Understanding Snowboards

Understanding Snowboards

You might know how to snowboard but how does your 'snowboard' do it? Learn all about what makes your slide ride glide.

You can make getting into snowboarding as simple or complex a process as you would like. Here we are going to break down snowboards piece by piece. This will help you understand what board may work for you best and also why some cost $300 and others are $1,500. Often the best way to figure out what is right for you is to get out and try them. A great way to test new gear is to find a local demo near you. Here in Chicago we have a series of demos we run throughout the season at local resorts.

length

Snowboards are measured in centimeters. The length is often printed on the top sheet of the board. This is the measurement from tip to tail for the snowboard. It is important to find the proper length snowboard for your riding style and preferences.

Many people will tell you, “when you stand a board up it should be between your chin and your nose”. If you are hearing this you probably should leave whatever store gave you this tip and head over to a more knowledgeable boardshop. A snowboard can not feel how tall you are but it can feel how much weight you are putting on it. For this reason many brands will publish weight ranges for different size snowboards.

The design of snowboards have evolved so much of the years that there are now specialty boards that are designed to be shorter or longer narrow boards for certain styles of riding. Here are some basic rules of thumb to follow:

  • Short boards are easier to turn and spin for tricks but would be slower than an equal quality board that is longer. You will also feel a little more chatter at high speeds.
  • Longer boards are faster and more stable at high speeds but take more effort to turn. They also help float in powder by distributing your weight across a longer platform.

What you will be doing with the board will give you some guidance in what length you should choose. Often park and pipe riders will have shorter boards while big mountain free riders will go with a longer board. Over the years we’ve seen both ends of the spectrum pushing boundaries both for shorter and longer boards, so feel free to ‘break the rules’ if your style and comfort requires it.

camber profile

In the good old days it used to be simple, almost all snowboards were regular camber. While this made it simpler to pick a board it didn’t allow us to get the full potential different shapes can offer us. Over the past few years camber profiles have expanded in to a wide variety of regular, reverse and hybrid styles.

If you take a snowboard and lay it on a flat surface you can see the camber for the board. Regular camber boards generally bellow up in the middle. The more it is raised the more aggressive the camber. Most other shapes the center will be flat and the ends will be raised.

snowboard regular camber

regular camber

If you started snowboarding more than five years ago this is most likely what you learned on. It is the classic snowboard shape that bellows up in the middle and when weight is put on the board digs those contact points into the snow.

By doing this the board gives a stable ride that allows you to power out of turns and maintain stability at high speeds. If you like going fast and turning on a dime this is a great option.

snowboard reverse camber

reverse camber

You will often hear this referred to as rocker. For this shape the board starts from the center point and curves upwards as it goes towards the tip and tail. This helps lift those contact points off the snow unlike a camber board.

This gives the board a looser and more forgiving feel to it. Many park riders like the ability it gives to press the board and the forgiveness on landings. It also helps the board float in powder. They will not turn or hold an edge as well as a regular camber board though.

snowboard hybrid camber

hybrid camber

This shape has grown in popularity over the past couple of years. Simply put it is the best of both worlds by combing regular and reverse camber. Some companies such as Never Summer have switched their entire line of boards to a hybrid shape. Most hybrid shapes work by having camber under the bindings for edge hold and flat or reverse camber throughout the rest of the board. There are many variations across brands on how much rocker or camber and where along the length of the board has rocker, camber or a flat profile.

This shape isn’t just for people who can’t decide between regular or reverse. It really does give a nice mix between edge hold stability, powder float, and forgiving edges when needed.

shape

As simple as it sounds. Is your board the same at the nose and tail or is one shaped/sized a little differently. There are reasons to seek out each shape. Here is a breakdown of the major shapes:

twin

With each end identical the board rides the same regular or switch. Good for park, pipe or people who ride switch a lot.

directional

Most often the nose will be wider than the tail. This helps it float in deep snow and carve more easily. Directional boards will often have a setback stance also. If you don’t ride switch much or do a lot of big mountain riding this is a great option. These boards will also have a directional flex. This means it will be a little stiffer in the tail and softer in the nose. 

Snowboard Twin vs. Directional Shape

twin like (directional twin)

Some companies do not want to call their boards directional unless they are a full powder directional board. This is where twin like comes in. It may also be known as a directional twin. This can mean one of two things. The board has a twin shape and directional flex or directional shape and twin flex. This is how you can combine your favorite aspects of a board. Perhaps you want a twin flex but still a slightly set back stance and wider nose. You will find many different combinations with this shape. 

twin asymmetrical

Brands such as Gnu and Yes have embraced the asymmetrical shape with certain boards. While you may not notice just looking at the board you will when you ride it. The heel side sidecut has a slightly tighter radius than toe side. This helps offset the difference in heel and toe agility. This allows you to enter and hold heal side turns as easy as toe side.

flex

Boards are usually rated on a 1-10 scale for the flex or stiffness of the board. Each style has its own advantages and brands have their own scale. A 3 in one brand does not necessarily equal a 3 in a different brand. Here are some reasons you would seek out one or the other:

Snowboard Flex

soft

These boards are more forgiving and easier to turn. This makes them great for beginners, park riders, or some who wants a board that can be easily manipulated. This will not be as stable at speed or have as much pop as stiffer boards.

stiff

A stiff board will be very stable at high speeds and usually have more pop to them. These are good for riders who like going fast and want the stability a stiffer board provides. They will be less forgiving and take a little more effort to turn.

flex type

Another part of understanding flex is knowing that there are two ways a board can flex. Longitudinal flex or the length of the board and torsional flex which is across its width. Knowing both of these can help you understand better how a board will ride. The ratings are generally for longitudinal flex and the torsional flex can be understood by seeing the type of top sheet used. Top sheets will be discussed below.

width

Guys with big feet want to snowboard too but do they all need a wide board? For this reason brands began making wider versions of their boards. There is not a clear cut answer of when a wide board is needed. To make it more interesting brands also started making narrow and mid-wide boards. Waist width is important as it can change the entire ride of the board. If it is too wide it will feel slow to enter turns or too narrow and you will get toe drag.

The boots you ride will play a factor in determining how wide of a board you need. Many companies over the years have figured out ways to reduce the materials making the boots less bulky and able to fit on a narrower board. A size 11 in one brand may actually have more overhang than a 12 in another.

Another factor will be the angle of your bindings. The wider and more angled your stance is the less of your toe and heal that will hang off. The whole point of wider boards is to prevent toe or heal drag when riding.

The absolute best way to be sure you are getting the right setup is bring your boots or pick those out first. This will then give you guidance as you can physically line it up on the board with your stance angle and width to see how much overhang you get. It is common to have a little on each side. There is not steadfast rules but if we had to make one usually around 12 is when you should start considering a wide board.

hole pattern

Different brands will use different hole patterns to attach the bindings to the board. Here is a breakdown of the most popular:

snowboard hole patterns

4×4

These holes are spaced 4 cm apart both vertically and horizontally. This is one of the orginals that was standard for years. This uses a 4 hole disc binding.

2×4

In this pattern there are more vertical holes spaced 2 cm apart. This allows for more stance options and a wider stance. This has become the most popular option on boards. This also uses a 4 hole disc binding.

3D

This is proprietary to Burton snowboards. The theory is it will provide you with the most stance options possible. This requires a three hole disc binding. Many companies will provide both a 3 and 4 hole disc with the bindings.

channel

This is also proprietary to Burton snowboards. Two bolts are dropped in the channel and then you can slide your bindings to any width or angle you prefer. Burton EST bindings are design to work best with this system. You can use old Burton bindings and some other regular disc bindings by utilizing an adapter disc.

ride type

powder

We all wish we needed these boards more often. These boards are designed for the deep snow. Directional shape with taper so it is wider at the nose and narrower at the tail to enhance float. While most of these don’t perform very well on groomers nothing can beat riding these in fresh pow.

all mountain freeride

While these boards are also usually directional they will not have nearly as much taper as a full powder board. This will allow you to ride anywhere no matter what the conditions. These boards can do it all.

all mountain freestyle

Now you are often going to find twin shapes with a medium flex. They can do it all but are slightly more geared towards being able to do jumps, rails, and ride switch than the freeride boards.

park

Twin shapes and often shorter lengths help define a park board. Good for spins, rails, jibbing and anything else you can think of. These boards usually have a softer flex to make it easier for presses and more forgiving on landings.

street

Urban assault if you will. These boards are short and built to take a beating. Riding rails and concrete can be harsh on a board. These have tough bases with reinforced sidewalls so they can handle anything you throw at it.

split boards

For the serious backcountry folk. These boards split down the middle and attach to each foot. They allow you to hike into untracked territory. You then reattach the board and ride down. Lots experience and research are needed before heading into the backcountry.

rider weight

Most snowboards will have a suggested weight range for the rider. It is not imperative that you fall within these but can be used more as guidelines. If you are at the lower end of the range the board will be much faster for you than people at the higher end and vice versa. Keep this in mind especially if you are a beginner as a board that is too fast can be hard to handle. Often park riders will be above the weight range as they want shorter boards. This is fine, you may just have to wax your board a little more often to keep it fast.

This suggested size chart outlines the relationship between rider weight and board length in centimeters. This should be used as a general guideline an not an absolute indicator of what size you should ride.

weight length freestyle (cm) length freeride (cm)
20-40 lbs 80 80
30-50 lbs 90 90
40-60 lbs 100 100
50-70 lbs 110 110
60-80 lbs 125-127 125-132
70-100 lbs 128-136 133-141
80-120 lbs 137-139 142-144
90-125 lbs 140-142 145-147
100-135 lbs 143-145 148-150
110-150 lbs 146-148 151-153
120-160 lbs 149-151 154-156
130-170 lbs 152-154 157-159
140-200 lbs 155-157 160-162
160-210+ lbs 158-162 163-167

base type

Snowboard bases are made of polyethylene and are either extruded or sintered. Each one has its pros and cons:

extruded

Polyethylene pellets are melted down and then forced together under extreme heat. This creates one solid piece of polyethylene. These bases are durable, less expensive, and easier to repair. Downside is they are not as fast and don’t absorb wax as well.

sintered

Now instead of melting and making one sheet the pellets are forced together under extreme pressure. This creates a single piece of polyethylene that has lots of pores throughout it. These bases are faster and hold wax better. Downside is they are more expensive and often more difficult to repair.

While these are the two basic types of bases for snowboards you will see many variations by different brands. Brands will inject additional materials to help increase speed and wax absorption.

core type

Wood is used for almost all cores in snowboards. Once in a while you will find an aluminum on the high end or foam on the low end. You want to avoid the foam as they are low quality and will not last very long.

The main types of wood that are generally used are beech, poplar, bamboo or birch. The wood core gives the board its lively feel and dampening capabilities. The size and direction of the wood laments can also affect the weight and stiffness of the board.

To strengthen the core brands will put strips of carbon fiber or basalt in the boards. This can make the board more responsive and durable. These can be placed in different positions and angles depending on what is trying to be achieved.

top sheet

Most top sheets are made from Fiberglass. Two basic types are biax and triax.

snowboard topsheet

biax

This style the fibers are woven together at a 90 degree angle. This makes the more forgiving and allows for more torsional flex.

triax

The fibers three layers of fibers are woven at 45, 45, and 0 degrees. This makes the more stiffer torsionally and more responsive.

Higher end and environmentally conscious brands will use basalt for top sheets. Basalt is created through volcanic activity. It has higher tensile strength than fiberglass and also a better strength to weight ratio. This creates a lighter and stronger board.

edges

Snowboard edges are made from either regular steel or stainless steel. The stainless steel will hold up better over time. Either way it is important to be sure to wipe off your edges so you do not put them away wet. This is how rust can form. There is either a partial or full wrap of the board. For the partial the metal will stop at the beginning of the tip and tale.

sidecut

The side is the curve of the snowboards edges. It used to be a simple radial sidecut where the arc remains consistent. There are reasons for each:

Snowboard Sidecut

deeper

Boards have a narrower waist making them turn more quickly and easier.

shallow

The wider waist allows them to float better and power through the chunky stuff.

Brands such as Lib Tech has started making boards with Magna Traction, Burton does pressure distribution edges, and other brands have their own proprietary sidecut technologies. This can make the number a little more confusing. Essentially these technologies are designed to create more contact boards and help the board hold an edge better. While the term sidecut is thrown around a lot it not necessarily the most important part in choosing a board.

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