Where your nose is, does not determine what size of snowboard you should ride!
Or your chin, ears, shoulders or any other body part for that matter. These are the silliest rules for sizing boards that could possibly be imagined, and yet they persist. We hear new ones everyday, "my friend told me that a board should come to in between my chin and my nose." Why, are you planning to nibble on it? These generalities are good ways to end up with a completely inappropriate board. Why do such rules exist, you ask? It is due to the fact that finding the right board takes a bit of research and knowledge. The easy way, however incorrect, is much quicker. A snowboard reacts to only two factors, how much pressure is being applied to it (weight), and where that pressure is coming from (shoe size). Boards are designed around riders of a certain weight. The total weight range for a given board will be around 50 pounds (although manufacturers tend to exaggerate this range to make their products sellable to a wider variety of customers). Two men who stand six feet tall and have there noses at identical heights, may be separated by 100 pounds of weight. This would change the boards they should ride by two entire categories of stiffness, and length. You will also want to make sure that the board is appropriate for your shoe size. One half to three quarters of an inch of overhang (yes, overhang) off the edge of your board is ideal (when wearing snowboard boots, and measured at the stance angle that you will ride). We will discuss this more below when we address width in detail.
There is no best level of stiffness for a board!
At least five times a day we hear,"the guy at mountain told me that I want a soft board." This is the part that we were discussing above that relates to weight. Snowboards react to pressure that is applied to that hourglass shape (sidecut) that they have. This shape, when flexed, creates an arc on the snow. You are planning on turning on that arc. If you can't flex the sidecut into the snow (because the board is too stiff for you) you simply can't turn well, or not at all. If the board is too soft for your weight, it will constantly be overflexing, and "twisting off" of the edge that you are relying on to carve. In this scenario you will have a terrible time on hardpack and ice, because the "effective edge" (amount of edge that should be in contact with the snow) will be twisted out of shape, and not doing it's job. Softer flexing boards tend to be better for lighter riders, while stiffer boards are needed for the big boys. Only for extreme freestyle, or extreme race applications, should this rule be broken (and in those instances, a second board will be needed for all mountain riding).
Buying by length is the hardest way to end up with the right board!
"My last board was a 156, and I liked it, so tell me about the 156's that you carry." The trick here, is that two boards of identical length, may be designed for completely different riders and types of riding. For example a 156 may be a "big mountain board" for a small woman, or a "park" board for a big guy, depending on the manufacturer's design plan. Those two boards, however, would never be appropriate for the same rider. Length is often discussed in terms of: longer equals faster, and more stable, while shorter equals more maneuverable. This can also be deceptive. The "running surface" of a board (the base area that contacts the snow) is a useful measurement, because this is the amount of board that you actually are riding upon. The overall length (the measurement usually considered) can be misleading, as it also contains the raised tip and tail, which do not contact the snow, and have only nuance differences in affecting your ride. Your best bet is research. Look into who the board was made for, and for what type of riding. Leave the rules of thumb to the rental guys, who are trying to get through the line of renters as quickly as possible, and get on the slopes (can't blame 'em for that).
Wide boards are not usually the answer!
"You have size 11 feet so you need a wide board." True, if you want to ride the slowest, least maneuverable board you could buy. Remember, wide rides can fix your "toe drag" problem in an instance. But, you will end up with three worse problems to take it's place. Namely, Lack of speed, sluggish heel/toe response, and more "lateral flex" (the tendency that all boards have to twist off of an edge). Toe drag is only one problem, and it is livable, with many good workarounds such as: appropriate forward binding angles, well designed boots and bindings, and good binding adjustment. It is important to note that your toes and heels (with boots on) must hang over the edge of your board at least one half inch. This is necessary for leverage over the edge, to make the board carve correctly. Many believe that the only benefit to wide boards, is for pure park and freestyle riding, at close to zero degree stance angles, with huge feet. One final note: there is a very good reason why wide board sales are in decline, and used wide boards are the most common trade ins on the market today.
Definition of Board Types
Freestyle, park, and halfpipe: These boards are generally the shortest boards that a given rider will select from his/her range. The stubby shapes and shallow sidecuts are optimized for trick riding on "flatland" or manmade "terrain parks", halfpipes and natural formations. These generally softer boards are designed to get instantly on edge, but lack a lot of carving potential when they get there. These are one trick ponies, and are not usually the only board for the riders who buy them.
Freeride, all mountain, and freestyle/freeride boards: This is the catch all category in snowboarding. It refers to boards that do everything pretty well. They can be taken into the halfpipe, or ridden at mach one speeds. They are not designed to win halfpipe events, or compete with race boards on the course.
Slalom/Race boards: These specialty boards are easily identified by only having one raised tip (the nose) and a flat tail. They do one thing exceptionally well. They go fast in hardpack conditions. They are not optimal for other types of riding. Big Mountain: A term sometimes used for the biggest possible freeride board that a given user would choose. This is the one you take heli-boarding to Valdez.
What about sidecut?
As noted above when discussing freestyle boards, sidecut greatly determines the type of turn that a board "wants" to do. The deeper the sidecut, the more aggressively the board wants to turn. Some boards have symmetrical sidecuts while others have progressive sidecuts. This effects the feel of the board through a turn. Progressive sidecut boards tend to flare out at the tail and are designed to "kick" the rider out of a turn, while symmetrical boards are smoother when riding "fakie" or "switch" (backwards).
Directional or twin:
All boards today, outside of race boards and the occasional concept board, are really twins. This means that both tip and tail are raised from the snow, and that the board can be ridden switch. The distinction then, should really be between "pure twins" and "directional twins". A pure twin is a board that is shaped identically on each side of it's center point, and has the same flex pattern in it's nose and tail. A directional twin will either have a longer nose than tail, or a softer nose than tail (and many times both). This is a game of nuance and will make less difference to the ride than other features. Here is a summary of the effects of these properties: Longer noses tend to ride up better over powder, but spin slower due to added rotational weight. Softer noses will also help in powder, but are a little unstable when riding switch.
Don't spend too much time debating tip and tail construction:
Many first time buyers become focused on the differences between
manufacturer's approaches towards tip and tail construction. Some brands
argue that wood in the ends is the way to go for a consistent flex
pattern. Others state that you need fiberglass for low swing weight. Some
argue that extra metal edge should be laid in, to protect from damage,
while others feel this added weight is unacceptable. Truth is, it really
doesn't matter much at all. First off, most boards are damaged in the
pickup on the way up the hill or by trying to jam the tail into snow that
turns out not to be snow on the way in to grab a burger, or by the baggage
handlers at La Guardia. No type of end structure will prevent against
this. Metal edges all around, when struck hard, often wedge themselves
into the board, creating more damage than had they not been there. On the
other hand, the weight of the small amount of metal added, can barely be
felt by even the most seasoned rider. Similarly, wood in the tip, adds
almost no weight, but doesn't really enhance the ride either. Let's face
it, you don't spend that much time doing "manuals" (tail wheelies) and
when you do , the difference is negligible. The downside of having wood to
the end is that if the board does sustain edge damage to the core, the
wood will absorb moisture and is much trickier to fix. The bottom line is,
be careful with whatever board you choose, and don't let this be the
All boards are not created equal:
There are many different constructions of snowboards. You want to be sure to buy one of the better construction methods. Wood is good. Vertically laminated, wood core, cap construction snowboards are the state of the art in the industry today. The wood lasts, and the cap (the structural wrapper that covers the wood from edge to edge) helps to torsionally stiffen the product, keeping the edges firmly planted in snow or ice. Sidewall or sandwich boards are good as well, although usually considered a small step down from their capped brothers. This is older ski technology. The boards, instead of having a top and bottom like the capped boards, have a top, bottom and two laid in "sidewalls". This adds weight and can leave an opportunity for lateral flex to creep into the picture. Foam core boards used to all be considered inferior (and for a long time they were). The foam inside did little to reduce twist, and didn't give the same confident ride as good old wood. Some hybrid boards with composites of foams, metals, and thermoplastics, have made headway in the marketplace, but have not received the widespread rider support of wood yet. Reaction injection molded boards (RIM), and all foam boards, make up the lowest end of the marketplace. Be careful of the former, as they are sometimes the ones that most aggressively state "WOOD CORE", knowing well that the wood is just a wafer floating in foam or resin, only there for bragging rights in advertisement, and not capable of any potential gain except weight gain.
It is very likely that the company whose name is on the board, did not
manufacture the board. Snowboarding is an OEM (Original Equipment
Manufacturer) marketplace. Many companies pay other manufacturers to
produce some or all of their boards for them. In many instances one board
company will have boards produced for them by many factories. You would be
surprised at how many different brands have their boards pressed in the
same factories. That being said, it becomes much more crucial to determine
what construction method was used (see number 8) than what brand label is
on the topsheet. One major manufacturer used to grade label it's boards
from "banana split" to "single scoop." Let's just say, your better off
riding a premium, wood core, cap construction board, out of a great
factory, from any brand, than anyone else's single scoop. Sorry Jake!
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