While just about any snowboard will get you down the mountain, having the right board, bindings and boots really does make a big difference. Modern snowboards from brands like Ride, Burton and Never Summer have become increasingly specialized over the years to accommodate different terrain and riding styles.
All-mountain snowboards, also called freeride snowboards, are popular because of their ability to perform well on almost any terrain, from groomed corduroy to moderate powder. All-mountain snowboards typically have a medium flex, and may have traditional camber, rocker or some sort of hybrid camber (more on this later). These are the “all-purpose” vehicles of the snowboard family and make great boards for both beginners and advanced riders. However, if you’re looking to excel at a particular style of riding, a more specialized board might be a better choice.
Freestyle snowboards are designed for riders who spend the majority of their time in the terrain park hitting jumps and jibs. Made with materials that give the board increased flex and maneuverability, freestyle snowboards are usually symmetrical in shape (sometimes called true twin) and often have more tip and tail rise to help with landings and riding switch. Combined with flexible boots and low-profile bindings, a freestyle setup allows riders to perform ollies, grinds and butters with ease and transition faster between tricks.
Freecarve snowboards are stiffer, narrower and more asymmetrical (sometimes called directional) than all-mountain and freestyle boards, which makes them ideal for carving on steep, packed snow. Alpine snowboards are often used for racing and will typically be pared with a stiffer boot and binding for maximum control at high speeds. The added stiffness and narrower profile make these less ideal for the park or powder.
A splitboard is highly specialized for tackling backcountry terrain. As the name implies, the board can be separated into two individual sections that function similarly to a pair of telemark skis. By adding skins, a rider can navigate uphill. Later, before making the descent, the rider simply removes the skins and returns the snowboard to its original shape.
A powder board is a wide snowboard intended for deep, powdery snow and usually includes a rocker shape (sometimes called reverse camber). This shape helps the board float on the surface of deep snow.
There are several factors that determine how a snowboard will perform on different types of terrain. One of those factors is whether a snowboard has camber, rocker or some combination of the two. What the heck are camber and rocker? Let’s break it down:
Camber vs. Rocker
Prior to the mid-2000s, pretty much all snowboards were made with camber. Camber forms a convex arc between the tip and tail, so that the center of the board actually sits slightly above the ground when the board is unloaded. This design helps maintain edge contact during turns. Riders who like to carve fast on hardpack and groomed snow tend to prefer a board with traditional camber.
Sometimes called reverse camber, “rocker” is a type of snowboard shape that forms a slight concave arc, similar to the bottom of a rocking chair. Boards with rocker provide excellent flotation, making them ideal for riding in powder. Snowboards with rocker also tend to be slightly more flexible than traditional cambered boards, which makes them popular for freestyle riding.
Several companies offer snowboards with a combination of both camber and rocker -- called hybrid camber. The goal of a hybrid camber snowboard is to combine the benefits of camber (good edge contact) and rocker (good flotation and flexibility) in a single design. The specific shape of a hybrid camber snowboard varies from brand to brand.
A “zero camber” snowboard is completely flat except for an upturned tip and tail. Some snowboard manufacturers claim this shape feels more buttery and forgiving compared to a traditional cambered board, yet is also more stable than a rocker snowboard.
Sidecut & Turn Radius
Sidecuts are what give a snowboard its hourglass shape. The depth of the sidecut will determine the turn radius of the board. The turn radius measurement (usually expressed in meters) is based on a large, imaginary circle that coincides with the arc created by the sidecut. In other words, a board with a deeper sidecut will turn more tightly than a similarly-sized board with a shallower sidecut. How does this translate to performance? Boards with a shorter turn radius are often best for beginners and people who spend a lot of time in the park and pipe. Boards with a longer turn radius are wider in the middle, and therefore ideal for skiing in backcountry conditions.
Different types of snowboards offer different amounts of flex. Flexible boards turn easier at slower speeds, making them ideal for beginners. Some freestyle riders also prefer a snowboard with more flex, which provides a “buttery” feel that’s ideal for jibbing. However, snowboards with a lot of flex also provide less responsiveness at high speeds, making them a poor choice for hard, fast carving. For this reason, all-mountain riders and freeriders generally prefer a stiffer board. Freecarve and racing snowboards are usually the stiffest.
All snowboards have four primary components:
Core: Usually wood, foam or some combination. Wood cores are firmer and more responsive. Foam cores are more flexible and vibrate less. Some companies use materials like carbon fiber to reinforce the core and provide added stability.
Laminate: Fiberglass layers that sandwich the core on top and bottom for stiffness and strength.
Base: This is the part of the board that contacts the snow, and is usually polyethylene or composite. It may be either extruded or sintered. Extruded bases are less expensive and easier to repair. Sintered bases are faster and hold wax better.
Edge: Almost always metal, the edge is what provides grip on harder snow and ice during a turn. Your snowboard may occasionally need to be tuned to maintain the edge.
The snowboard size you choose should be determined by several criteria, including your height, weight, ability level and the type of riding you do the most. Choose a snowboard size by measuring the distance from the floor to one of three facial features: 1) chin, 2) the tip of the nose or 3) eyebrows. The facial feature you choose will determine whether your snowboard size is average for your height, a little shorter or a little longer.
Tip of the Nose (Average): Measure to the tip of your nose if you’re an intermediate or advanced rider who prefers a variety of terrain and conditions. This length will provide the most versatility for all-mountain riding.
Chin (Short): Measure to your chin if you’re a beginner rider or if you’re lightweight for your height, since you don’t need as much flotation as a heavier rider. Shorter board sizes are easier to turn but provide a little less overall stability. Freestyle riders who spend a lot of time in the terrain park and pipe may also prefer a slightly shorter board size.
Eyebrows (Long): Measure to your eyebrows if you’re a more advanced rider who likes to carve fast and hard. Longer board sizes provide better overall stability but also require more effort to turn quickly. If you’re heavy for your height, you may want to choose a slightly longer board size for additional flotation, especially if you ride on powder.
A Quick Note on Width:
If you’ve been browsing snowboards, you may have already noticed that some models are available in both regular and wide. If you have a larger boot size, such as men’s size 11 or larger, you should probably consider choosing a wide snowboard. This will ensure that the toes of your boots don’t stick out beyond the edge of the board. If your snowboard is too narrow and your toes protrude, this can potentially cause you to lose your edge when carving toe-side.
Since most snowboards are sized in centimeters, here's a quick conversion chart:
Snowboard Length Conversion Table
Height of Eyebrows, Nose or Chin (Inches) Best Board Length (Centimeters) 40" 102 cm 42" 107 cm 44" 112 cm 46" 117 cm 48" 122 cm 50" 127 cm 52" 132 cm 54" 137 cm 56" 142 cm 58" 147 cm 60" 152 cm 62" 157 cm 64" 163 cm 66" 168 cm 68" 173 cm 70" 178 cm
A key consideration when buying snowboard boots is your riding style and/or experience level, which will determine the ideal boot flex for you. Most brands make a range of snowboard boots with flex ratings from soft to stiff. Generally, stiffer boots are best for advanced riders who enjoy carving. Softer boots are best for beginners and freestyle riders. Another feature you’ll have to consider is lacing. Various models offer different types of lacing systems, including traditional, speed lacing and BOA. For detailed info on boot flex, lacing systems, sizing tips and more, head over to our Snowboard Boot Guide.
Bindings don't just keep your feet attached to your board; they also allow you to flex the board and initiate turns. To get the best control and board response, make sure you choose bindings designed for your boot size. Most bindings come in small, medium and large sizes. Each binding size will accommodate a range of boot sizes.
With a few exceptions, most bindings fasten to snowboards in a pre-drilled 4x4 mounting configuration using an adjustable, circular baseplate. This system allows for easy adjustment of foot placement and stance. Another important part of most snowboard bindings is the high-back, which provides ankle support and increased control. The diagram below shows the primary parts of a typical strap-in snowboard binding:
Quick Tip: Buy snowboard boots first, then make a decision on bindings. Your boots will determine what style and size bindings you’ll need.
Most bindings have a flex rating or stiffness rating, similar to boots. Bindings with a lot of flex (less stiff) are more forgiving, making them ideal for beginners and freestyle riders who require more flexibility for performing tricks. Bindings with medium flex (medium stiffness) are versatile and good for all-mountain riding. Bindings with less flex (more stiffness) provide additional control for freeride and carving at high speeds. Flex is often assigned a number by manufacturers on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the stiffest.
The height of a binding’s high-back is another important consideration. Most freestyle bindings have shorter high-backs, which are more tuned for performing tricks and jumps. Bindings with medium high-backs provide versatility for all-mountain riding. Taller high-backs provide additional control and support for freeride and racing.
Types of Snowboard Bindings
Nearly all snowboard bindings fall into one of three categories: strap-in, rear-entry or step-in.
As the most common style of snowboard bindings, strap-in bindings are compatible with nearly all snowboard boots. The vast majority have two straps: a large padded ankle strap and a smaller toe strap. Both straps should have adjustable ratchets to fine-tune the fit. The only real drawback of these bindings is the extra time it takes when strapping in before each run.
Rear-entry bindings look very similar to strap-in bindings, except for one key feature: a reclining high-back. This means that instead of completely unbuckling the straps, you can simply pull a lever, drop the high-back and slide your foot into the binding from behind. This rear-entry design speeds up the strapping in process and also provides the same level of support and control of a strap-in system. Flow, K2 and GNU are three popular brands that offer rear-entry snowboard bindings.
Instead of straps, step-in snowboard bindings use quick-release mechanisms to secure your boots to the board, very similar to ski bindings. Most step-in bindings are only compatible with a specific boot from the same manufacturer (i.e. the boots must have built-in cleats). The K2 Kwicker system is one example. This design makes “strapping in” very fast, because there are no straps. One potential drawback is that snow buildup in the mechanisms can prevent the system from functioning properly. (This is simply remedied by removing the snow). Step-in bindings are ideal for snowboard touring and some models are specifically designed for splitboarding.
Ski and snowboard helmets have come a long way over the years. Many modern snowboard helmets have added features like adjustable ventilation, built-in audio and even removable liners that can be exchanged for pads, allowing the helmet to be used in the summer for biking or skating (these are called all-season or multi-sport helmets). Smith, Bern and Giro are three excellent helmet brands. Check out our Helmet Guide for more information on helmets.
Snowboarding goggles from companies like Smith Optics, Dragon and Bolle come equipped with double lenses to prevent fogging and usually provide 100% protection from UV rays. Most modern goggles are helmet-compatible; however, it’s not a bad idea to double check if you plan on wearing them with a helmet. Take a look at our Goggle Guide for additional info and tips on snowboarding goggles.
A snowboard stomp pad is standard equipment on many snowboards and is designed to provide traction to your rear foot when it isn't secured in the binding. This feature really comes in handy when getting on and off the chair lift. If your new board doesn’t come with a stomp pad, you can always buy an aftermarket pad and put it on yourself.
Having a snowboard leash is a requirement at many ski areas. A leash is simply designed to prevent your board from running loose and hurting others if you need to step out of your bindings. Leashes are essentially a lanyard with a clip that links the binding to your front boot.
If you plan on venturing into the backcountry, it’s important to be aware of the risks associated with exploring unmaintained terrain. It’s highly recommended that new backcountry snowboarders either take a course in avalanche safety or ride with an experienced alpine guide, and never go out alone. For more information on avalanches, check out our Avalanche Safety Guide.
Avalanche Safety Tips
- Avalanches most commonly occur on 30° to 45° slopes, and in a variety of snow conditions.
- Even in-bounds terrain can be hazardous. Learn to recognize avalanche danger signs.
- Research snow conditions and avalanche reports before you head out.
- Never venture into the backcountry or out-of-bounds terrain alone.