommendations, a stiff board does have some perks. They tend to perform better on groomed slopes and they are more effective at holding an edge. Boards with softer flex lengthwise are better for freestyle riding, landing jumps and jibbing.
Torsional Flex measures the stiffness of a board from its heel edge to its toe edge. Softer-flex boards are easier to turn and are much more responsive to rider input. They are ideal for bumpy or soft snow. Stiffer side-to-side flex is, again, better for edge grip, and is preferred for groomed slopes and deeper powder.
Coupled with the length of your effective edge, a board’s turning radius will determine its capabilities. If your intention is to spend your days carving down mellow slopes, you’re needs will be different than someone interested in tricky tree runs. The sidecut is the measure of the turning radius of a snowboard and can vary pretty widely from model to model. The smaller the radius measurement (deeper sidecut), the sharper the board will turn. Conversely, a longer radius (shallower sidecut) will initiate wider turns. As always, knowing what style of riding you’ll be doing will help you select the most appropriate specs for your new board. There are three main types of sidecuts: radial, progressive and a brand-new technology called magne-traction. A radial sidecut has an unchanging radius along the entire side of the board. A progressive sidecut, on the other hand, has several different measurements as it moves along the edge. Magne-traction, a technology that is currently exclusive to Lib Tech and Gnu boards, is a completely different beast. Essentially, the sidecut is not a sweeping arc, but rather a series of waves along the edge. The somewhat serrated design is intended to slice better through icy snow, leaving the rider feeling like he’s riding powder.
The width of a board is measured at its narrowest point, also know as the “waist.” Depending on the type of riding you’ll be doing and the size of your feet, the width of your board will vary based on your requirements. Boards with a narrower waist width are quicker from edge to edge; however, the width should also be relative to the size of your feet. If your feet are a US size 10 or larger, you may have problems with a narrow board. To prevent your boots from extending over the side of your board, it’s better to opt for a slightly wider waist to prevent dragging your heels or toes in the snow as you turn. Another option for larger feet: angle your stance a bit more so that your entire foot is set squarely on the board’s surface.
You’ll often find that even the smallest details of your set-up have a big impact on your comfort and progression as a snowboarder. This is certainly the case with the stance you select for your new ride. Part of the creation of your stance is determining where to screw in your bindings. Knowing what you need before you buy will ensure that the inserts will be exactly where you need them. There are four types of inserts: 4×4, 2×4, sliders and Burton’s 3 hole system. If you are an intermediate or advanced rider and every incremental change makes a difference, you would benefit from choosing a board with an insert pattern that allows for tinier adjustments (2×4 and sliders). If you are a Burton fan, the 3 hole system is their standard. Word of caution: if you buy a Burton board, make sure that your bindings match their insert pattern. All Burton bindings fit, and other companies produce binding discs that make their bindings Burton-compatible, which may be sold separately.
Snow depth and ride style combine to determine whether you need a centered insert or one that is slightly offset. In order to figure out the best choice for your new board, you should consider whether you’ll be riding in the park or on the slopes, in deep powder or on groomed runs. Many manufacturers set their binding inserts at the logical center of the snowboard. When this is the case, a board is considered to have a set back of zero. On some snowboards, the inserts are scooted back an inch or so toward the rear in order to provide more leverage for the rider. At a set back of zero the board turns easily and you’ll have good control. If your setback at an inch or so, the board will behave as if it has a shorter and stiffer tail, which means you can make more aggressive turns, ollie higher and float more easily in the powder. It can also be a little rougher to turn, so wait until you’re comfortable on your snowboard before you try it out. Because deep powder requires a lot of backward leaning to stay above the snow, people that ride a lot of powder will sometimes use a two-inch setback to keep a more relaxed stance without worrying about taking a sudden nosedive into the deep snow. However, inserts that are set back this far make the turn initiation harder and shouldn’t be used by less advanced snowboarders.
If you were to lay your board down on the ground (facing up), you’d probably notice that the base doesn’t automatically rest flush against the floor. Step on the center of the board and you’ll feel a springy resistance. This is the board’s camber. Camber is closely related to flex – the higher the camber, the more pressure the board puts on the snow at the nose and tail. A flat camber indicates that a board may spin easily, which can be good for certain freestyle moves. A springy camber helps steady the board at higher speeds and on hard snow, and makes it easier to turn.