Choosing a Snowboard

Our guide to selecting and buying a snowboard. 

Snowboard Size

Most of the time people ask: What length snowboard is best for me? An often unasked, but equally important question is: What width snowboard is best for you? Both snowboard length and width factor heavily in finding and buying the correct size snowboard.

Length

Snowboard length is measured in centimeters and is sometimes abbreviated to just the last two digits. Hence, a 'Burton Custom 56' is a snowboard made by Burton that measures 156cm from tip to tail. Kids' snowboards run as short as 100cm and race/powder snowboards can be upwards of 180cm. For most riders, a board should come up to just below the chin. The shorter the board is, the more manoeuvrable it will be and therefore easier to learn on.

All around intermediate to advanced snowboarders may opt for a board that comes up to between the chin and nose, making it more suitable for riding a variety of terrain all over the mountain. Snowboarders who are heavy for their height can stay within these guidelines, but should look for boards that have a stiffer flex. Lighter riders will need snowboards with a softer flex. Also, remember that these are general guidelines - personal preference can also strongly sway your decision of what length snowboard to buy.

Width

While length has some room for personal preference, snowboard width is directly tied to your foot size. Snowboarders with small feet need narrow snowboards; likewise, snowboarders with big feet need wide snowboards. Snowboard width is measured in either cm or mm and can be found in the snowboard's specifications under waist width. The best way to find the correct snowboard width is to stand on a board that is flat on the ground. When standing in your snowboarding position on the board, the toes and heels of your boots should be flush or slightly over the edges of the snowboard. If you have too much 'overhang' you'll experience 'toe drag', if the board is too wide you'll struggle to apply pressure through the edges.

Snowboard 'Anatomy'

Base - Bottom of the snowboard, which slides on the snow. Snowboard bases are made in one of two ways: sintered or extruded. A sintered base is superior - it's more durable, faster and holds wax better than an extruded base. It's also more expensive and difficult to repair. If you're looking for high performance, go with a sintered base; for a snowboard on a budget, an extruded model will do.

Camber - This is the gentle arch the board makes when you rest it on a flat surface. It's closely related to flex: the higher the camber, the more pressure the snowboard puts at the nose and tail. A flat camber indicates a board that is more suited to either freestyle of powder. Many boards now use a variety of 'rockered' shapes, which aim to make a board perform both on and off the groomed pistes.

Effective Edge - The length of metal edge on the snowboard which touches the snow; it is the effective part which is used to make a turn. The effective edge is in contact with the snow when the board is in a carved turn. A longer effective edge makes for a more stable, controlled ride; a shorter effective edge makes for an easier turning snowboard.

Flex Point - The flex point is located between the two bindings and is the point where the snowboard begins or ends its flex and allows for sidecut radius contact.

Nose - The front end, or 'tip' of the snowboard. The nose length is the length of snowboard from the widest part of the board's nose to the tip of the nose, while the nose width is the widest part of the snowboard measured across the front tip or nose area of the board.

Tail - The rear end, or 'tail' of the board, though in a fully symmetrical freestyle board this may be exactly the same as the nose. Tail length is the length of the snowboard from the widest part of the board's tail to the tip of the tail. Tail width is the widest part of the snowboard measured across the tail area of the board.

Waist width - The narrowest point of the snowboard, in the middle between the bindings. Waist width of a snowboard should be relative to the size of your feet. Snowboards with narrow waist width are quicker from edge to edge, but if your feet are size 11 or more you will most likely have to get a wider board.

Sidecut radius - This is the measurement of how deep or shallow the curve of the snowboard's edge is, from nose to waist to tail. The smaller the sidecut radius the tighter you'll be able to turn. A snowboard with a larger sidecut will make big arching turns.

Top - The top side of the snowboard is where the bindings are mounted, and the large surface area is often used for striking and detailed graphics.

Snowboard Construction

Usually made of wood or foam, a snowboard's core should be light, resilient and durable. Some snowboard designers say that a good wood core retains its liveliness and camber longer, but this feature alone shouldn't lead you to choose one snowboard over another.

There are two main types of construction; cap and sandwich. The topsheet (outer skin) on a cap snowboard extends to the edges. On a sandwich snowboard the topsheet is flat, with the armor plating on the sides provided by separate sidewalls. While both types of construction have their merits, it's the guts of the snowboard, the materials under the skin, that make the biggest difference.

A snowboard consists of the following (from the base up):

  • plastic base, (P-tex)

  • metal edges

  • fibreglass or epoxy

  • wood or foam core

  • more glass or epoxy

  • steel inserts to attach the bindings

  • topsheet

Snowboard flex pattern

How (and where) the snowboard bends. Modern technology produces snowboards that are soft in flex tip to tail, but torsionally stiff (twisting on the longitudinal axis). Stiff torsional flex allows a board to grip ice and hard snow; soft torsional flex makes a snowboard more "forgiving," but less responsive. Carving snowboards are built with fairly firm flex and stiff torsion; freestyle snowboards are softer. Freeride snowboards are somewhere in between.

Edges

There are two kinds; partial steel edges that run only along the sides of the snowboard, ending at the nose and tail, and edges that wrap all the way around both ends of the snowboard.

Fibreglass

The major structural component of a snowboard. Different weaves and placement of fibreglass within a snowboard can influence its flex pattern, strength and weight. All snowboards contain "unidirectional" glass fabric (with most of the fibres running the length of the snowboard). Torsionally stiff snowboards use additional layers with the fibres running diagonally. Any layer may be reinforced with carbon fiber or Kevlar, which can help reduce the snowboard's weight while improving its strength.

Snowboard Types

When buying a new snowboard, you need to decide on the style or type of snowboard, size, construction and of course graphics.

There are three main types of riding styles which would determine what type of snowboard is right for you:

  • Freeride
  • Freestyle
  • Alpine

If you like having a go at everything then an All Mountain (Freeride) board is suited to all types of terrain. Most shops in ski resorts will allow you to rent a snowboard to try before you buy. If you then buy the snowboard, the rental cost will often be discounted from the final price.

Don’t forget Ski Club members are entitled to some fantastic discounts with top UK retailers and ski specialists such as Ellis Brigham and Snow+Rock. If you're looking to buy a new snowboard this season check out Ski Club discounts.

Freeride

While it may be an overused term, 'freeride' is still the best way to describe the majority of snowboarders and soon-to-be snowboarders, who intend to utilise the whole mountain. From the feel of carving a turn on a freshly groomed slope, to honing tricks in the park, to the unique feeling of floating in fresh powder.

Freeride snowboards are the most popular type of boards, accounting for half of all sales. Both ends of the snowboard are turned up for riding switch (can lead with either foot), floating through powder and performing freestyle manoeuvres. These snowboards are usually soft and manoeuvrable enough for beginners, but stiff enough to hold a fast turn in hard snow. For most part, there isn't a 'bad' snowboard on the market. Even the least expensive snowboard produced today can out-perform the "signature" series snowboards of a decade ago This is the best type of snowboard to learn on and can be used anywhere on the mountain. Many now utilise a 'rocker' shape - pronounced rise in the tip and tail - to make riding in powder easier and increase float.

Freestyle

Jumps, spins, grabs, rails and boxes in sculpted snow parks and in the halfpipe. Influenced by freestyle skateboarding and other action sports, freestyle has an enduring popularity that has been further boosted by its inclusion in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. While the equipment for this type of snowboarding excels in park and pipe, it can also be versatile enought to be used across the whole mountain.

Freestyle snowboards are shorter, lighter and softer in flex, compared to freeride boards, which makes them more manoeuvrable. Freestyle snowboards are very responsive; the soft flex makes them forgiving and easy to turn, which also makes these good beginner snowboards. Like freeride boards, freestyle models also make use of rocker and reverse camber, which allow a wider range of tricks and riding styles.

Carving/Alpine

This type of riding style is not seen in every resort, but continues to popular in some parts of Europe, and there races at World Cup level and in the Winter Olympics. A 'freecarve' snowboarder enjoys the full length and width a mountain has to offer, continually transitioning from one turn to the next. Alpine riding is all about high speed and hard turning on groomed snow. The stiffer flex and narrower width make these boards unforgiving for beginner snowboarders.

Carving snowboards permit quick edge changes and have excellent high-speed superior edge-holding power on hard snow and good stability for speed. They are awkward in spins and tight turns - you won't see them in the snow park!

Snowboard Boots and Bindings

The most significant factor that will ensure both comfort and performance when you're snowboarding is the fit.

Fitting Snowboard Boots

To check the fit of your snowboard boots, you must try them on with your snowboard socks. For the best fit, shop when your feet is at their largest - in the afternoon, evening, or after some physical activity. Your feet can swell up to half a size while snowboarding, so it's crucial that you aim to fit them at their largest. Also, it's best to visit a snowboard shop where experts can analyse your feet and help you narrow down the choices.

  • Soft snowboard boots: You should feel some toe movements.
  • Hard snowboard boots: You should feel minimal toe movement.

Bear in mind that once the boots have been ridden, the internal padding will become compacted, consequently increasing the amount of space slightly.

The most important indicator of a proper boot fit is the heel holding power of the snowboard boot:

Check this during the fitting process:

  • Lace the boots up to completely eliminate heel lift.
  • Stand on your toes and check if the heel of the snowboard boot rises off the ground.
  • You'll know it's not a proper fit if you can lift your heels.

Remember, snowboarding boots should fit snugly around the ankle, and should hold your heel firmly down in the boot. You could actually do some minor adjustments to prevent your heels from lifting inside your snowboard boots. Add devices like a butterfly, a tongue pad, or an ankle strap:

Butterfly - having a butterfly wrapped around your ankle bones keeps your heel from lifting inside your snowboard boots.
Tongue pads - when placed inside the snowboard boots, tongue pads help push your heel back down into the heel cup of your boot.
Ankle straps - wrapped outside your snowboard boots, ankle straps drive your heel into the cup of your boots.

Boot Flex

Aside from boot fit and heel holding power, checking the flex of your snowboarding boots is important. The degree of boot flex varies depending on your riding style. So consider this when deciding on how much flex you will need:

Freestyle snowboard boots are usually lower cut, with loose, molded inner liners for more flexibility.
Freeride snowboard boots tend to have a stiffer upper boot for added support, and a lace-up inner that allows you to adjust the amount of flexibility.
Hard snowboard boots support your foot, ankle, and lower leg firmly, making them best for racing and high-speed carving on hard snow surfaces.
Snowboard bindings
A good fit between your snowboard boots and bindings is essential - if possible have these with you when purchasing new boots, or look at buying a complete set-up with compatible kit.

Soft Boots and Strap in Bindings

Any soft snowboarding boots can be used with the strap-on system. Freestyle and freeride snowboarders often prefer this system as it gives more flexibility and manoeuvrability. This is also the most comfortable combination when you're off your snowboard and hence it's the most common combination.

Hard Boots with Plate Bindings

Hard snowboard boots in combination with plate/lever snowboard bindings give the most solid and direct control over your snowboard. All your body movements are directly transmitted to the snowboard without padding to absorb much of this energy. Freecarvers prefer this type of snowboard boot-binding combination as they need this kind of control in high speed turns.

Having the right pair of snowboard boots is essential. It could make the difference between spending hours in excruciating pain, or being in blissful comfort on the slopes. You don't need the highest performance snowboard boots to be comfortable. All you need is a pair of boots that fit well, is designed for your preferred snowboarding style, and is in sync with your snowboard binding system.

Snowboard Maintenance

It's good to know how to take good care of your new snowboard gear to keep it performing at its best.

Snowboards

A brand new snowboard is usually ready for use with a good layer of wax. This is enough for a few weeks of use, depending on conditions, after which you should consider either a basic or full service.

At the end of the season if you're only going to do one thing, make sure you wipe your board down with an old towel to make sure it is dry before you put it away. Otherwise a layer of rust can build up on the edges. If the edges are corroded when you take them out for your next trip, the base probably needs a grind and a good waxing. A full snowboard service starts at £25 and is available in most snowsports shops.

You could put your snowboard in for a full service before you put it away for the summer, then next winter you’ll be all ready to go. If you fancy a bit of DIY, you can keep the base from drying out by giving it a storage wax yourself: Apply a thick layer of hot wax, iron it in, let it dry and don’t scrape it. It’ll prevent the base from drying out and won’t allow rust to form on the edges. Next winter you'll need to give the base a good scraping before hitting the slopes.

Snowboard Boots

Snowboard boots need to be dried out thoroughly at the end of each trip before they are put away for storage. In some snowboard boots you can take the liners out of the shells. This definitely helps against any unpleasant odours!

When putting your snowboard boots (and bindings) away it is best to do up the buckles, straps, and laces, roughly in a position used when boarding. This helps keep the general shape making them easier to put on next time around. It’s also best to store your snowboard boots, once fully dry, in a decent boot bag to stop any dust or other debris getting into the boots when in storage.

If you wear hard snowboard boots, you should also check the soles on a yearly basis for excessive signs of wear. Walking with them on tarmac, grit or other hard surface can quickly wear down the heel and toe pieces which can significantly affect the boots functionality and safety in hard snowboard bindings. Heel and toe pieces on some boots are replaceable.

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