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 (FREERIDE)
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 (PARK)
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 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 42 107 44 112 46 117 48 122 50 127 52 132 54 137 56 142 58 147 60 152 62 157 64 163 66 168 68 173 70 178
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 snowboard; they’re also responsible for much of the energy transfer between you and your board. To get the best control and board responsiveness, make sure you buy bindings designed for your boot size. Tip: Buy snowboard boots first, then make a decision on bindings. Your boots are going to determine what style and size bindings you’ll need.
With few exceptions, bindings generally fasten to snowboards in a pre-drilled 4x4 mounting configuration using a circular baseplate. These fastening systems allow easy adjustment of foot placement and stance. This is important, since you may decide to adjust your stance as you become a more experienced rider. The "high back" supports your heel and calf. The height and type of high back will determine the degree of power transfer from your body to your board.
The most common snowboard bindings, strap-in bindings are compatible with most regular snowboard boots. Be sure that the top of the high back is lower than the top of your boot. The high back on bindings ranges from small (for freestyle mobility) to large (for all-mountain support).
Step-ins use special quick-release mechanisms to secure your boots instead of straps, similar to a ski binding. Step-in bindings will generally only be compatible with a specific boot from the same manufacturer. Their major strength is the quick convenience of attaching and releasing your feet between runs. However, they aren’t great choices for deep powder, as snow buildup can sometimes interfere with the release mechanisms.
Some manufacturers, like Flow snowboards, make "hybrid" bindings that offer the benefits of step-in bindings without the need for special boots.
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 worth checking out.
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.
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.