The number of snowboards available these days can seem overwhelming if you’re not quite sure what you want. To select a deck that properly fits your riding style and personal preferences, it helps to learn a bit about different types of boards and how their shapes and construction affect the way they ride.
The first thing to consider is the kind of riding you’ll be doing most often. Snowboards usually fit into one of a few categories that give you a general idea of the board’s intended use; just remember that the lines between these categories are blurry at best. With an experienced rider strapped to it, any quality snowboard can handle nearly any situation—but when your setup matches your riding style and terrain of choice, that’s when the epic days happen.
All mountain boards are the best bet for riders who want one board to shred everything the resort has to offer. These versatile decks can handle a huge variety of terrain—they offer enough stability and control to charge hard, but enough playfulness and float to spin off jumps or slash deep stashes.
Freestyle boards are the most fun for riders who are focused on building a big bag of tricks both in and out of the park. They’re lightweight, poppy, and designed to be easy to throw around and allow you to land tricks in either direction.
A situational board for all but the biggest snow snobs, powder boards deliver maximum float on those days when staying on top of the fresh stuff is the biggest priority. These boards will often have elongated noses or tapered shapes (or both) to increase surface area and prevent your legs from getting thrashed by noon.
A snowboard’s flex pattern significantly affects the way it rides. Stiff boards react quickly and offer a powerful feel that pops hard off jumps and maintains control at speed. They’re also less forgiving and more likely to catch an edge due to off-balance turns or sketchy landings. Softer boards are easier to press, butter, and manhandle, and are also less likely to punish you for making a mistake whether you’re trying new tricks in the park or still perfecting your carving skills on the groomers. The catch is that they’re somewhat less stable and more prone to vibration and chatter at high speeds.
Nearly all manufacturers list flex or feel ratings to give you an idea of where each board belongs on the soft-to-stiff spectrum. Many snowboards sit somewhere in the middle in order to achieve a happy medium of ride characteristics.
Somewhat tied to flex is the board’s shape. Since most snowboarders have a preferred stance, many all-mountain boards have set-back insert patterns and a directional flex that’s stiffer in the tail to provide more deep-snow float and energy coming out of carves. Some are tapered from nose to tail to further accentuate this feel. Freestyle boards tend to be symmetrical (“twin tip” or just “twin”) with centered stances to provide a consistent feel while you’re riding in either direction. Boards that have a totally symmetrical shape and flex pattern are “true twins,” while those with symmetrical shapes and directional flex patterns are “directional twins” (often found on freestyle boards with all-mountain tendencies, or vice versa).
A big part of any snowboard’s identity comes from its profile. Not too many years ago, all boards were made with traditional camber, but there’s been a semi-recent influx of new ways to configure a board’s natural bend. Though every manufacturer’s board profiles ride a little differently, they all fit into four basic categories:
Here’s where you’ll find the main differences between budget-friendly and high-dollar boards. Different manufacturers and boards utilize different materials and technologies to reduce weight, damp vibrations, and maximize pop, durability, and control. As a general rule, higher-end boards tend to have faster bases, lighter, stronger cores, and fancy laminate additives like carbon or basalt fibers that make the board feel more lively and responsive.
As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that expensive boards are the only ones worth riding. A well-designed board’s construction, shape, flex, and profile all work in harmony to deliver a ride that fits a particular type of rider within a certain price range.
Snowboard sizing is based off the rider’s weight, and nearly all snowboard manufacturers list recommended weight ranges for each size of every board. These are not ironclad rules—a freestyle rider will likely prefer the maneuverability of a shorter board, while powder hounds or all-mountain rippers may appreciate the increased stability of a bigger board underfoot.
Equally (or more) important is width—a board that’s too narrow can send you skidding out of control as your boots drag in the snow. “Normal”-width boards fit up to a men’s size 10.5 (US) or so—if you wear an 11 or bigger, a wide board is the way to go. On the flip side, women- and youth-specific snowboards are narrower to accommodate smaller boot sizes without being hard to turn.
By now you should be able to narrow down your selection to a handful of boards that will match how and where you ride.