Snowboarding was a recreational hobby for decades until it finally entered the Olympics in 1998. Now it’s a beloved professional winter sport enjoyed by generations. Over 7 million people hit the slopes with a snowboard each year. When you hit the slopes, don’t just rely on the rental boards available at ski resorts—better equipment can drastically improve performance.
In fact, just having proper equipment is enough to avoid disaster. Whether you’re out bonking (accidentally running into things) in the backcountry or catching air at a resort, you need the right board. This is the ultimate guide to choosing a snowboard. It includes everything you need to know to buy the right board for your usage. Hell, you may even want to build a collection—I’m not here to judge.
Like a guitar or pair of shoes, there’s always a right board for the job. Let’s jump right into it.
Table of Contents
- Why the Type of Board Matters
- A Board for Every Situation
- The Snowboard’s Shape
- Snowboard Length and Width
Why the Type of Board Matters
You’ve already gotten all your snowboarding gear, and now it’s time to focus on the board. The type of board you choose makes a lot of difference. Every manufacturer creates a wide range of boards, and each has its own characteristics that drastically alter performance. Some boards are smaller and more flexible, while others are larger or more rigid. These physical changes are ideal for different situations and skill levels. One person can use 10 different boards and have 10 different experiences.
Choosing a snowboard requires due diligence and research on what factors are important. Ask yourself what you plan to do—will you be shredding pipes, performing flips, and riding rails, or will you be exploring the wilderness?
Let’s start by breaking boards down by their types. These will define the ideal usage environment.
A Board for Every Situation
Every environment is different. Even the same run will ride a lot different in the morning when the snow is fresh versus late afternoon. Once thousands of people and the sun have beat down on a run, it turns from powder to ice. Manufacturers create boards for different riding styles and preferences. Here’s what you need to look out for.
Freeride and All-Mountain Snowboards
All-mountain snowboards are built to be used anywhere on the mountain. These versatile boards are just at home in the backcountry as riding rails on the pipe. All-mountain boards can be directional or twin. The boards make great beginner snowboards because of their durability. In fact, even experts can choose these all-mountain boards because they’re built so solid.
Meanwhile, freeride boards are the extreme end of all-mountain. They’re stiff, long, and most often directional. Freeride snowboards are the perfect all-terrain exploration snowboards.
Freestyle boards are lighter, shorter, and more flexible than all-mountain boards. They’re also frequently twin-tipped. This is because freestyle boards are built for those who love pulling off crazy tricks.
Riders who love hitting rails, walls, and other obstacles choose freestyle boards. They’re closer to the size of a skateboard and the type of board you’d do Tony Hawk-style tricks with. Freestyle boards are also great for people who love riding switch on a small, symmetrical board on ramps.
Carving, Alpine, and Race Snowboards
Alpine snowboarding is a pure form that focuses on speed while staying on the ground. Hard, plastic-shelled boots are also used for this form of racing, which is also known as hardbooting. Alpine snowboarding is commonly practiced in Olympic-level professional events. These hard-shelled boots protect and support your feet.
Freecarving boards are a form of race snowboards designed for amateurs. They’re hobbyist boards meant to be used at slower speeds than traditional raceboards. Aside from that, they’re practically identical. In fact, raceboard manufacturers will often release a professional and amateur version of the same board design. They’ll share foundational features while adding more for pros willing to pay a premium.
If you love exploring fresh powder snow far away from civilization, these are for you. Powder snowboards have a high rocker and wider tip with narrow tail that gives the board more float and makes it easier to steer.
Powder snowboards also have adjusted binding inserts to put your back foot in control. When you start cutting into that fresh powder, you’ll feel a freedom that few can put into words. They are more flexible than all-mountain, but not as flexible as freestyle boards. That deep powder snow rides like nothing you’ve ever felt. Be prepared for hidden dangers underneath, though.
Splitboards are designed for cross-country snowboarding. The board breaks down into two individual skis for climbing uphill. Splitboards are what you bring with you into the backcountry when you want to see an unexplored part of the mountain.
Of course, a splitboard alone won’t do—you’ll also need climbing skins and a split kit. These may be included with the board or may be sold separately. Also, be sure you understand your terrain and are prepared for an emergency like an avalanche before heading out with your splitboard.
Regardless of what you’re doing, you can find boards in different shapes and sizes. You should understand the specifications of your board, so let’s get into some of the more technical snowboarding terms you’ll see when shopping.
The Snowboard’s Shape
Snowboards have different shapes, which are important specifications to check. First, there are directional, twins, and directional twins.
- Directional boards are asymmetrical and built for riding in one direction. This enables a faster board while limiting flexibility.
- True twin boards are symmetrical and built for riding either direction. Park boarders love these for the ability to land tricks in any direction.
- Directional twin boards provide the best of both world, giving flexibility to explore the wilderness or impress the tourists on the lift runs.
Beyond these styles, there’s another dimension to the shape of a board, which is measured as either camber or rocker.
Both skis and snowboards can have what’s called a “camber,” which is the curve at the board’s base. Traditional boards have a raised point in the middle of the board, keeping the contact points at the front (tip) and back (tail). The space between the highest point at the board’s center and the ground is its camber. Camber adds pop (springiness) while increasing the power of a turn.
Camber also gives riders agility to perform jumps, while making it much more difficult to pivot. Think of a bicycle with locked handlebars—that’s the kind of energy you’ll need to turn with a high camber.
Rocker is a reverse camber, where the middle curves down. This makes a singular point of contact that makes pivoting much easier. It’s also easier to grab the tip or tail of your board, since they’re no longer bearing weight. This style is often preferred by surfers as it most closely replicates riding a wave of water.
A rocker board is faster down the slopes and initiating turns. You’ll be more able to slide rails and do some insane stunts on a rocker. Be careful though—what you gain in maneuverability is lost in control and balance.
Flat boards are also known as neutral, as the entire board is flat. Of course, the tip and tail are still curved upwards for functionality. A flat board maximizes control and balance, so they’re often used as rentals for beginners.
The line between flat and rocker is a very blurred one, however. Essentially, each flat board will have some degree of rocker in it, and finding this perfect balance is a great way for newbies to start. Advanced riders will want something a little spicier though, and that’s where combinations come into play.
Combination boards have both camber and rocker, giving them three points of contact. The camber is typically directly below each foot. Rockers occur in the center and again at the tip and tail. It’s the perfect blend of both boarding technologies. Because board manufacturers have one job, they do it well. You’ll find a wide variety of combinations used for different reasons. However, combinations are recommended for experts because they’re nuanced. If you don’t understand what works for you yet, it can be a bit much.
After you’ve chosen your camber or rocker, you can also examine a board’s flex and effective edge. Soft boards are more forgiving for beginners, and you won’t wipe out for making a mistake. Stiff boards have a lot more grip and speed, while making control a little more difficult. Meanwhile, the metal edges built into the bottom of the board where the edge of the board touches the snow. This edge is always shorter than the board itself, but the shorter it gets, the less stability.
In fact, let’s discuss how to find the right board size.
Snowboard Length and Width
Not only are shapes important, but snowboards come in a variety of sizes. The board size you choose depends on several factors, including your height and weight. Those aren’t the only specifications, though. The type of riding you plan to do, your body shape, and other factors come into play. Here’s what you need to know about snowboard sizing.
Your body size sets the range of acceptable board lengths, and there are several reasons for this. Most importantly, going overly long or short makes it hard to control. On top of this, you may have trouble grabbing the tip or popping. Beginners should choose from the shorter side of your size range.
If you’re under five feet tall, for example, a board over 135 cm will be too much for you. At the same time, a board under 150 cm can be difficult for riders over six feet tall. If you have a heavier build, a longer board may be helpful too.
The type of riding you plan to do matters too. Shorter boards are better for park or freestyle riding, and larger boards are built for mountain, powder, or freeriding.
Once you have the right length, you also need to consider your board’s waist width. This is based on your boot size. Your ideal board width just barely allows your toes and heels to hang over. The overhang should be enough to give you control over the board without your boots touching the now. If they do, you could lose control when you’re turning on edge. It would be like planting a ski pole and anchoring your feet into a face plant and downhill roll.
Like women’s pant sizes, every snowboard boot manufacturer uses different sizing rules. A size 12 from three different manufacturers will be three different lengths, because of this, it can be difficult to use a sizing chart to choose your ideal snowboard width. If you aren’t sure which width you should get, try getting fitted for a snowboard in person. An expert will be able to tell you which size board is ideal for your feet.
As a final note, once you’ve picked out your perfect board, make sure you have all the supplies you need to take care of it properly. You’ll need a snowboard wall rack to hang it on, and possibly a snowboard roof rack if you’re going to be transporting a lot of boards to and from resorts at once.
A snowboard vise is also necessary for using your snowboard wax kit. Snowboards can be expensive, so you need to make sure you’re doing all the proper maintenance. Plus, waxing your board will also help your performance out on the slopes.
All snowboards are not created equal, and neither are the riders. Everyone has different needs, styles, and preferences. The board’s size, shape, curvature, and binding position can all make a noticeable performance difference. Smaller boards in general are faster, lighter, and easier to get in the air. That isn’t always true though. When you understand what you want and need, you can find the perfect snowboard for you. Be realistic about your snowboarding goals and find something that showcases your personality.