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.