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New Directions in Snowboarding

Board Shapes Return to their Roots

If you’ve been paying attention to the latest trends in snowboards, it’s undeniable that directional shapes are making a huge comeback, drawing influences from the ‘80s when swallowtails and carving boards were all the rage. It’s clear these directional boards actually performed quite well in these early days, far outshining the archaic binding and boot technology of the era.

Once the ‘90s emerged, twin-shaped boards gained massive popularity due to freestyle riding coming into its own, meaning many powder and carving shapes phased out in favor of shorter twins with blunted tips. Although these new twins were excellent for cranking spins off cat-tracks, jibbing the logs and mailbox rails of the earliest terrain parks, and blasting airs from halfpipe walls, they often lacked the ability to rail deep carves and charge bigger lines on the mountain.

The lack of all-around versatility led companies like Burton, Ride, and K2 to develop all-mountain boards that could handle charging natural terrain at higher speeds, yet still were competent for hitting park jumps and halfpipe laps. Iconic models such as the Burton Custom, Ride Timeless, and K2 Zeppelin emerged onto the scene in the mid-to-late ‘90s, taking the snowboard industry by storm with their newfound versatility. Instead of focusing on a single riding discipline, these boards were suited for practically anything you found yourself riding, whether it was a big-mountain line or a thirty-foot kicker in the park.

At the onset of the early 2000s, Burton developed the legendary Fish, which has been a mainstay in their collection ever since, due to its surf-influenced shape floating effortlessly above the fresh stuff and swiftly turning between tight trees. The Fish was vastly different from many boards on the market, due to its pointy nose, setback stance, and tapered tail, which made it a favorite of powder enthusiasts seeking out the mountain’s natural, untouched zones.

Fast-forward to 2017 and many newer shapes continue to draw inspiration from snowboarding’s formative years when carving down gated slalom runs and tweaking grabs from hand-dug halfpipe walls were on the bleeding edge of the sport. Of course, nowadays these nostalgic shapes are paired with modern construction techniques, the latest rocker-camber profiles, and high-tech additives for boards that flat-out rip, whether you’re laying out Euro-style carves on fresh corduroy, blasting through the trees on a powder day, or sending side-hits with style. Seeing this explosion in retro-influenced shapes, we grouped some of the best boards for the 2017-2018 season based on shaping influences and intended terrain usage.

Classic Fish Shapes, Retro Swallowtails, and Big Guns

Seeing the need for a board that floats exceptionally well yet still rails turns on hardpack, the following decks offer versatility for carving, cruising, and surfing across the fresh stuff we all crave. You’ll find this mixture of classic fish shapes, retro-influenced swallowtails, and big guns are all directionally biased decks that lend themselves to epic powder days, yet still are surprisingly fun when the pow’s all tracked up and all that’s left is groomed terrain or hardpack. Unifying themes include a prominent nose rocker for near-unsinkable float, as well as moderate tapering for a loose, surfy style while linking up turns. Boards like the Nitro Quiver Cannon, Jones Lone Wolf, and Never Summer Big Gun carry maximum speed with their extended length, while others like the Burton Fish, Weston Backwoods, and K2 Eighty Seven make quick turns through the trees on powder days by remaining easily maneuverable. Boards to check out:

Burton Fish
Weston Backwoods
K2 Eighty Seven
Jones Lone Wolf
Nitro Quiver Cannon
Never Summer Big Gun
Ride Timeless
Gnu Swallow Tail Carver

Pint-Sized Surfers and Powder Pigs

These stubby-short powder boards are a relatively new phenomenon to the snowboard world, initially inspired by Yes 420, which radically altered the traditional powder board by shifting the volume displacement with its ultra-short, incredibly wide shape. Although newcomers to the scene, they draw upon old shaping techniques, such as large, prominent noses and healthy doses of tapering, both of which keep the board floating effortlessly on days when it never stops snowing. Some have notched swallowtails to drop the rear into fresh snow, while others maintain a rounded tail for snapping off side-hits and natural features. Rocker is a defining feature as well, which prevents the front end from diving into the deep stuff. Because they all share significantly wider shapes, you can run them much shorter than your average powder board, even when it’s absolutely nuking on the mountain. Boards to look for:

Yes 420 and 420 Powderhull
K2 Cool Bean and Party Platter
Jones Storm Chaser
Burton Panhandler
Never Summer Insta/gator
Rome Pow Division Swallowtail
Salomon First Call and Sickstick (151cm versions)
Ride Warpig

Cruising and Carving Specialists

The following directionally shaped boards have one thing in common: the ability to lay deep trenches on groomers and hardpack snow. Deeper sidecuts allow you to really drive into turns, while moderate tapering helps you transition smoothly from edge-to-edge. There’s lots of crossover with previous categories of shorter powder boards and retro-influenced shapes, seeing the need for many powder boards to rail carves when it hasn’t snowed in recent weeks. Because they share many characteristics with dedicated powder boards, you’ll find they have long, prominent noses, extended rocker sections, and tapered shapes maintaining excellent buoyancy in deep snow.

Gnu Zoid
Gnu Swallow Tail Carver
Nitro Quiver Slash
Jones Mind Expander
Salomon Super 8
Lib Tech x Lost Rocket Snowboard
Never Summer Chairman

One thing’s for sure, any of these boards just may completely turn your view of snowboarding on its head. As the legendary Jeremy Jones notes in his blog, when talking about the development of the Storm Chaser board (originally meant to be a powder-specific board):

“Now moving down the mountain, I aim for a bank and let my body fall inward as my edge goes outward, sinking deep into a toe side turn. My inside arm and back thigh brush the snow with my face hovering just above the corduroy as the Storm Chaser hooks up, loads up and snaps me into my next turn. This turn and the ones that follow are the root of my excitement. These are the best turns I have ever made. For someone who has has been snowboarding for the better part of thirty years, those are not words I thought I would say on a hardpack February day.

“The crazy part is, this board, this instrument for joy that has me feeling like I’m twelve again, and made my mountain feel new again, was not intended for hard snow. Building the best hard snow carving board we have ever made was a completely unexpected result of the design process.

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