Snowboard Flex 101: Understanding the Meaning of Soft vs Stiff

Published on 05/27/2023 · 8 min readWhen shopping for a snowboard, you are going to hear a lot about the flex of different boards. So what does flex actually mean? Snowboard Expert Gaelen Mast tells us below!
Gaelen Mast, Snowboarding Expert
By Snowboarding Expert Gaelen Mast

Photo by Victor Rodvang

When it comes to selecting a snowboard, there are plenty of options to choose from and there’s much more to consider than just selecting the proper snowboard size! Each snowboard has its own set of characteristics, one of these characteristics being its flex rating. In this article, I’ll define what a snowboard flex really is, cover the different flex ratings a snowboard could have, and provide the pros and cons of each type of flex rating. Ultimately, by the end of this article, you’ll be able to determine which type of snowboard flex is best for you based on your snowboarding ride style.

Defining Snowboard Flex

Photo by Anna Shvets

When discussing different levels of flex ratings, we are describing the longitudinal flex of the snowboard or the flexibility of the snowboard length-wise from tip to tip. While there is another type of snowboard flex called torsional flex, which is the flex from edge to edge, it isn’t nearly as widely discussed. So when reading manufacturer descriptions for flex ratings, always assume they are referring to the longitudinal flex!

Longitudinal flex can come in two different forms: progressive or continuous. A progressive flex means that the flex is not consistent throughout the snowboard. For example, a snowboard with a progressive flex may have a softer nose and a stiffer tail. A continuous flex is a flex that remains consistent throughout the entire length of the snowboard from tip to tip!

Now that you actually understand where the flex in a snowboard is located, let’s break down the different types of flex ratings a snowboard can have. Typically, a snowboard will be given a rating of soft flex, medium flex, or stiff flex. Manufacturers will often rate their snowboards with a flex rating between 1 and 10 (1 being the softest and 10 being the stiffest), and while there’s no industry standard for what’s considered soft, medium or stiff, here’s a generally agreed-upon idea of where each flex rating falls:

  • 1-3 = soft flex rating
  • 4-6 = medium flex rating
  • 7-10 = stiff flex rating

Soft Flex

Pressing out a frontside boardslide no doubt with the help of a soft flexing snowboard! Photo by Felipe Giacometti

Pros: Snowboards with a soft flex rating offer several advantages over their stiffer counterparts. They’re easy to control and maneuver, especially at slower speeds. Energy is transferred slower through them so they’re much less punishing on jerky or sudden movements such as overcorrections. They also offer a playful feel, which is great for presses, butters, and doing tricks with ease!

Cons: Snowboards with softer flex ratings will not do well at high speeds. They lack stability and edge hold, and you will experience a significant amount of chatter from the nose and tail if you ride fast on a soft snowboard. They won’t handle well off-piste (non-groomed terrain) and you will find yourself washing out frequently if you try to push the limits on choppy terrain.

Who Is Soft Flex Best For?

Soft snowboards appeal to two main demographics: beginners and freestyle riders. For the reasons listed above, soft flexing boards are great to learn the basics because they won’t punish you and will give you the confidence to explore snowboarding without fear of constantly ending up on your butt. If you’re someone who is brand new to snowboarding, just mastering their green circle trails, or likes to ride mainly groomers at a slow pace, a soft flexing board is a great option! They’re also a great option for freestyle riders who like to get lots of pop out of their board and jib everything in sight because the soft flex makes it easy to do these things! However, they’re best for freestyle riders who mainly ride rails, boxes, and small jumps. Soft flexing boards will not hold up well on bigger jumps and/or halfpipes.

Ride Twinpig (left), and K2 First Lite (right)

  • Ride Twinpig: This is a men’s soft flexing rocker board with a twin shape and an exceptionally large waist-width, as it’s volume-shifted. It’s a popular option among freestyle riders who want something small and nimble that they can throw around in the park!
  • K2 First Lite: This is a women’s soft flexing snowboard with a directional twin shape and a flat profile that makes it quite different to catch an edge on, and therefore very approachable for novice riders!

Medium Flex

Getting into the carve, medium flexing boards provide enough versatility to take on terrain like this! Photo by Federico Persiani

Pros: Snowboards with a medium flex provide the most versatility out of any type of snowboard and they’re great for riding the entire mountain. They offer playfulness but also a decent amount of stability, and they’re somewhat forgiving but can also keep up with a more aggressive riding style. Due to their versatile nature, most all-mountain boards will have a medium flex rating!

Cons: While snowboards with a medium flex are good at a lot of things, they are great at nothing. That is to say, they don’t have any particular characteristic that makes them the obvious choice for a certain style of riding (in the way that soft flexing boards are objectively best for beginners because of their extremely forgiving nature).

Who Is Medium Flex Best For?

Medium flexing snowboards are a very solid choice for any rider who just wants to do a bit of everything all over the mountain. Due to their versatility, they can realistically be ridden by any level, although progressing beginner and intermediate riders will do best with them. If you spend your time on the mountain, riding multiple types of terrain (such as woods, groomers, and park), and just want one snowboard that will be able to perform decently in each element, a medium-flexing snowboard is the best option here!

Capita DOA (left), and Arbor Element Camber (right)

  • Capita DOA: This medium flexing snowboard is incredibly popular and is sought out by riders with all different styles. It’s designated as a freestyle/all-mountain board and it truly lives up to that name as you can ride it just about anywhere on the mountain and have fun!
  • Arbor Element Camber: This is one of those medium-flexing snowboards that is targeted toward the more advanced rider. As a cambered board, it offers a ton of edge grip for carving fast while also providing the versatility one would expect from a medium flexing board!

Stiff Flex

Hopefully, this snowboarder is riding a stiff flexing snowboard, otherwise, they’re in for a real unstable ride when they land! Photo by Mont Genevre

Pros: Snowboards with a stiff flex rating are all about performance…high-speed performance to be specific. Stiffness in a snowboard offers stability when carving even at incredibly fast speeds through choppy terrain. Stiff boards excel at off-piste riding, such as fresh powder, and therefore many snowboards with a stiff flex are oriented to freeride and/or powder boards.

Cons: Stiff flexing snowboards aren’t going to do well for jibbing or any sort of freestyle maneuvers, they simply don’t have the play in them. They’re also very unforgiving and slight mistakes will result in you getting tossed.

Who Is Stiff Flex Best For?

Stiff flexing boards are a great option for high-intermediate to advanced riders who specifically want to ride as much off-piste (powder, chunder, woods, backcountry, etc.) as possible! They’ll perform decently on groomers too and will be a blast if carving hard is your thing. However, they’re usually considered quiver boards (which are boards meant for one specific purpose) and are only taken out when conditions are appropriate for them.

  • K2 Excavator: This is a stiff flexing snowboard that wants nothing more than to shred all the chundery snow it can find! With a directional shape, a big ol’ nose, and a swallow tail, this board is very much at home floating through deep snow!
  • Lib Tech Golden Orca: This stiff flexing board leans heavily into the realm of freeriding, is volume shifted (meant to be ridden shorter than usual), and has a twin shape meaning it’s the ideal freeride board to take off of every cliff in sight and blast through the powder landing below!

It’s Not Just The Snowboard!

While it’s true that a snowboard’s flex rating is going to determine how it rides, your bindings and boots also play a role in how you’ll be riding. Bindings and boots also have their own flex ratings and if you want to get the most out of your board’s flex rating, it’s preferable to get bindings and boots with the same flex rating! With that being said, all of this comes down to preferences. There aren’t any rules in snowboarding and that’s the beauty of it. If you want to ride a stiff board as a beginner, go for it! It might not be advised, but as long as you’re educated on how your gear works (as you should be after reading this article), the rest is up to you! It’s all personal preference, so just experiment and do what feels right!

Need Gear?

After reading this article, perhaps you’ve realized you do need to switch up your gear a bit. Maybe you’ve been unintentionally sabotaging yourself by using a board that doesn’t suit your riding style. The good news is that it’s super easy to get the right gear! On Curated, you can connect with a Snowboard Expert (via chat or phone), tell them a general idea of what you’re looking for or looking to accomplish, and get personalized snowboard recommendations all for FREE! If you find something you love (which I think you will!) you can order directly from the site and have your new shred stick at your front door in just a few days!

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