Whiteroom Ready – 20 Powder Boards Reviewed
Words by Ben Gavelda
Photos by Nick Hamilton
Anyone who's taken a tomahawk or felt that searing back leg burn knows how challenging riding powder can be. But one lap on a board designed for deep snow can have you hovering through the fresh and hooting at the snow gods for more. While our Good Wood board test delivers some of the best boards for the season, it doesn't include boards designed specifically for powder. Back in 2007, we put released our first powder board review, and with snowboarding's current rise of retro, creative, and surf-inspired shapes we felt it was time to do so again this year. Rather than try to quantify the way the boards ride and calculate scores, we wanted to capture the feel these boards offer. So our editorial crew selected a variety of different models, packed our bags, and headed to Canada in late March with one motive in mind--ride as many boards and as much pow as possible.
Since we couldn't just order up a couple feet of flakes from the heavens we did the next best thing, and went to Baldface Lodge. The probability of powder is high there, its snowboarding roots run deep, and the terrain is perfect to let a powder board loose. Their snowcat served as our mobile demo tent, carting the boards and us around, and over a few days and a few fresh dumps we tore into the quiver. Here is our take on 20 whiteroom ready boards for 2015.
High-Performance Powder Boards
The following are a versatile breed of boards. They're designed to excel in powdery conditions and handle the bevy of terrain that may lie between you and that powder stash. We all know how rare it is to simply cruise right into an untouched powder field. Most of the time we have to charge through chunder, hang onto a bumpy and narrow traverse, weave through tight trees, or point a chute before laying into the untouched stuff. These boards were built to do all of the above without sacrificing powder performance. Some are twin, some are directional, most have a medium to stiff flex and subtle design traits that aid in buoyancy without being overly loose and surfy. If you're looking for a board that can handle the rigors of resort riding, but has a penchant for pow, look no farther.
Lengths: 158, 161, 164
Capita's pow sword features 20 milimeters of taper from nose to tail, combined with generous rocker in the nose and a one-inch stance setback to really let you sink the tail down and float the nose. Although the taper aided backseat turns it had the stability to haul as well. Two added strips of carbon fiber in the front kept the nose from flopping in chunder and the ABS stringer down the centerline means you can cut it into a splitboard without damaging the core.
Lengths: 158, 161
Temple Cummins designed this board--he doesn't pussyfoot around and you can tell by this ride. It's beastly, stiff, tapered, cambered and made to charge through not only powder, but also the tracked up bits after the storm. You can tell by the rock solid feel it has between the bindings. The directional shape and setback stance made it easy to keep the tip up and the mellow Magne-Traction helped the edges bite while cruising along the cat track.
Lengths: 156, 159, 162, 165
Lucas Debari's deck of choice has a massive nose, which was one of the most notable traits in deep snow. The board's tapered profile, flat camber, setback stance and high tech blend of materials performed flawlessly from pillow to pow slash. The carbon fiber web in the tips and mid-binding carbon Ollie Bar made it playful and easy to pop out of soft snow. Although the board has a lot of surface area for enhanced float, the thinned out tips lightened it up and made it easy to maneuver, too.
Jamie Lynn FunDAMNmental C3 BTX
Lengths: 159, 162
There's a grip of different Jamie Lynn pro models celebrating his 20th anniversary with Lib Tech this season but you can only get this powder specific deck at select shops. We found its "mullet" (i.e. tapered) shape offered ample float and a surfy feel that was also swift edge-to-edge. The camber-dominant profile and medium-to-stiff flex meant you could auger the tail down for more float, yet retain all the power and control you could want for high speeds.
Lengths: 161, 167, 172
It could have been the fact that the sample we rode was a 167, but this ship obliterated all pow terrain. A classic in Never Summer's line, it has a tapered pintail shape and a long list of high tech dampening materials that produced a smooth, sound ride. The lengthy tips were hard to sink when combined with the rockered middle section that acts as a pivot to pull up the nose. With cambered ends the board maintained comfortable control, bite and snap, too.
Lengths: 155, 159, 162
This board offers traits of a swallowtail in a more backcountry freestyle build. The rockered nose and half-crescent split tail made it easy to plane in pow, and if you unclipped the swallowtail fins it gave the board a looser feel and more tail flex in turns. Camber from the front binding back and an array of carbon fiber stringers in the nose and along the sidewalls also gave it a lively feel with loads of power.
Lengths: 155, 159, 163
Rome's pinnacle powder board is a do-it-all directional ride that can charge the entire mountain. Built on a platform of camber that blends into a flat and then rockered nose, this was an aggressive ride that floated but still delivered full pop and power in turns and ollies. The torsional flex is tuned with biax fiberglass for better foot control, but it's beefed up with two carbon barrels and Zylon (lighter, snappier than carbon) through the length of the board.
Lengths: 153, 156, 160, 163
A quiver classic, the Salomon Sickstick has a "Tapered Twin" shape where the stance is centered along the effective edge and the tail is ever so slightly narrower. The shape was silly easy to float given its flat camber profile and rockered tip and tail, and we found it awfully quick-turning in a good way. The cork sidewalls and bamboo veneer gave it a nice and damp feel underfoot that wasn't lacking pop even in pow.
Lengths: 151, 154, 157, 160
The Brainstorm was developed by Manuel Diaz to be a freestyle powder machine. It's twin in shape, directional in flex, and has slightly more rocker in front than back, all of which made it really playful and buoyant in pow. Added bits like carbon Xs underfoot and Kevlar and carbon blends in the tips helped reduce chatter and gave it a springy ride. The half moon tips work as a kickstand when you lean the board up and the shape also throws up a roost of pow at speed.
Lengths: 152, 156, 159, 162
Smokin sought to create a board to blur the lines between resort and backcountry, something that could charge hardpack as well as pow. With a twin shape and shortened sidecut, long blend zones and large rockered tips, the Jetson floated like a cloud whether riding regular or switch. Its camber backbone and stout flex gave it a solid, hearty feel for high speed slashes. Coupled with hemp stringers and three-layered dampening, it was equally smooth in turns, butters, and ollies.
Besides powder prowess, it's all about the art and feel of the turn with this board batch. They're built with more eccentric, surf-inspired shapes than the previous grouping and are characterized by bigger noses, swallowtails, dramatic taper, large surface area, and way setback stances. Their drastic design traits yield a noticeable feel in the way they float, accelerate, turn, pop, land, hold an edge, and handle speed. They may take a while to master, or simply the right conditions to truly excel. This is why you ride them though. They give you a new way to interact with the snow, a fresh approach to sliding sideways. They're a reminder that the pursuit of snowboarding still begins with the turn.
Lengths: 156, 159, 162
Arbor started with a big gun shape to shred fast, steep, and variable terrain, but added a few features for float and turning. They put on a big, pointy nose that easily plowed above pow and through the chunky stuff, and tweaked the tail with a slight V to let you ride in the backseat to pull the nose up and pivot turns from the back foot. It's in the surf category because of its retro shaping, but we thought it could handle high speed as well as it could turn.
Camel Toe Stewart
Lengths: 153, 158, 162
Legendary surf shaper, artist, and innovator Bill Stewart tried his hand at snowboard shaping back in 1981, but his creation was a head of its time and didn't catch on. Fast-forward to 2014 when a lucky chain of events unearthed the board and the Bataleon crew caught wind. What you have here is an ode to Stewart's creation with Bataleon's pow planing, three-dimensional Triple Base Technology. Precisely lifted at the contact points made it turn and float like riding on water even on the shorter lengths.
It might be stubby but it can shred. The Pile Driver is a retro take on a fish board with 12 millimeters of taper and a subtle swallowtail. The 140-centimeter length may seem short, but the boards' large surface area made it surprisingly buoyant, quick to accelerate even for larger riders, and allowed for lightning-quick turns. We found the thick profile, cambered back-end and minimal sidecut to hold up to higher speeds than we anticipated. The fully padded top makes it rideable sans bindings if you choose.
Capita X Spring Break
Lengths: 158, 161, 166
Corey Smith's Spring Break avant-garde creations have been limited to a lucky few who could get their hands on one until this collab. By borrowing a bit Capita's expertise these boards are built with a thick, yet light enough wood core for maximum float and that signature surf ping when you tap the topsheet. Each size is a completely different shape and feel. We rode the 161, which held a strong edge on cat roads and bobbed like an apple in water at the county fair thanks to the massive hammerhead nose and half-crescent tail.
Lengths: 153, 157, 162
Flow engineered the Darwin with a blunted nose and swallowtail for maximum float, but didn't skimp on designing the handling. We found the dual sets of carbon fiber stringers running from the tail points to the nose gave it an incredible amount of backseat support and turning stability even with such a small tail. The base area around the tail also has a set of Flow's Augmented Base Technology (ABT) bumps, which absorbed chatter and created a pivot point to initiate turns.
Lengths: 152, 156, 160, 164
The Hovercraft's versatile shape has earned it recognition from the lift lines of Squaw to the valleys of the Alps, and now Baldface Lodge. Its directional profile puts camber underfoot that transitions to rocker in the hefty nose, and allowed it hover in pow while subtleties like a three-dimensional base bevel around the tail contact points made for swift, soulful turns. We found the cambered middle section, mellow Magne-Traction, medium-stiff flex, and added carbon fiber stringers in the nose bolstered stability at speed and made landing easy despite the short tail.
What started as a piece of plywood in Austin Smith's garage is now a full-fledged powder board. The original homemade outline has been refined by Austin, Bryan Fox, and Nitro's engineers into a bold swallowtail with a burly nose we couldn't seem to sink. Standard camber throughout makes it powerful, predictable, poppy, and consistent in turns and the stiffer tail supported aggressive riding, while the cutout let it sink for surfy slashes.
Lengths: 152, 156, 160, 166
With the Epic, Signal set out to create a board that felt retro yet rode modern. They shaped the Powder Profile Core to have more wood underfoot and thinned it out between the bindings and outside the bindings towards the tip and tail. Combined with the blend of biaxial and triaxial fiberglasses the board had incredible flex and feel with a big ol’ nose that just chowed the pow. The dual-independent sidecut also gave it a nice blend of tight, twitchy turns and long, drawn-out carves at speed.
Lengths: 153, 158, 162
Whitegold's three-dimensional Triple Base Technology gives this board a spooned nose that noticeably lifted in soft snow. A similar, yet subtler design in the swallowtail allowed our weight to sink the back-end and toss up powder roosts. The combined curvatures also made for smoother arcing turns since the shape is already pre-bent and pre-curved. Carbon slabs down the centerline and toward the tip and tail contacts kept it poppy, stable and, powerful at speed and under aggressive riding. It's packing a splitboard-ready center stringer inside, too.
Lengths: 148, 152
Riding the 420 is reminiscent of pumping a wave or ticktacking a skateboard in a snowy way. Its short length is offset by its exaggerated width, minimal sidecut, and slight taper, which provides an ample amount of float and stability. Its rockered nose blends into a flat midsection for a comfortable blend of forgiveness and grip. Rather than a dramatic fish shape or a massive setback stance the board's short stature made it super playful and easy to whip around.