How To Buy A Snowboard - The Onboard Board Buying Guide

Tom Copsey Tom Copsey
Simon Gruber. Cab 5 in Vars. Photo: Matt Georges.

If you’re in the market for a new snowboard this season, be sure to check out this board buying guide where we break down all the technical waffle and explain how you should best navigate the myriad of options out there to get the best steed for you and your riding…

CHOOSE YOUR WEAPONS

You’ve been riding a few times, renting some dog-eared hardboot spear from 1989, and have now decided you deserve better. You do. Snowboarding’s grabbed a hold of you like an nympho hottie, you like what you see and you need to make sure your weapon works.

Many of those guys claiming some Obi-Wan shred cred know, in reality, precious little past what pro rides what board and what’s got the most legit graphic, so to point you in the right direction we’ve assembled this guide to help you get the most from your cash splurging.

LOOKING AFTER NUMBER ONE

It doesn’t matter if you’re into Torstein’s triples, Shaun’s pipe runs or De Le Rue’s Alaskan hairballs. What does matter is you, and what you do, or want to do, when you strap in. This is where you need to get realistic. Don’t lie to yourself about your riding aspirations or your skills: though switch back lips on death kinks might get you hyped, if you’ll mainly be sticking to the marked runs or speed blasting you want to make sure what you opt for is suited for your riding. Same goes if you’re gagging for first descents but most of your shredding is based in domes or the park at the local hill.

TERRAIN

First up you’ll want to identify what kind of riding you’ll be doing most, and then look at the boards that fall into these broadly defined categories.

Freeride

Designed for gunning it in one direction in powder, throwing house-sized roosters and handling manly pillows and drops. These are directional in shape and flex, more often with an oversized nose and shorter, stiffer tapered tail to enhance float and prevent you going over the handlebars.

All Mountain

If riding everything is what you’re after, focus your attention on this category of boards. These will tend to have a directional flex with either a directional or twin shape (though even if they have directional shapes they will be twin-looking) meaning that hauling forward should be your primary agenda but switch takeoffs or landings will be no problem either.

Freestyle

Stunt sticks of this variety are built for jumping, spinning, sliding and bonking, be it in the park or pow. It’s a broad category, this one, but the most common traits are a true twin shape and flex to make it ride the same regular or switch. If you’re more after mini-shredding or riding the park jib line look for a softer flex, while those wanting to send it deep or boost out the pipe should aim for a stiffer model, and with traditional camber. Blunt or pointy tips are currently popular but mostly cosmetic.

Jib

This division of boards is all about riding rails, boxes, walls, nipples… when you’re into hitting anything that’s not snow check out the jib sticks. Such boards will be true twin in shape so you can attack whatever way you want and softer in flex so pressing out is easier. They can sometimes come with reinforced edges, often have low-maintenance bases, shorter effective edges and not a great deal of sidecut to improve stability ‘cause, let’s face it, if you buy one of these you ain’t gonna be euro-carving.

Guide yourself through the deck-selecting process with this flow chart we found in the old West. Click to go BIG.

RIDING LEVEL

Be honest; which of these sums you up best?

Beginner – From first time strapping in to mastering the initial act of riding, turning, stopping, and even some baby jumping. You want to make learning easy so these boards are softer and use less expensive construction to keep the price down so you’re not paying for performance you don’t need. Bear in mind that the initial learning curve is steep so if you’ll be riding regularly it’s worth considering a higher spec board (though not an advanced board) as you’ll be improving on a daily basis.

Intermediate – You can ride a snowboard and are comfortable at moderate speed on most runs. You’re starting to do tricks and dip into the powder and want more of that. Boards aimed at this bracket tend to be a little stiffer to cope with the more aggressive riding and the construction specs will be upped to reduce weight, add pop and liveliness, and speed.

Advanced – Such riders are comfortable blasting around wherever – from backcountry to terrain park – and know how to work a board to their advantage. You ride aggressively and with precision so the construction reflects this with materials to give ultimate response, pop and generally epic performance, though to get the most out you’ll have to put in the effort.

LENGTH

“The board should come up somewhere between your chin and nose” is the old school rule of thumb, but doesn’t take into consideration what the board’s intended for, its effective edge, stiffness, camber, your mass… a lot of factors, in fact. Manufacturers therefore put suggested weight ranges for their lengths and, ideally, you should be somewhere around the middle to get the best out of it. Most brands will have these weight ranges on their websites, and they will certainly be on the sticker on the board in-store.

WIDTH

To get the best performance you should have your toes and heels overhanging the edge by approximately 1.5 cm. Much more than this and you’ll get toe and/or heel drag when turning (which sucks and saps performance), but much less than this and you won’t be getting the edge control you should – again compromising your ride. Wider boards float better in pow and give a more stable platform to land on; narrower are quicker edge to edge. If you have big feet (or even bulky boots), you should consider a Wide board. Usually if you are a size US 11 and above you should look to go wide. There are also Mid-Wides now too. Take your boots in to the store with you.

IS THAT A BANANA IN YOUR POCKET?

Reverse camber – it’s the industry’s new obsession. Is it the best thing ever? Does it make snowboarding more fun? Is it just a gimmick? The general consensus is if you ride super aggressively, go huge and want maximum liveliness, then regular camber is still the way to go, however, if you’re a jibber, pow stomper or a fun time cruiser then reverse camber boards make snowboarding way more fun and allow you to get away with things camber would punish you for. There’s now heaps of different base profiles offering different advantages but here’s a brief rundown…

Reverse camber between the feet: Looser surfey, skatey feel.
Reverse camber from the feet out: Locks on to jibs easier & improved response.
Combined regular camber/reverse camber: Combining reverse camber’s easy ride with the pop and livliness of regular camber.
Zero camber: Even pressure distribution with broken in feel.

More on this at a later date…

Compare the stance insert setup on the fully pow-focussed Lib Tech Birdman (left) with their true twin, all-mountain freestyle board, the TRS (right). The Birdman’s set way back with a huge nose and short tail to give lift in deep snow, while the TRS has a nose and tail of equal length for equal performance regular or switch.

BOARD SHAPES

Twin

Twin boards have a symmetrical shape and core, and a centered stance. They are most likely your choice when you’re into riding parks, or maybe even the marble ledge at the suburban shopping mall. Being symmetrical in both shape and flex they are perfect for riding switch.

Directional Twin / Twin-Like

When you hold a twin and a directional twin board next to each other it is sometimes hard to tell the difference. In fact, it is a little tricky to define this category as directional twins come in a large variety of stance setups and core types. Basically, directional twins have a true twin shape and a directional flex and are made for a very freestyle-oriented riding in the park, as well as the backcountry. As a rule of thumb they have a softer nose and a stiffer tail and could have a bit of a set back stance, but don’t rely on it. Because, as we said, this category is a bit of a bitch.

Directional

Are you a 30something? Then these boards are mandatory. Just kidding, even though a lot of older snowboarders do ride directional boards. They have a longer nose and a shorter tail, which means they concentrate a lot of pop in the tail and are floaty and stable in powder. Depending on the model the core can have a flex that’s anything from a close to twin-like flex to a full-on soft nose/stiff tailed directional powder model. Backcountry in the morning, carving the corduroy afterwards and big park kickers in the arvo? Directional boards are your kind of thing!

Tapered

A tapered shape means a directional board’s nose is wider than its tail. The nose will stick out of the deepest powder and the tail will sink in enough to make for good control (and great faceshots). Some manufacturers throw in a swallowtail or some other sort of deep snow-specific shape, all of which are designed to make you ride even more effortless through snow. Since they are quite stiff you can charge them down a slope without the slightest chatter, too. On the downside, riding switch on a tapered board, while possible, is not going to be great but if you choose such a shape this should not be your every day concern.

Hopefully this guide helped clarify a few points and has made your decision-making process a little easier. However, it can’t be overstated that if you can get yourself to a test centre and demo a few decks then you most certainly should. We’re cooking up some more tech-related product stuff on things like reverse camber, edge technologies and base profiles, so stay tuned for that… 

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