How To Buy A Board: A Women’s Guide

If ever there was a sport made for women, snowboarding ranks among the Goddess’ greatest creations. Its mixture of grace, balance, and fluidity make it a perfect match for the female physique. Our lower center of gravity and wider hips, which are often considered a detriment in other sports, are an asset in the arena of snowboarding. They make us as solid as a rock when we ride. And there are other benefits: For the moms, daughters, grandmothers, and sistahs around the world, who have discovered snowboarding, they’ve also discovered an activity of equanimity.

Today, women snowboarders make up the fastest growing segment of winter sports participants and more than 30 percent of the entire snowboarding market. Based on statistics from the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) and Snow Industries of America (SIA), women in the United States purchased 75,564 snowboards, 89,520 pairs of snowboard boots, and 83,490 pairs of bindings between the months of January through April, 1998, alone. There is power behind these numbers. When underdogs (such as women) are allowed to thrive, they produce a culture with a strength and sense of purpose more powerful than anything currently in existence. Combined with the trail-blazing efforts of our foremothers, such as Bev Sanders, Bonnie Zellers, Lori Gibbs, Tina Basich, Michele Taggart, and Shannon Dunn, women’s snowboarding has created a clan so strong, we’re busting to new heights like no other sport.

These days, it’s not uncommon for the new school of women such as Stine Brun Kjeldaas, Morgan LaFonte, Cara-Beth Burnside, and Victoria Jealouse, to spin a 720, drop a 50-footer, or ride a face so convex, the next turn is blind. Although not all of us are capable (yet) of stomping such feats of athleticism, their healthy aggression and determination breeds a certain confidence and inspiration among all of us. This transcends normal genres, giving us a unique sub-culture, namely, Women Who Rip.

So get on board. There is truth to the hype. Tune-up your gear, and you’ll tune-up your turns. We’ve got some work ahead of us, girls, before the 2002 Olympics and the advent of women rippers on the Wide World of Sports takes over. For if ever there was a place to show’em what we’ve got “as a gender” it’s in the mountains, on a snowboard, riding like the wind.

Girl’s Guide to Snowboards

To start, think of your future snowboard as your own, personalized, signature model. That model should reflect your style, things you’re interested in riding, such as big air, the pipe, and/or the entire mountain. It should also reflect your riding level and where you like to ride most often. Example: Betty lives in upstate New York where the winters can hover at temperatures below zero degrees for days. There can be high winds. She rides once a week with her school’s weekend ski/snowboard program, which takes her up to Lake Placid – a mountain with a reputation for steep, hardpacked terrain. She’s demo-ed a couple of boards last winter and has decided to take the next step and purchase her own board. Betty’s also huge fan of Shannon Dunn’s, mainly because her friends (and herself, to some extent) think she looks like her, and because someday, Betty would like to rule her local halfpipe like a Shannon Dunn. Given all of this, and the 47 varieties of snowboards offered to women this season, which should Betty choose?

Width, Weight, and Flex
Generally speaking, women have smaller feet than men, a lower center of gravity, shorter legs, and weigh less. Most women’s boards, particularly women’s signature boards, such as the Victoria Jealouse-inspired Burton Freedom 53, are built with these things in mind. They will be lighter (you should be able to pick it up with one hand from the tip), and have a narrower waist. The point is to be able to get the board on “edge.” If it is too wide, it will take more effort to turn. Lay the board flat, and stand on it sideways above a set of pre-dried holes intended for bindings. If there’s a lot of extra board in front of your toes and heels, it may be too wide. You want your toes and heels to come about an inch from either side (remember, snowboard boots are bigger than your sneakers). Make sure there are options in the pre-drilled hole settings for moving your bindings in or out for a stance-width that is comfortable.

Snowboards with cores made from foam or honeycomb or wood composites, are not necessarily lighter than an all-woodcore snowboard. There are so many varieties of cores these days, as well as top sheets and edge materials, that heaviness can only be weighed by physically picking up the board. In other words, you can’t read about weight. Cap construction, which has been adopted by many board manufacturers, means the topsheet wraps all the way over the top and down the sides. It’s intended to give a board a more even flex without all the weight. (There is usually less material used for sidewalls in cap-constructed boards.) The Michele Taggart 400 FR 151 Salomon board is a good example of a lightweight, cap construction board.

On the other hand, some manufacturers claim boards with wood-core components and sidewalls can increase the board’s “dampness” or ability of the board to absorb chatter for a more stable ride -particularly at higher speeds. Tina Basich’s pro model from Sims, the Star 151, is good example of a cap board that uses different core composites (aluminum honeycomb, crosscut wood, PU foam), and wrapped edges. So, you’ve got a mix. It’s up to you to determine what the appropriate weight of your board should be. Keep in mind that although some companies maintain a philosophy that a heavier board means a stronger board, this is not always so, nor is it necessary for some women. It is not always true that women want a heavier board or need to ride something that, say, a person the size of pro rider, Tom Burt, could use cranking turns at 40 mph. One thing about lighter boards is they can feel more responsive, which some women prefer. Remember, to each her own. Make sure you ask about the specifics of its construction, i.e. does it have a cap design, wood, foam, or honeycomb core, about its sidecuts, and edge material. Knowing the subtleties of these technical features will also help you make a more intelligent snowboard purchase.

Next, check the flex of the board by pushing it in the center while it’s standing upright. If you’re a beginner or prefer riding in snowboard parks or the halfpipe, you may want a more flexible of softer flex board. As women have progressed over the years, women’s models “signature boards in particular” have gotten longer and stiffer to accommodate higher speeds and quicker turns. For example, pro rider Morgan LaFonte is only 5’1″ and weighs about 105 pounds, but she’s an expert backcountry snowboarder and can pull high speeds on steep terrain. Her signature model, the K2 155 Synergy, may be too stiff and long for a beginner with the same physical dimensions, but perfect for an intermediate to advanced rider looking to “grow into” her board. And you can grow into it. The flex of the Synergy compared with, say, the Shannon Dunn 149, for example, can be quite different.

Terrain
Our example rider, Betty, will most likely be riding hardpacked, icy terrain, so she may opt for a carving (or alpine) board -something similar to what Karine Ruby, Olympic GS gold-medal winner, rides from Oxygen. Carving, alpine, or racing boards are built with a progressive sidecut, which accommodates for speed, precision turn-to-turn in hard-packed conditions. On the other hand, a free-riding board (or directional board), such as K2’s Luna series for women, might also be appropriate for Betty if she’s also into riding all aspects of the mountain, including tree runs and backcountry terrain.

Free-riding boards are intended for riding an entire mountain, big terrain (Alaska being the Mecca), and possible powder conditions. Some freeride boards also perform quite well in snowboard parks, off jumps, berms, table tops, etc. But if Betty wants to rip a pipe like Shannon Dunn, she may enjoy a freestyle (or twintip) snowboard. As Burton put it, “Freestyle equipment is built for time in the air.” Snowboard parks, halfpipes, various jumps are the type of terrain freestyle boards are built for especially. They are generally more flexible and have a sidecut that accommodates riding fakie or launching and landing a jump switchstance (backwards). But even if you’re a beginner who’s never dropped into a pipe, if you think you may want to learn to pull tricks, spins, and halfpipe maneuvers, by all means, checkout a freestyle board. But I’d also recommend trying the free-riding boards as well. There’s definitely a subtle cross-over between the two classifications these days.

Overall, given the advancement in snowboarding technology, no matter what classification a board may have, most are forgiving enough to accommodate the snowboarding learning curve of any beginner.

Affordability

Be realistic. Even though Shannon Dunn is your favorite rider, you probably don’t ride as much as she does. If you only get a chance to ride a handful of times each winter, then shelling-out for an expensive signature model may not be the best choice. Remember that there are more models on the market than ever before -including many so-called men’s models, which are built to accommodate light riders with smaller feet. Most of these models can be less expensive than a signature board. On the other hand, if you’re looking to push your riding this season and perhaps riding more often, there’s nothing like getting a top-notch board to help you improve. Other than marketing, the reason most snowboard manufacturers have snowboard teams is to use these professionals for research and development through testing new equipment. Always believe what feels best to you, but you can also believe the results from most of these pro riders’ tests as well. They’ve already done a lot of homework for you.

If possible, demo a few boards before purchasing. Most resorts offer top-of-the-line boards for this purpose. It’s also a good way to determine your style, snowboarding ability level and potential, and compatibility with certain manufacturers. You are your own best judge, so trust your instincts.ome freeride boards also perform quite well in snowboard parks, off jumps, berms, table tops, etc. But if Betty wants to rip a pipe like Shannon Dunn, she may enjoy a freestyle (or twintip) snowboard. As Burton put it, “Freestyle equipment is built for time in the air.” Snowboard parks, halfpipes, various jumps are the type of terrain freestyle boards are built for especially. They are generally more flexible and have a sidecut that accommodates riding fakie or launching and landing a jump switchstance (backwards). But even if you’re a beginner who’s never dropped into a pipe, if you think you may want to learn to pull tricks, spins, and halfpipe maneuvers, by all means, checkout a freestyle board. But I’d also recommend trying the free-riding boards as well. There’s definitely a subtle cross-over between the two classifications these days.

Overall, given the advancement in snowboarding technology, no matter what classification a board may have, most are forgiving enough to accommodate the snowboarding learning curve of any beginner.

Affordability

Be realistic. Even though Shannon Dunn is your favorite rider, you probably don’t ride as much as she does. If you only get a chance to ride a handful of times each winter, then shelling-out for an expensive signature model may not be the best choice. Remember that there are more models on the market than ever before -including many so-called men’s models, which are built to accommodate light riders with smaller feet. Most of these models can be less expensive than a signature board. On the other hand, if you’re looking to push your riding this season and perhaps riding more often, there’s nothing like getting a top-notch board to help you improve. Other than marketing, the reason most snowboard manufacturers have snowboard teams is to use these professionals for research and development through testing new equipment. Always believe what feels best to you, but you can also believe the results from most of these pro riders’ tests as well. They’ve already done a lot of homework for you.

If possible, demo a few boards before purchasing. Most resorts offer top-of-the-line boards for this purpose. It’s also a good way to determine your style, snowboarding ability level and potential, and compatibility with certain manufacturers. You are your own best judge, so trust your instincts.