Ski Tips > Gear > The Recreational Rider's Guide to Buying a Snowboard
The Recreational Rider's Guide to Buying a Snowboard
Eliot Hellman August 2020
"SO WHICH BOARD SHOULD I BUY?"
As a snowboarding instructor, it’s a question I hear all the time. A quick glance around any resort reveals snowboards in a stunning array of sizes, shapes, and colors manufactured by a dozen different brands. It can be intimidating, overwhelming, or downright dizzying for the recreational rider who might only take a handful of trips each year.
Fortunately, my job is to analyze other snowboarders, and while everyone’s skill progresses differently, recreational snowboarders all face the same types of challenges. As a result, they benefit from having the same type of snowboard. So for the recreational rider looking for a new board, here are the specs you need:
Telling people what board to buy doesn’t exactly conform to snowboarding’s cult of personal freedom. However, I’m more interested in making sure you learn proper technique, avoid injury, have fun, and stay on the mountain long enough to discover your own style and love of snowboarding.
In this guide, we explain the five key features to consider when purchasing a snowboard. To receive our Complete Buyer’s Guide with specific board recommendations, sign up for our free newsletter!
When to Buy a Snowboard: The spring (late march/early April) and fall (September/October) are great times to buy gear as retailers try to change out inventory.
Where to a Snowboard Skis: Sites like backcountry.com and evo.com have wide selections and offer blowout sales on brand new gear all year long. Act fast though, as the selection tends to become limited during the summer while everyone chases deals. The internet is helpful for doing extensive product research and comparisons, and the “search” and “sort” functions at evo.com are among the best.
Just don’t forget about local boardshops! Even tiny shops have an online presence these days, and never hesitate to just walk in. The selection might not be as extensive, but when they happen to have the specific board you’re looking for, the prices can be better than the large retailers. Plus, they may be able to show you products you hadn’t even heard of or considered.
*For more on the basics and tips on demoing equipment, visit our Recreational Skier's Guide to Buying Skis.
KEY FEATURES TO FIND YOUR BEST SNOWBOARD
1. Board Shape — It's All in the Shape
Board shape is the most obvious aspect of a board to the naked eye. Shape refers to the silhouette of the board as well as the size of the “nose” (distance from the front binding to the front tip of the board) and the “tail” (distance from the rear binding to the rear tip of the board).
Snowboard shapes generally fall into one of five types pictured below: Tapered Directional, Directional, Directional Twin, Twin/Twinnish and True Twin
On the Freeride side of the spectrum, Tapered Directional and Directional boards are designed with a “nose” that is longer than the “tail” (known as “setback”) and focus on high speed, stability, carving, and floatation in powder. Meanwhile Freestyle boards like the Twin/Twin-ish and True Twin prioritize flexibility, pop, light weight, and riding switch which is needed in a terrain park. Combining elements from both the Freeride and Freestyle sides of the spectrum, Directional Twin boards offer good all-around capability but sacrifice the top-end performance of a more specialized board.
Choose a "Twin/Twinish" or "Directional Twin." For recreational riders, we recommend either a “Twin/Twin-ish” or “Directional Twin.” If these two types of boards sound the same, it’s because they pretty much are. The difference in labeling from one board to the next is mostly a function of marketing. But this generic design is also what makes these boards the perfect shape for recreational riders looking for all-around riding capabilities.
The (mostly) symmetrical nose and tail create a versatile shape that promotes downhill turning while simultaneously creating a consistent feel when you’re ready for mellow laps through the terrain park and riding switch. A small setback helps initiate turns on groomers and provides some flotation in powder on a storm day. Designed to be a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none, “Twin/Twinish” and “Directional Twin” boards usually don’t excel in any specific situation, but are the best for developing the complete set of snowboarding skills and experiencing everything the mountain offers.
2. Camber Profile — Beware the Camber Forest
The “camber” refers to the shape of the snowboard viewed from the side. The best way to see the camber shape is to place a snowboard on a table or other flat surface. Over the last 10 years, the industry has seen an explosion in camber design. The main camber types are pictured here and include camber, rocker, flat and hybrid.
Don't be suckered by marketing; choose hybrid camber.
We know it's hard to pick with so many choices! Let me make it really easy — if you’re a recreational rider looking for your first board you want a board that combines “Camber” in the section of the snowboard underneath the feet, with “Rocker” in the tip and tail. Generally known as Hybrid Camber, or something similar, every manufacturer has a different term for their proprietary shape, so don’t get too hung up on names.
This recommendation may raise some eyebrows because current industry trends promote the various Rocker profiles as the “best” designs for a first board. But for the recreational rider, the reality is that Rocker designs actually hurt overall skill progression by rewarding improper riding technique.
All snowboards are designed to turn by tilting at an angle until the metal edges dig into the snow. However, falls often occur when a rider tries to turn by rotating the head and torso instead of tilting the board. Momentum takes over, the front edge of the board digs into the snow “catching an edge," and the rider tumbles down the mountain.
Sure, the raised tip and tail on a Rocker board makes it less “catchy.” But the design also inappropriately rewards a rider by reducing the consequences of rotating the board instead of tilting it. Why spend precious time learning to ride the wrong way, just to unlearn it later?
There are always a few exceptions! For a more in-depth analysis of all the different camber profiles, including a few innovative designs that are breaking all the rules, like the Bataleon Disaster and Arbor Formula; receive our Complete Guide by subscribing to our Avant Ski mailing list.
3. Length — Board Length Has Nothing to Do with Your Nose or Your Chin
Length refers to the length of the snowboard, measured from “nose” to “tail” (the long axis) and usually expressed in centimeters. Boards range in size from ~120 cm (for children) to ~165 cm for larger adults. At the extremes you can find Burton’s 90 cm “Riglet” board for 2-3 year olds, up to Lib Tech’s cult-classic "Doughboy" that stands over 6 feet tall.
The common rule of thumb is that the “nose of a board should fall between your nose and your chin” when standing on end. This might simultaneously be the single worst and most widespread piece of “advice” in the snowboarding industry. Go ahead, check the web and see if you find any tables from a snowboard manufacturer correlating height to board length.
Let me guess...you didn’t find a single table comparing height to board size from any manufacturers. But you probably found plenty of tables showing weight to board size because it’s actually weight that determines how a board performs under your feet.
To illustrate the problem, I once had a husband and wife show up to a snowboard lesson together. They were roughly the same height and had gotten identical snowboards from the rental shop. Except the husband was a dense, muscular guy who probably outweighed his wife by close to 100 lbs. There was no way they belonged on the same size snowboard.
Try to pick the size where your weight is right in the middle of the manufacturer’s suggested range. For instance, if you weigh 150 lbs, and your choices are a 154cm board with a suggested weight range of 125-175 lbs, or a 156cm board with a suggested weight range of 150-200 lbs, go with the 154cm. Sure, your weight is “in the range” for both boards, but the shorter board will be better for skill development because imprecise movements will have less negative consequence.
Choose a board length that corresponds to your weight based on the manufacturer’s size chart.
4. Flex — Don't Forget to Flex
Flex is how stiff the board feels along the short axis and is usually evaluated by trying to bend the tip and tail towards each other by pressing the board in the center. You’ve probably seen someone stand a board on end, hold the tip with one hand, and press on the middle with the other.
Most manufacturers will assign a “flex rating” to their boards, generally with “1” being described as “soft” or “mellow,” and “10” being labeled something like “stiff” or “stiffest.” The numbers can be useful within a particular manufacturer’s line of products, but do not translate across different manufacturers. Instead, focus on the description and don't worry too much about the numbers.
Choose a board labeled as “medium” or “medium-soft.” While this measurement is easy to evaluate by looking at manufacturer labels, it’s also critical to get right because many boards meet all the other guidelines, but are constructed with a flex that is overly stiff for a recreational rider.
5. Price — You Don't Need to be Scrooge McDuck to Score a Good Ride
Expensive snowboards are the product of extensive engineering and incorporate advanced materials that provide more cushion for jumps, more stability at high speed, and more responsiveness to rider input. But all of that R&D and technology also makes the board unforgiving of rider miscalculation.
Choose a board with a retail price around $300-350. Boards with a retail price around $250 are usually designed for children, while a $400 price tag is generally the point at which manufacturers start including more advanced technology that will drive up the price.
However, this is not an absolute rule, so don’t automatically rule out a board you love because it retails for $379! Keep in mind that this is the retail price! Look for sales during spring (late march/early April) and fall (September/October).
MISTAKES TO AVOID
Don’t buy the “pro” model of your favorite snowboarder. Are you hucking 90 foot booters at 50 mph in the X-Games? Are you dropping onto big-mountain spines with a 60 degree pitch in Alaska? If not, you don't need a pro model!
Don’t buy whatever happens to be on sale. Make sure you purchase a board that’s appropriate for your skills and your interests. Your riding will progress further and faster than if you just grab the cheapest board you find.
Don’t be convinced to buy the full setup (board/boots/bindings) from a single manufacturer. A few companies make every piece of a set-up (Burton, Rome, Salomon), but there is generally no need to buy the board, boots, and bindings from the same manufacturer.
Don’t buy a snowboard based on the color or the artwork. Ladies beware, I’ve overheard salespeople bragging about selling a snowboard to a woman based only on the fact that the colors would coordinate with her outfit.
Don’t forget to Demo! Nothing beats trying the board before you buy it! Independent board shops (NOT the generic rental facility inside the resort) will frequently have a selection of the latest models for rent. The rental price for a “Demo” is usually a little higher than normal, but if you decide to buy the board most shops will apply your rental fee to the price of the board!
Buying your board is only half the battle. Learning snowboarding lingo is a challenge on its own. Check out our guide to brush up on the jargon and sound like a pro.
Mammoth Mountain consistently ranks at the top of the list for having the best terrain parks in North America. Check out our full review here.
Once your board is covered, see our full packing list to find out what else you need.