It’s the same thing every fall, drooling in front of a wall of shiny boards trying to pick out the perfect one. You can handle them all you want—give it the flex test, stand on it, torque the torsional flex, eyeball the sidecut, listen to the shop guy’s spiel, but you know the only way to be sure that a board is going to ride well is to ride it. And that’s just what the board test is all about. We not only ride all of next year’s most popular models, but we take it to the next level—we do it unbiased by hiding the brand and graphic. Testers are ignorant to the variables of who’s on the team, whether they like the graphic, the details of the carbon-fiber-strung-torsion-fork-hybritech-construction jimmyjam, and just focus on how it rides in the park, pipe, rails, and freeriding.

Use this information intelligently. Read about the TWS board test team to find out who most reflects your size and your style of riding, and take note of their favorite boards. Check the stats on the winning boards, and go ahead and whip out the reading glasses to compare it to all of the other boards in the Buyer’s Guide. See if there’re any other contenders out there that share the winning qualities of these boards.

Another year, another solid board test—dig into the best of the best.—Annie Fast

Method

This spring, at the height of the Rocky Mountain mud season, we started with 50 of the freshest new boards of ’04, and in full elimiDATE style, our eight testers narrowed down the field to the top-ten men’s boards and top-five women’s—all in the name of helping you reach your goal of finding the best freestyle board.

Yielding to strong-arm tactics from TransWorld headquarters, upward of 30 brands submitted unidentifiable blank boards. We requested men’s boards in the 156—160 length range and women’s in the 149—153 range and waxed for spring conditions. Anticipating a mix-up, these anonymous boards were immediately marked and numbered. The boards were then manually transported in an unmarked vehicle to the proving grounds of Copper Mountain, Colorado’s Loverly Terrain park and 430-foot-long Superpipe.

From sunup to sundown for five days straight, enduring the full range of winter to spring elements, these five men and three women put P-tex to the metal, snow, and ice. With the help of energy drinks and overpriced cafeteria food, testers clocked in on at least eight boards a day. Bindings were mounted by the Copper tech-of-the-day, handed off to the tester, and carved through the “slow” and “slower” zones past ski patrollers, tabletopped, hipped, railed, and Superpiped in the park, which was built and maintained nightly by Colorado’s “Terrain Master Of The Year” Jason Gusass and crew.

After each run, testers scored the boards in the categories of turning/edging, flex/pop, versatility, and overall performance. Scores were also doled out for pipe, jumps, and rails. Through the course of the test, conditions varied from a foot of fresh powder to carvy hardpack and spring slush.

In the end, all testers, like Eric Kovall, knew was that they were sore as shit and down with board number 40. Now that’s legit.

Academy Rhythm
Length: 157 cm
Effective Edge: 122 cm
Sidecut Radius: 8 m
Waist Width: 25 cm
Price: $415

Teamrider input and sound board design have landed Academy in the Top Ten for the brand’s debut season. Only eight months after conception, the sidewall-constructed Rhythm was labeled “A sick all-around board,” by board tester Ryan Callison. “Buttered like a champ, but was solid and stable when it counts,” he added.

The medium-stiff flex of Academy’s Carbon Tech construction-carbon strips are integrated into the woodcore-makes for a smooth and predictable ride. This directional twin (a twin-tip shape with the sidecut and flex set back of center) is best suited to medium-sized riders with skills, t it’s also forgiving enough for upcomers.

With Academy, you’re buying more than a cool logo and a list of teamriders (although it has both). Brand Manager Jeff Baughn explains: “As riders, it’s important to us to make sure we develop quality products that last longer than a season.” The brand stands behind its boards with a two-year warranty-they’re available in specialty snowboard shops only.Available sizes: 150, 153, 157academysnowboards.com

Arbor Mystic
Length: 158
Effective Edge: 124
Sidecut Radius: 7.7-7.3 m
Waist Width: 24.5 cm
Price: $369

“This board will destroy anything-maybe even you.”-Kovall

In its sixth year of manufacturing natural-wood topsheet boards, Arbor is continuing to make headway into the freestyle category. Halfpipe dominator Rob Kingwell put his two cents into the design of this board: “We added torsional stiffness to the board and a stiff tail. The torsional stiffness helps me keep a solid edge and eliminates the chatter, and I need the stiff tail to push on to accelerate across the pipe.”

The secret weapon in the Arbor Mystic is bamboo. Arbor has pioneered bamboo technology and is the only brand using it to replace the standard, heavier triax fiberglass. Surprisingly, bamboo is one of the strongest materials on the planet-increasing durability, performance, and board strength. It’s also environmentally friendly, growing ten times faster than the fastest-growing tree.

Arbor is so confident in the strength of bamboo that each board is backed up with a two-year warranty. Not that you’ll need it-Rob Kingwell says, “I’ve broken up to seventeen other brands of snowboards in a season, but this season I rode just one Mystic.”Available sizes: 152, 155, 158, 161
arborsports.com

Atomic Alibi
Length: 156.5 cm
Effective Edge: 124.1 cm
Sidecut Radius: 7.9/8/7.9 m
Waist Width: 24.9 cm
Price: $430

Modifications to Atomic’s premier freestyle board kept it in the Top Ten for ’04. Despite a name change (the Alibi is last season’s Syndicate revamped), the Alibi delivers a recognizable ride. Upgrades to the core and the addition of a shock-absorption layer went over well with testers, but the most noted change during the test was a slightly softer flex pattern.

“A solid, grade-A board,” said Mitch Nelson. “This board makes you feel like a better snowboarder-insane pop, sick flex, and ultra stable.”

Eric Kovall went on about the rail-friendly flex: “This deck creeps into any sort of railistic situation”-a comment that wouldn’t have applied to last year’s more-meaty model.

The Alibi is hardly limited to metal, though. A twin-progressive sidecut (the same sidecut radius at both the tip and tail, but more dramatic under the feet) makes switch riding predictable, and an extra layer of fiberglass (most boards have three, the Alibi has four) adds snap. Well-wrought boards and a team on the rise have made Atomic two for two in the Board Test-take notice.Available sizes: 149, 153, 156.5, 159, 162.5, 166
atomicsnowboarding.com

Burton Custom X
Length: 156 cm
Effective Edge: 121.2 cm
Sidecut Radius: 8 m
Waist Width: 24.8 cm
Price: $560

Improving on the most successful board design of all time is no small task. But that’s just what Burton did when they upped the Custom by the “X” factor.

The Custom X takes on high-end components like the sintered Indium base-once found on discontinued models like the BMC-and a Dragonfly core (Burton’s second-most tech after the new T6).

“This board defines the word ‘pop,’” said East Coast sympathizer Eric Kovall. Probably because of the Carbon I-Beam construction and an extra layer of fiberglass that runs the length of the board.

Board testers scored the X particularly well in pipe, but anyone who has ever ridden a Custom knows its boundaries are far-reaching. Brochure jargon aside, riders who expect one board to do it all will appreciate the well-crafted ride offered by the Custom X-it’s the surest thing on the market.

Note: This year marks the first time that a single brand has had two boards in the Top Ten. Burton also had the number-one scoring boards in the 2002 and 2003 Board Tests-damn, 26 years of board-makin’ pays off.Available sizes: 147, 152, 156, 160, 164
burton.com

Burton Uninc
Length: 158 cm
Effective Edge: 122 cm
Sidecut Radius: 7.6 m
Waist Width: 24.9 cm
Price: $500

Burton’s Focus family of boards includes the always ruling Seven, a new version of the jib-specific Dominant, and the Uninc-as in unincorporated, we’re guessing.The Uninc line was designed by rough riders Jeff Anderson (his model is the ’52), JP Solberg, Romain, DCP, and Gigi-whose 158 made the Good Wood grade.

A no-nonsense board, the twin-tip centered-stance Uninc isn’t covered in bells and whistles. It comes across soft but surprised riders like Cody with steady handlin’: “It held an edge beautifully and never felt out of its element.”

Mitch Nelson agreed: “You can tell when someone knows how to make a good snowboard-tight shape.” The Uninc is a sound choice for modern-minded shreds who are bent on redefining how we ride. Plus, in a time and a line that seems to give almost too much control over graphics to riders themselves, Gigi hits it right. Available sizes: 152, 154, 156, 158, 160
burton.com

Flow Zen
Length: 157
Effective Edge: 122 cm
Sidecut Radius: 7.6 m
Waist Width: 24.7 cm
Price: $400

The success of Flow’s Zen 157 in the Board Test proves the boot and binding innovator has successfully transferred into the snowboard market. A jaw-dropping pipe tool, the Zen was hatched from exclusive molds and uses only top-shelf materials.

“Snappy and lightning quick edge to edge,” is how tester Cody Dresser described the ride. “Fun pipe and park board-as long as the jumps aren’t too big.”

Most riders pegged this board for pipe over park because of its more edgy ride and responsiveness. A fifteen-degree angle on the sidewall and a variable sidecut (the 7.6 meter measurement is an average) may lean the Zen away from rails, but that’s not to say it can’t take on most freestyle challenges.

Comments like “incredible board overall” and “fun, poppy riding” were common among testers, while Eric Kovall took it up a notch, saying: “This is the smoothest riding board-no surprises.”This year’s Zen will get you in on the ground floor, riding a board that’s best for shredding turns on the mountain and dropping into the superpipe.

Available sizes: 153, 157, 161
flow.com

Forum Bjorn Leines
Length: 158
Effective Edge: 120.5 cm
Sidecut Radius: 7.8 m
Waist Width: 25.2 cm
Price: $460

Bjorn’s board is back in the Top Ten. This time around it was the 158 that turned testers’ heads (last year the Bjorn 160 made the Top Ten). Brent Meyer calls it: “A super fun board: rails, pipe, jumps, everything-so solid.”

All-around performance is built into this pro model. Forum’s Dan McNamara tells TransWorld the “core is completely re-engineered this year for enhanced stability and control.” Forum’s X-Lite Rail core uses hardwood on the rails (over the edges) for durability and a lighter wood in the center of the core. BJ’s board also employs one of Forum’s stiffest layups-four layers of glass along with carbon fiber-and the now-stronger I-lock insert system for infinite stance options.

BJ’s input on everything from the core stiffness to the graphics ensures that you won’t have your board to blame for tricks you can’t do: unlike some pros, Bjorn rides the exact same board that you can buy-not a custom has ever ridden a Custom knows its boundaries are far-reaching. Brochure jargon aside, riders who expect one board to do it all will appreciate the well-crafted ride offered by the Custom X-it’s the surest thing on the market.

Note: This year marks the first time that a single brand has had two boards in the Top Ten. Burton also had the number-one scoring boards in the 2002 and 2003 Board Tests-damn, 26 years of board-makin’ pays off.Available sizes: 147, 152, 156, 160, 164
burton.com

Burton Uninc
Length: 158 cm
Effective Edge: 122 cm
Sidecut Radius: 7.6 m
Waist Width: 24.9 cm
Price: $500

Burton’s Focus family of boards includes the always ruling Seven, a new version of the jib-specific Dominant, and the Uninc-as in unincorporated, we’re guessing.The Uninc line was designed by rough riders Jeff Anderson (his model is the ’52), JP Solberg, Romain, DCP, and Gigi-whose 158 made the Good Wood grade.

A no-nonsense board, the twin-tip centered-stance Uninc isn’t covered in bells and whistles. It comes across soft but surprised riders like Cody with steady handlin’: “It held an edge beautifully and never felt out of its element.”

Mitch Nelson agreed: “You can tell when someone knows how to make a good snowboard-tight shape.” The Uninc is a sound choice for modern-minded shreds who are bent on redefining how we ride. Plus, in a time and a line that seems to give almost too much control over graphics to riders themselves, Gigi hits it right. Available sizes: 152, 154, 156, 158, 160
burton.com

Flow Zen
Length: 157
Effective Edge: 122 cm
Sidecut Radius: 7.6 m
Waist Width: 24.7 cm
Price: $400

The success of Flow’s Zen 157 in the Board Test proves the boot and binding innovator has successfully transferred into the snowboard market. A jaw-dropping pipe tool, the Zen was hatched from exclusive molds and uses only top-shelf materials.

“Snappy and lightning quick edge to edge,” is how tester Cody Dresser described the ride. “Fun pipe and park board-as long as the jumps aren’t too big.”

Most riders pegged this board for pipe over park because of its more edgy ride and responsiveness. A fifteen-degree angle on the sidewall and a variable sidecut (the 7.6 meter measurement is an average) may lean the Zen away from rails, but that’s not to say it can’t take on most freestyle challenges.

Comments like “incredible board overall” and “fun, poppy riding” were common among testers, while Eric Kovall took it up a notch, saying: “This is the smoothest riding board-no surprises.”This year’s Zen will get you in on the ground floor, riding a board that’s best for shredding turns on the mountain and dropping into the superpipe.

Available sizes: 153, 157, 161
flow.com

Forum Bjorn Leines
Length: 158
Effective Edge: 120.5 cm
Sidecut Radius: 7.8 m
Waist Width: 25.2 cm
Price: $460

Bjorn’s board is back in the Top Ten. This time around it was the 158 that turned testers’ heads (last year the Bjorn 160 made the Top Ten). Brent Meyer calls it: “A super fun board: rails, pipe, jumps, everything-so solid.”

All-around performance is built into this pro model. Forum’s Dan McNamara tells TransWorld the “core is completely re-engineered this year for enhanced stability and control.” Forum’s X-Lite Rail core uses hardwood on the rails (over the edges) for durability and a lighter wood in the center of the core. BJ’s board also employs one of Forum’s stiffest layups-four layers of glass along with carbon fiber-and the now-stronger I-lock insert system for infinite stance options.

BJ’s input on everything from the core stiffness to the graphics ensures that you won’t have your board to blame for tricks you can’t do: unlike some pros, Bjorn rides the exact same board that you can buy-not a custom job with production graphics slapped on.Available sizes: (Mini) 135, 152, 156, 158, 160, 162
forum-snowboards.com

Ride Theory
Length: 161 cm
Effective Edge: 127.7 cm
Sidecut Radius: 8.7/7.7/8.7 m
Waist Width: 25.5 cm
Price: $460

Ride’s team is making a dent in design, and the Theory is proof of the right direction. Gleaned from snow techs like pros Joel Mahaffey, J.J. Thomas, and Eric Leines, the longest board in the Top Ten is a solid ride in or out of the park.

A mad combination of stability and pop had testers unanimous in the Theory’s well-roundedness. “Overall an excellent board,” said Brent. “Rode surprisingly well in all conditions.”

Ryan Callison added, “A supersolid board built for a bigger guy.” With a 25.5 cm waist width, this model can accommodate more than Munchkins; one of the line’s coolest traits, though, is that all the lengths share the same reliable ride.

Standout features include Ride’s Thin Con sidewall (a tapered cap design for precise edge control) and the top-end Aggression core that includes more Carbon Fiber than other cores in the line. (Materials like Carbon Fiber add snap and stiffness without adding weight; materials like wood add dampening and stability.) Plan to ride park and pow without compromise? Try the Theory.Available sizes: 149, 154, 159, 161
ridesnowboards.com

Rome Agent
Length: 158
Effective Edge: 118 cm
Sidecut Radius: 8.3 m
Waist Width: 25.4 cm
Price: $429

The Agent was designed to be a smooth and stable kicker and rail performer. Rome utilizes two unique technologies to achieve this. According to Owner Josh Reid, carbon-fiber stringers have been placed in targeted locations and at varying angles to control the flex of each board. Reid says, “The Agent has 30-degree, off-axis fibers in the laminate to get a more buttery flex and a decent amount of edge grip for carving between jumps.” Tester Ryan Callison thought so, too: “A really fun poppy board with the zing that most boards are missing.”

The buttery flex is backed up with an Impact Core Matrix, which, according to Josh, “creates an anti-compression platform of higher density wood under the contact points of the bindings.” The result is a board that is built to take the impact when you come down hard on it. The Rome Agent is just one in a whole line of Rome boards built for jibbers who like to beat the shit out of what they ride. Available sizes: 148, 152, 155, 158, 162
romesnowboards.com

Unity Pride
Length: 159 cm
Effective Edge: 123.1 cm
Sidecut Radius: 7.87 m
Waist Width: 24.5 cm
Price: $475

Unity’s Pride slayed the Board Test for a second straight year. Built in Summit County, Colorado-just twenty miles from places like Breckenridge and Copper Mountain-this unbeatable board racked up compliments like Barbie in a mountain-town bar.

Eric Kovall went as far as to write “Booyah” on his scorecard: “The most versatile board I’ve ridden in three days of testing. Hopefully it’s not made in Korea,” he added. That versatility comes from a 159 length and sound design/construction. Handmade in Colorado means a two-year warranty and plenty of “pride.”

In its fourth season of production, the directionally shaped Pride comes standard with deep sidecut and a stiff, snappy flex. Unity may be grassroots, but a Carbon Fiber X under each foot and Kevlar stringers running the length of the board are far from low-tech. “Turns incredibly, stomps great, kills the pipe-a winner,” summed Ryan Callison. If you want to rock a board that holds it own almost anywhere (the Pride isn’t for strict rail riders), but you’d rather not have the same board as everyone else in the gondola, this one’s for you. Hurry, though-last year Unity sold out of this model.

Available sizes: 148, 152, 155, 159, 164, and 160 wide, 165 widde
unitysnowboards.com
with production graphics slapped on.Available sizes: (Mini) 135, 152, 156, 158, 160, 162
forum-snowboards.com

Ride Theory
Length: 161 cm
Effective Edge: 127.7 cm
Sidecut Radius: 8.7/7.7/8.7 m
Waist Width: 25.5 cm
Price: $460

Ride’s team is making a dent in design, and the Theory is proof of the right direction. Gleaned from snow techs like pros Joel Mahaffey, J.J. Thomas, and Eric Leines, the longest board in the Top Ten is a solid ride in or out of the park.

A mad combination of stability and pop had testers unanimous in the Theory’s well-roundedness. “Overall an excellent board,” said Brent. “Rode surprisingly well in all conditions.”

Ryan Callison added, “A supersolid board built for a bigger guy.” With a 25.5 cm waist width, this model can accommodate more than Munchkins; one of the line’s coolest traits, though, is that all the lengths share the same reliable ride.

Standout features include Ride’s Thin Con sidewall (a tapered cap design for precise edge control) and the top-end Aggression core that includes more Carbon Fiber than other cores in the line. (Materials like Carbon Fiber add snap and stiffness without adding weight; materials like wood add dampening and stability.) Plan to ride park and pow without compromise? Try the Theory.Available sizes: 149, 154, 159, 161
ridesnowboards.com

Rome Agent
Length: 158
Effective Edge: 118 cm
Sidecut Radius: 8.3 m
Waist Width: 25.4 cm
Price: $429

The Agent was designed to be a smooth and stable kicker and rail performer. Rome utilizes two unique technologies to achieve this. According to Owner Josh Reid, carbon-fiber stringers have been placed in targeted locations and at varying angles to control the flex of each board. Reid says, “The Agent has 30-degree, off-axis fibers in the laminate to get a more buttery flex and a decent amount of edge grip for carving between jumps.” Tester Ryan Callison thought so, too: “A really fun poppy board with the zing that most boards are missing.”

The buttery flex is backed up with an Impact Core Matrix, which, according to Josh, “creates an anti-compression platform of higher density wood under the contact points of the bindings.” The result is a board that is built to take the impact when you come down hard on it. The Rome Agent is just one in a whole line of Rome boards built for jibbers who like to beat the shit out of what they ride. Available sizes: 148, 152, 155, 158, 162
romesnowboards.com

Unity Pride
Length: 159 cm
Effective Edge: 123.1 cm
Sidecut Radius: 7.87 m
Waist Width: 24.5 cm
Price: $475

Unity’s Pride slayed the Board Test for a second straight year. Built in Summit County, Colorado-just twenty miles from places like Breckenridge and Copper Mountain-this unbeatable board racked up compliments like Barbie in a mountain-town bar.

Eric Kovall went as far as to write “Booyah” on his scorecard: “The most versatile board I’ve ridden in three days of testing. Hopefully it’s not made in Korea,” he added. That versatility comes from a 159 length and sound design/construction. Handmade in Colorado means a two-year warranty and plenty of “pride.”

In its fourth season of production, the directionally shaped Pride comes standard with deep sidecut and a stiff, snappy flex. Unity may be grassroots, but a Carbon Fiber X under each foot and Kevlar stringers running the length of the board are far from low-tech. “Turns incredibly, stomps great, kills the pipe-a winner,” summed Ryan Callison. If you want to rock a board that holds it own almost anywhere (the Pride isn’t for strict rail riders), but you’d rather not have the same board as everyone else in the gondola, this one’s for you. Hurry, though-last year Unity sold out of this model.

Available sizes: 148, 152, 155, 159, 164, and 160 wide, 165 wide
unitysnowboards.com
165 wide
unitysnowboards.com