How To Buy a Snowboard

You’ve been renting for two whole seasons and can’t wait to get your own board that will unleash those tree lines you haven’t cut yet or that step down that you’ve been building confidence to tackle. Shopping for a new board can be intimidating but fear not, we’ve got all the digs you need to guide you through the process. 

Types: Not all snowboards are created equal. For every type of rider there is a plank to suit their style. Whether you spend all day throwing big spins in the park, or would rather boot pack and find that one perfect line, there is the perfect deck to fit that hole in your heart.

All Mountain: Like any kitchen utensil, no snowboard will perform perfectly in every situation. But snowboard technology has come a long way in its relatively short life and many companies make all mountain boards that have a forgiving side cut, pleasurable flex and give a stable ride at higher speeds. If you’re just getting into the sport, stick to these boards for the most versatility and control.

Park Boards (also called freestyle): Riders looking for more pop from their board tend to flock to park or freestyle boards. These lighter boards have much more flex for big spins and hitting features in the park. Twin-tip boards are symmetrically cut for seamless maneuverability, regular or switch and their base constructions are usually much easier to repair (more on this later).

Powder/Big Mountain Boards: These boards are stiff planks, plain and simple. But that’s what it takes to get you through the best powder lines on the tallest peaks. Their stiff flex and slight taper make holding an edge at high speeds a cinch and add to the board’s ability to float in powder. They are truly at home in the backcountry and on those little ungroomed gems, but they can be a bear on your legs all day at a resort. If you don’t plan on going out of bounds much stick to a park or all mountain board. If you’re chasing chutes in the Alaskan backcountry, then these cruise ships are exactly what your heart desires.

Length: The most important consideration in choosing the right board length is to make sure that it fits you. Boards are measured in centimeters and range from 132 on the small side and 205 for the tall folks. A snowboard should hit you somewhere between your chin and nose, so a person 5’6” should be on a board between 152 and 154cm. Riders who want more stability at higher speeds should lean on the taller side, and riders who want more maneuverability in the park usually prefer smaller boards.


Shape

One of the biggest factors that separate the all mountain from the park boards is the way they are cut. The shape of the board may look simple and symmetrical but this isn’t always the case. Some boards are perfectly symmetrical while others have a slight taper.

Directional Cut: Most All or Big Mountain boards are directionally cut meaning they are slightly tapered (the skinnier end being the tail) to allow a boarder to increase efficiency and edge control on groomers, while floating through the powder like a blimp. These boards are built to be ridden one way. Make sure you pay attention to the graphics on the top sheet if you’re installing your own bindings — that’s the best way to determine the tail from the nose.

Twin tip: These boards are usually park or freestyle boards. The twin tip gives a rider more play in the park, allowing them to have the same feeling doing tricks regular or switch. Directional Twin Tip Boards are the best of both worlds, affording a rider the versatility of a twin tip with a slight taper for a buttery ride on all terrains.


Flex: A board’s flexibility determines a lot of the board’s characteristics. There are two types:

Torsional Flex: Torsional Flex refers to the stiffnesss of the board across its waist and determines how well a board holds its edge at speed. Torsionally stiff boards are less responsive when a rider is trying to carve but are more stable at higher speeds. More flex along the board’s latitude allows a rider to carve sharp turns but can be squirrely in the steepest terrain. Find a board that fits your mountain and riding style.

Longitudinal Flex: Longitudinal Flex runs from the tip to the tail and largely determines the amount of pop a board has and contributes to edge control as well. Green riders should stick to softer boards because they are much more maneuverable and forgiving than stiff boards. Another thing to keep in mind is that shorter boards tend to be softer so heavier riders may want to err on the larger side so as to not compromise needed stability on the slopes.


Camber & Rocker: Today, boards have many different kinds of camber – an industry word for the concave or convex shape of a board. Camber basically determines how the board flexes when you stand on it. This makes a big difference in how a board reacts to different terrains. There are two main types:

Traditional Camber: Boards with traditional camber are convex (think lowercase “n”) from the contact points located just below the tip and the tail of the board. Until recently, pretty much every snowboard was built this way because the rider loads the waist of the board with their weight, giving the board potential energy to be released when the rider turns on an edge or hits a feature in the park. Boards with traditional camber are preferred by riders who need consistent responsiveness at high speeds or were born before 1993.

Reverse or Rocker Camber: Lately boards with rocker camber are making a large impact on the snowboard industry. These boards feature a concave arc (think the letter “u”) from the midpoint of the board. This design reduces the stress at the contact points and usually come paired with skate-style tips that are slightly flattened to reduce rotating weight. These banana boards are just as comfortable jibbing in the park as they are dodging trees. Rocker camber boards usually feature varying levels of flex along the board’s longitude that are company specific and offer the rider different pop zones that play into different rider preferences. Boards with rocker camber suit the novice as they tend to be more forgiving and softer than traditionally cambered boards.


Construction: Snowboards are constructed from multiple layers sandwiched together, minus the jelly. Here are the different layers of that board beneath your feet:

Top Sheet: The top layer is called the top sheet and acts as the protective layer for the layers beneath. This is where the graphics are imprinted on either a glossy or matte surface. Beneath the Top Sheet is a layer of fiberglass that sits on top of the core.

Core: The board’s core is usually constructed of strips of wood — beech, poplar, birch, even bamboo. A board with a wood core will have a long, consistent lifespan and offer a quality ride in almost all conditions. Manufacturers will also integrate carbon, aluminum or fiberglass rods into the wood core to provide stiffness. Boards on the bargain end of the scale have a honeycomb patterned core or are injected with foam which has an awkward feel and compromised durability. Be careful about skimping on your new board’s core if you don’t plan on upgrading in a few seasons.

  • Steel Inserts: Along with the core are steel inserts that allow the bindings to be attached to the board. There a typically a few different hole patterns (2 x 2, 4 x 4, 3D and Burtons ‘channel’ system) so make sure your board and bindings are compatible.
  • Rubber Foil: Most boards usually have some kind of dampening system too, usually called rubber foil that also strengthens the bond between the steel edges and the fiberglass.
  • Edge Construction: There are two types of edge construction: partial and full edges. If you plan on hitting the trees and unleashing your board’s full potential stay away from boards with partial edges. If your board is going to delaminate it will happen at the tip or tail where the edges end. Stick to complete metal edges.

Base Materials

There are two types of base constructions, both of which use polyethelene because of its ability to hold wax for speed and P-Tex for repairs.

Extruded bases are usually found on less expensive boards because they are easier to repair, don’t hold wax as well because they aren’t very porous and therefore won’t be as fast. However they are durable and forgiving for the new rider but you should be prepared to wax your deck after just a few rides.

Sintered bases are constructed by combining polyethylene pellets together under very high pressure which results in a porous base that holds wax extremely well. These bases are found on higher end boards and are usually associated with a number — Sintered 7000 — the higher the number the more durable the base. On the flip side, sintered bases won’t be as accepting of P-Tex application and benefit from professional tuning if you accumulate any number of core shots, so the maintenance bills can add up.


Sidewall Construction (Sandwich, Cap, Combo, etc.)

When boards were first being made it was too expensive to construct them with anything other than a fiberglass cap that extends from the top sheet to the edges. A board’s sidewall construction determines its ability to edge, stability at high speeds, and durability.

Cap Sidewall Construction: Snowboards with capped sidewalls tend to be light and durable, although they sacrifice torsional rigidity and edge control. They are found on the lower end boards and for most beginning riders are more than adequate for a pleasurable day on your home mountain.

ABS or P-Tex Sidewall Construction: Boards with p-tex sidewalls are constructed with p-tex instead of a fiberglass cap. P-tex is a polyethylene-based plastic that is extremely strong and supple. It gives the board increased rigidity so they are stable at high speeds. They also have more pop because of their higher quality construction. ABS is another dense plastic common in sidewall construction. It’s usually more expensive than p-tex, though the difference is slight. P-Tex sidewalls are easy to repair unlike ABS, and afford just as much stiffness.

Combo or Hybrid Sidewall construction: Many manufacturers make a combo sidewall construction with ABS or P-Tex underfoot that tapers into a cap construction near the tip and tail that lowers swing weight for park riders doing big spins that want durability on rails and edge responsiveness.

Sidecut radius: Sidecut radius refers to the amount of curvature along the board’s edge and is measured in centimeters. Deep Sidecuts (lower numbers) are good for beginners because they have quick and forgiving edge response thanks to their narrow waist, allowing you to cut into the mountain effortlessly. Shallow Sidecuts (higher numbers) float better on light, powdery snow but tend to take more effort to carve. They are more stable at higher speeds because they have a wider waist. This helps fight against the infamous and embarrassing speed wobbles. Find the sidecut that fits your style.