By Jeff Krueger

It’s that time of year again, when you’re dreaming about the upcoming season of deep powder days and the snowboard companies are once again introducing new products to tantalize both your heart and wallet. If you’re in the market for a new board, or simply considering trying one out, then pay attention as we give you some insight into the crazy world of tech-speak, specification charts, and marketing hype.

Design Elements

Flex Pattern: The variation of a board’s thickness in all three dimensions: along its length, across its width, and multidirectional depth. The flex pattern, along with critical materials, directly determines the flexibility and snappiness of the board throughout. In general, the thicker the snowboard is in a certain place, the stiffer the flex is in that area, but materials play into this as well, and we’ll review those in a bit. Thickness is varied by adjusting the snowboard core-all other materials are generally the same thickness throughout the board.

If a board is too “soft,” it’ll lack edge hold and snap energy, resulting in washouts at the end of turns and minimal response for jump takeoffs and landings. A board that’s too “stiff” will also lack edge hold, because turn initiation becomes difficult, and jumping forgiveness goes to zero. You’ll have to overwork the board to get it to do anything.

Sidecut: The concave curvature along the length of the side of a board. Sidecut gives a board the inherent ability to turn on the snow. It helps create easy turn initiation, smooth carvability, and energetic turn finishing. When you flex into the board while it’s slanted up on edge, the sidecut interacts with the snow, arcing in a radius similar to that of the sidecut. Many other variables play into how the snowboard turns, too, though-amount of board flexion, level of edge grip with the snow, and even snow conditions. Generally, deeper, smaller-radius sidecuts equate to quicker, sharper turns. A more mellow, larger-radius sidecut creates longer turns more suited for high-speed cruising. Therefore, what kind of riding you want to do obviously determines the type of sidecut you should choose.

Here are some of the more common terms you will hear associated with sidecut: radial-a simple radius of a circle; elliptical-an egg-shaped radius; quadratic-a mathematically generated radius for a detailed variation of radii along the length of the sidecu;, conic-similar to quadratic but more finely adjustable, allowing for different radii at different points along the length of the sidecut; and progressive-the same as conic. An example of variable sidecut is a sharper radius near the ends of the sidecut lengths for improved turn initiation and turn-finishing power, and a more mellow radius in the middle of the board for smooth, arcing turn midpoints.

Camber: The bowing of a board in the center as it sits flat on the floor. Notice as you stand on the board that the camber flattens out so that the entire base is touching down. Camber pre-loads the snowboard with potential energy, and this energy loads into the board every time the rider weighs down it with their body and flexes it out.

It’s like standing on a large spring and compacting it. This energy gives the board responsiveness, which helps many on-snow characteristics: tracking, turning, stability, and snappy energy. Camber gives the board life-not enough camber makes it lack energy at the end of turns, lack edge grip, and track like a chunk of plywood. A board with too much camber will lack maneuverability, be extra catchy, and be very tiring to ride. In general, designers use more camber for carving, high-speed boards and less camber for freestyle, jib boards.

Board Length: There are three critical length measurements to consider on a snowboard. First is the board’s overall length-the length of the board from the tip of the nose to the tip of tail. Your weight and height, your experience, your riding styleand what terrain you like to ride all play into how long a board you should buy. Bigger riders generally need larger boards because they need a larger platform and a bit longer running length. Read the manufacturers’ charts that suggest board lengths based on a rider’s weight. Also, big-mountain, steep-and-deep conditions warrant a longer board to give you force and stability. A shorter board is better for freestyle riding-parks, pipe, technical airs, and rotation-because they’re easier to maneuver.

Effective Edge/Contact Length/Running Length: Effective edge is the length of the sidecut on the board. Contact length, or running length, is something totally different-it’s the length of the board that’s in contact with the snow as the board lies flat while you’re standing on it. A lot of companies use a contact length that exactly matches the effective edge, but some use a contact length that’s slightly shorter than the effective edge at both the nose and tail. This allows for easier turn initiation and responsiveness in varying terrains’ bumps and transitions. In these cases, more sidecut and edgegrip can be harnessed as you need it, as the board flexes out into these variable terrains. Contact length of a board is the length in which energy and pressure are distributed throughout the board while in riding contact with the snow. Generally, a longer contact length means improved stability at higher speeds and more edge grip during carving. Shorter contact lengths mean quicker turn initiation and better maneuverability.

Board Width: This is measured in three locations: the waist width at the narrowest point in the board-at or near the sidecut center-the nose width at the widest point near the tip, and the tail width at the widest point near the tail. The best width for you depends on three elements: rider foot size, riding style, and your stance angles. Big feet need wider boards because of toe and heel drag, but if a rider with small feet rides on a super wide board, they won’t be able to engage or maneuver the board. Generally, a more narrow board has quicker edge-to-edge response; a wider board provides more stable landings and better flotation in powder.

Kick Geometries

Why do snowboards have kick at the nose and tail? Simple snow dynamics. Kick (the upward curve at the nose and tail) allows the board to glide up onto the snow while reducing snowplow-like resistance by compressing newly encountered snow down under the board. Without a kick, the board would just plow into the snow, like eating soft ice cream with a pinball instead of a spoon!

Kicks need to have the right height and length to clear the various types of snow your board may encounter. In general, for powder, freeriding, and backcountry rippin’, a taller and longer kick is better. Shorter and lower kicks work best for freestyle, pipe, and park riding.

Stance Offsets And Widths: Inserts are not placed in the board randomly. They’re often set back a few centimeters from the actual center of the board, especially on freeriding and big-mountain boards, because riders have more control of the board when their center of mass is shifted back slightly. A more centered stance works better in freestyle riding situations-spinning tricks and fakie riding.

Materials And Components

Core: The core is the working organs, or guts, of the snowboard in two ways. First, the core creates life and liveliness in the board, or snap energy. Second, the core acts as a spacer between the strength layer and muscles of the snowboard (the reinforcement fibers). Proper spacing characteristics between the muscular fiber layers creates energy, flex, and responsiveness. Wood is the preferred material for cores in well-performing snowboards. Board makers use hardwoods (poplar, ash, birch, and maple), softwoods (spruce, fir, and cedar), exotic woods (okume and fuma), or combinations of each. Some manufacturers also add in special cellular or composite elements to reduce weight without diminishing snap energy. Some lower-cost boards have foam and urethane as core materials, because it’s much less expensive than wood. If you’re looking for performance, though, wood is choice, preferably vertically laminated wood. Ask and test.

Reinforcement Fibers: These are the strength and skeletal structure of the board-the muscles that surround the guts. They play a huge role in how a snowboard performs. Reinforcement fibers have to endure the most stress abuse from the terrain and the rider without showing signs of distortion or fatigue. The most common material used is fiberglass, and it’s oriented at different angles with the board (lengthwise, across the width of the board, at varying angles) and can be different weights, depending on the type of performance desired.

Another common material used in higher-performing boards is carbon fiber, which is much lighter than fiberglass, and stronger, too. Thus, carbon is often used to enhance or improve torsional response.

Base: All board bases are made of polyethylene (PE) plastic. The grade (molecular weight) of the PE, how the PE material was formed, and possible additives are where different choices come into play. The two methods of forming PE bases are extrusion and sintering. Extrusion is simply melting down a bunch of PE pellets, then forcing the molten goo through a thin slit opening with pressure, thus producing a flat basesheet. Sintering takes powderized PE, places it into a cylinder, then heats and presses it into a large slab. This large slab is then thinly sliced into snowboard bases. Sintered bases have a much higher molecular weight than extruded bases; thus, they have better glide characteristics and wax retention.

“Electra” bases are even more tech in an effort to enhance glide characteristics-they have a small amount of graphite added into the PE material, which aids in friction reduction through conducting static electricity. Some board crafters go even one step farther and add traces of hardening elements in the form of ceramics or special metals, such as gallium, for durability and improved wax retention.

Before You Buy

Preparing To Make Your Purchasing Decision

After you’ve done all your research and asked the difficult questions of as many “experts” as you can, your purchasing decision is still a bit questionable. The only way to truly confirm how a snowboard will perform for you is to ride it. Not after you’ve emptied your wallet, but before you pull that trigger.

Snowboard manufacturers that’ve been around for a while or want to stick around for a while recognize this and are beginning to offer more ways for potential buyers to demo their snowboards first. Remember, the shop/store/resort employee’s advice is only as good as how the board rode for them or what they’ve been taught by the board makers.

Remember, ask tough questions and demand quality answers, test, demo, scratch, feel, and sniff. Educate yourselves so you can dig through the marketing hype and fluffy language and listen with a discerning ear!

ents to reduce weight without diminishing snap energy. Some lower-cost boards have foam and urethane as core materials, because it’s much less expensive than wood. If you’re looking for performance, though, wood is choice, preferably vertically laminated wood. Ask and test.

Reinforcement Fibers: These are the strength and skeletal structure of the board-the muscles that surround the guts. They play a huge role in how a snowboard performs. Reinforcement fibers have to endure the most stress abuse from the terrain and the rider without showing signs of distortion or fatigue. The most common material used is fiberglass, and it’s oriented at different angles with the board (lengthwise, across the width of the board, at varying angles) and can be different weights, depending on the type of performance desired.

Another common material used in higher-performing boards is carbon fiber, which is much lighter than fiberglass, and stronger, too. Thus, carbon is often used to enhance or improve torsional response.

Base: All board bases are made of polyethylene (PE) plastic. The grade (molecular weight) of the PE, how the PE material was formed, and possible additives are where different choices come into play. The two methods of forming PE bases are extrusion and sintering. Extrusion is simply melting down a bunch of PE pellets, then forcing the molten goo through a thin slit opening with pressure, thus producing a flat basesheet. Sintering takes powderized PE, places it into a cylinder, then heats and presses it into a large slab. This large slab is then thinly sliced into snowboard bases. Sintered bases have a much higher molecular weight than extruded bases; thus, they have better glide characteristics and wax retention.

“Electra” bases are even more tech in an effort to enhance glide characteristics-they have a small amount of graphite added into the PE material, which aids in friction reduction through conducting static electricity. Some board crafters go even one step farther and add traces of hardening elements in the form of ceramics or special metals, such as gallium, for durability and improved wax retention.

Before You Buy

Preparing To Make Your Purchasing Decision

After you’ve done all your research and asked the difficult questions of as many “experts” as you can, your purchasing decision is still a bit questionable. The only way to truly confirm how a snowboard will perform for you is to ride it. Not after you’ve emptied your wallet, but before you pull that trigger.

Snowboard manufacturers that’ve been around for a while or want to stick around for a while recognize this and are beginning to offer more ways for potential buyers to demo their snowboards first. Remember, the shop/store/resort employee’s advice is only as good as how the board rode for them or what they’ve been taught by the board makers.

Remember, ask tough questions and demand quality answers, test, demo, scratch, feel, and sniff. Educate yourselves so you can dig through the marketing hype and fluffy language and listen with a discerning ear!