Snowboard manufacturers try their best to differentiate themselves from the competition. One way to do this is by creating their own branded words for the features and technology used in the board design. But this can make understanding how to choose snowboards more difficult partly because often manufacturers will use different words that basically mean the same thing.
In this article we try to break down the concepts that you need to know about when shopping. We also attempt to explain and standardize the jargon and marketing hype you may hear from among the many different manufacturers that can make it difficult to compare between brands.
What design features are going to translate to the performance you’re looking for?
Read on to get the answer to this question as we walk through the most important concepts you need to be aware of when shopping for snowboards.
Picking the right length of the snowboard is critical to understanding how to choose snowboards. It depends on your height to some extent, but body weight and body type are very important as well.
Note that board lengths are usually measured in centimeters (cm). So a 154 is 154 cm long.
A great starting point for choosing an all mountain snowboard is to select a board corresponding to the length measuring from the ground up to your chin. But you also need to check the manufacturer’s website to make sure the board will work with your weight range. Depending on your weight you may need to size down or up to a more appropriate size.
Another point in your journey to understand how to choose a snowboard is that the right width can be as important as the right length.
The primary concern is you don’t want your toes or heels hanging off the edge of the board to the point that they touch the snow when making turns. This is usually a problem for people with big feet. The problem is if they hang over really far they will get caught and drag and could lead to a fall. Even if they don’t hang over to the point of causing a fall, too much overhang will slow you down.
On the other hand, you don’t want a board that is way too wide for your feet. This will result in a board that is harder to maneuver and weighs more than is needed. You won’t be as nimble nor as fast as you could be with a narrower board fit to your boot size.
A good place to start is by checking out the manufacturers website. A lot of manufacturers are starting to make wide versions of their normal width boards for those with larger feet. These are typically specified with a “W” after the size, for example 156W. Unfortunately, it is not as common to see boards on the narrower side for those with smaller feet. But you should look for a “N” after the size to designate narrow such as 151N.
In general, if your boot is smaller than 7 or larger than 10.5 in US Men’s sizes you should start to consider the corresponding narrow or wide versions if available. In the end you’re not going to know until you attach the bindings and strap the boot in. Then tilt the board up on it’s edge about 30 degrees or so. It is ok for your boots to hang over a bit. This increases leverage when turning. But if the boot is very close to touching the ground then the board may be too narrow. Or if you have no overhang then consider a narrow size.
If you are unsure a good idea is to rent a board before buying. The rental shop can help guide you. You can try out various widths and decide what works best for your boot size.
Here were talking primarily about the direction the board is meant to be ridden when learning about how to choose snowboards . This is controlled by the shape that you see when you are on the board and look down at your feet, binding insert location, and how the core is designed.
The side profile of the board, which we discuss in the next section, also contributes. But in this section, we focus on the two main categories of shape which are directional and twin shapes. There are also degrees in between these two shapes that blend the characteristics. These are often referred to as directional-twin shapes.
Directional boards are meant for riding primarily in one direction.
A typical design is for the nose to be designed softer and the bindings will be offset from the center toward the tail of the board. This helps absorbs bumps which aids in maintaining speed. This can also make the board easier to ride in powder because the tail will tend to sink and the tip will rise. Then toward the back of the board the tail is designed stiffer to add stability and control.
A directional shape performs great for an all mountain rider that infrequently goes in the opposite direction (AKA: riding switch). All mountain directional boards can still usually be ridden switch because the tails are rounded up and the binding setback is slight. But you will notice a difference in feel of the board and will not have the same control in the switch direction.
The other main shape is a twin (true twin) shape. This means that the board is symmetrically designed. Although the graphics on the board may make it look like it is a directional board, it does not have a designated tail or tip and can be ridden equally well in either direction.
An all mountain twin shaped snowboard works best for riders who want a freestyle ride that feels the same in both directions which makes taking off and landing switch and spinning more comfortable and consistent.
With this style of board you don’t need to think about adjusting your riding style when riding switch. This style will be a little less comfortable in powder riding because there is no binding set back. So you will likely need to adjust your normal riding style and lean back a bit to help keep the nose of the board up. But this also depends on the side profile of the board which we will discuss next.
There are two main categories of snowboard profile and a million variations in between. Basically, you have camber or rocker shapes that occur along the board or at different places along the board. Look at the edge of the board from the side.
You may see some flat sections but very likely you will see the board curves down and this is referred to as a camber shape.
On the other hand when the board curves up this is called reverse-camber or rocker. The term rocker is used because if you lay the board on the ground it may rock from tip to tail depending on the overall design.
Camber is the traditional design carried over from ski designs. On a camber board if you trace the shape from the center to the tip/tail you will see the board curves down until you approach the tip and tail. Then there will be sections that curve up. If you place this board on the ground it will not rock from tip to tail.
This shape focuses the pressure at those rocker sections at the tip and tail. These designs allow you to make very powerful carving turns. On the other hand, all that pressure at the tip and tail can sometimes cause edge catch problems for beginners or even intermediate riders on a cruiser run while not paying as much attention to proper form.
If you trace the profile shape on a rocker board you will see it curves up from the middle to toward the tip/tail. There will usually be a smaller camber zone after the initial rocker zone and you will get another rocker zone near the tips. If you place this board on the ground it will likely rock from tip to tail.
This design results in less pressure at the tip/tail zones which trades a little of that powerful carve performance for a more playful feel that is much harder to catch an edge and fall. This is a generalization and there are many variations of boards and other design features that change the performance including edge design which I’ll discuss next.
For more details on profile shapes check out our article about How Snowboard Camber Types Affect Your Riding.
You have either a traditional smooth edge design or you have an edge with some flavor of what we call edge grip technology.
This is what you would expect to see on the edge of the board. A nice smooth, continuous curve along the side cut from tip to tail. This is what you’ll find on traditional board styles. This design is very effective and provides good edge hold in most conditions and you will find a lot of awesome snowboards on the market designed in this manner.
Edge Grip Technology
One of the more well known marketing terms for edge grip technology is Magne-Traction®. What is it? It sounds like it might be the name of a competitor in a strongman competition who excels at throwing beer kegs.
It is a proprietary wavy feature that some manufacturers are licensed to use in the edge design of the snowboard. Lib Tech brand refers to it as, “serrated steak knife technology”. I think this is a pretty good description because if you magnify and look closely at a serrated steak knife you will see a pattern with peaks and valleys.
You will likely discover some brands have their own variations of Magne-Traction® that they will call something different. They may vary the number of points, their location, and the height of the peaks.
Those peaks result in increased pressure applied to a contact surface for a given force because the contact surface area is lower. From a physics standpoint think about the equation:
Pressure = Force/Area
Basically, the lower surface area at the peaks makes a big difference compared to a typical smooth-edged board and improves the ability of the board edge to dig into very hard packed snow and ice.
On rocker profile boards, this really helps compensate for the decreased pressure at the tip and tail. On a traditional camber profile snowboard it is not as effective, but it can give you that extra grip you need during very aggressive turning and on ice.
If you prefer a rocker designed board then I suggest giving it a try. I made the switch years ago and have never looked back due to the awesome grip I get in icy conditions.
These are the basics of what you should be aware of when shopping for a snowboard. It's possible to go A LOT deeper into the details and write pages and pages of information on this subject. But for most recreational riders this should be adequate information about how to choose a snowboard.
But if you're still looking for a little more information then I suggest checking out this video: