Winter 2011 Buyers’ Guide: Boards
by TJ Parsons
Almost every snowboard company has a pile of proprietary technologies these days, but three general components determine how any board rides: camber, construction, and shape. Check out the video to see a few of our favorites, and read on to learn about the nitty-gritty details that make a big difference in how each deck performs on the hill.
With more camber designs available than ever before, trying to choose one can be overwhelming. But don’t despair—if you cut through all the marketing lingo and trademark symbols, pretty much every board fits into one of these four categories. Not so bad, huh?
The tried-and-true snowboard design, traditional camber offers the best edge control, high-speed stability, and ollie power of any board profile. Camber’s pre-loaded shape springs you out of turns and off kickers, and also helps you stomp landings without washing out. However, camber isn’t without its drawbacks: it’s not super forgiving when it comes to sketchy landings, which makes it easier to catch an edge when things aren’t going as planned. And since camber naturally pulls the nose and tail toward the snow, most people have to size up or set their stance way back to get enough float for shredding the deep stuff. All that said, a huge number of pros still prefer camber snowboards for their rock-solid edge grip and reliable pop.
Shop Traditional Camber Boards here.
Reverse-camber (also known as rocker) boards offer a distinctly different ride from traditional camber by raising the board’s contact points off the snow, and making it almost impossible to catch your edge. This results in a playful, forgiving feel that’s often compared to riding a skateboard with loose trucks. Because of the elevated tip and tail, rocker boards float in powder amazingly well, even on a slightly shorter board with a centered stance. Butters and presses are almost effortless, although rocker boards do tend to sacrifice some edge grip and pop when compared to traditional-camber boards. Rocker may not be your thing if you’re into laying down high-speed Euro carves on groomers all day, but for park and all-mountain freestyle riders who want to boost their bag of tricks, it’s a super-fun option.
Shop Reverse Camber Boards here.
Designed to blend the best features of both reverse and traditional camber, hybrid-camber boards are a great option for aggressive all-mountain riders who want the forgiveness and float of rocker without losing the turning power and pop of traditional camber. There are quite a few variations on this one, but most involve rocker between your feet and camber somewhere between the binding inserts and the nose/tail. When compared to full-rocker boards, hybrid-camber decks sacrifice a bit of deep-snow float, but they also provide superior grip through choppy runouts or while riding in icy conditions. If you like learning new tricks but you’re hesitant about giving up too much edge control, hybrid camber might be a good match.
Shop Hybrid Camber Boards here.
Flat snowboards deliver a ride somewhere between traditional camber and hybrid-camber. With a totally flat shape, these boards allow you to engage the entire edge more effectively than a tip-to-tail rocker board, which improves control at high speed (when you need your edges most). Since the entire board isn’t curved upward, flat camber profiles often give you better leverage for ollies than reverse-camber boards, although not as much as you'd get with traditional camber. A flat board's feel is often compared to riding a broken-in traditional-camber board that’s lost a little of its aggressiveness, but gained some playfulness and stompability. Depending on the particular board’s construction and shape, flat boards can appeal to everybody from rail rats to versatile all-mountain gurus.
Shop Flat Boards here.
Camber profile is just one piece of the puzzle—a snowboard’s core materials, fiberglass layers, and other ingredients can make boards with very similar camber profiles ride very differently.
A snowboard’s core is kind of like its backbone—because the rest of the board is wrapped around the core, it plays a major part in determining a board’s feel and flex. The vast majority of snowboards use tip-to-tail wood, although there are some lower-priced boards with wood composite cores, which keep costs down. Makers of higher-end wood cores strategically blend multiple types of wood to deliver a dialed-in flex at minimal weight, and a few boards out there even have crazy core materials like NASA-grade aluminum honeycomb. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for, and more expensive boards usually feature lighter, more responsive cores that dampen vibrations more effectively and maintain their flex over time.
Without some kind of laminate, snowboards would just be floppy, oversized pieces of wood (insert immature snicker here). Most companies use various fiberglass wraps to dial in the flex of their boards; although, in the last few years, a few manufacturers have started experimenting with alternative materials like basalt fibers. As a general rule, the more layers of fiberglass/basalt/unicorn hairs a snowboard is laminated with, the snappier, stiffer, and more responsive it will be. So, a soft park board is most likely to have a biaxial layout (two sheets, perpendicular to each other) for mellow, forgiving landings, while a meaty freeride board will probably have three or four layers, all placed to maximize edge-to-edge response and turning power.
To complement the fiberglass layout, many boards feature extra goodies to achieve the finished product’s desired flex. Carbon is one of the most commonly used materials, as it provides great, poppy reinforcement without adding much weight. Depending on how it’s laid out, carbon is useful for almost everything—from adding extra pop to a noodly jib stick to beefing up edge grip on a more aggressive all-mountain board.
Even though snowboard companies seem to love making up names for their base materials, there are still only two basic types: sintered and extruded. Sintered bases absorb more wax and are much faster, though they require more frequent tuning than extruded bases. The upside to extruded bases is that they’re durable, low-maintenance, and easy to repair once you gouge ‘em up. If you like hauling ass and don’t mind waxing, sintered is the way to go. If you never tune your board and spend most of your time sliding rails and boxes, extruded will work just fine.
Unless you’re shopping at your local Mall-Mart for a P.O.S. lunch tray, you'll find full metal edges on every snowboard out there. Several companies now offer edge technologies designed to further increase grip and control on firm snow. From fully serrated edges that add multiple contact points, to subtle binding-zone extensions, the goal is the same: increase control in all conditions by helping your edges grip when you need ‘em to.
If your daily routine involves a heavy dose of jibbing, a board with a park-specific edge tune might be a good idea. Most snowboards come out of the box with a one-degree base bevel (the edge’s angle when compared to the flat base). Some park boards bump that number up to two or three degrees, and it makes a big difference in avoiding some pretty rugged slams when hanging up on rails or boxes.
Finally, if you’ve had bad luck with impact damage from rails or rocks, a board with reinforced sidewalls might be worth a look. Vibration-absorbing urethane, sintered P-Tex, and beefy dual-angled ABS sidewalls are just a few of the options here.
With a perfectly symmetrical nose and tail, twin-tip boards are usually designed for freestyle riding, as they offer predictable takeoffs and landings both regular and switch. True-twin boards feature a totally symmetrical shape and flex, while directional-twin boards are a touch stiffer in the tail for extra all-mountain stability.
Directional snowboards are the same width at the nose and tail, but feature a longer, higher nose for easy turn initiation and better float in deep snow. It’s certainly not impossible to ride a directional board switch, but with a slightly set-back stance, it’ll feel a touch squirrely compared to a twin board. Most all-mountain snowboards fall into this category.
A tapered board is wider at the nose than it is at the tail, which makes it super easy to tip the board on edge and lock into carves. Stance inserts on tapered boards are usually significantly set back, so good luck riding switch. More often than not, these boards are designed for high-speed freeriding, and floating on top of super-deep snow after a serious dump.