Snowboards: How to Choose the Best Snowboard for YouPublished on 04/20/2023 · 11 min readWith hundreds of snowboard options, how do you choose the right one? We've got you covered! Snowboarding Expert Gaelen Mast details how to choose the right board!
Photo courtesy of Arbor
tl;dr To a beginner, all snowboards may seem the same. Though the truth is, there are many different types of boards out there, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and use cases. When choosing a new snowboard, riders must consider the size of the board as well as its profile, flex, and shape. All of these factors play a role in the board’s intended ability level and intended purpose.
My name is Gaelen and I’ve devoted more than half of my life to the intricacies of the snowboard industry. Over the past 11 years, I’ve worked at multiple mountain resorts as a snowboard rental technician as well as in a snowboard shop. I’ve also worked with thousands of customers at Curated to help them find the right board for their specific needs! I’ve had the privilege of snowboarding over 50 days each year in locations such as Vermont, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska, and I’ve been able to extensively test several dozen of the most popular snowboards on the market. What I mean is: I know snowboard technology like the back of my hand. Now, I hope to share with you an overview of this information and answer common questions to better aid you in choosing your next snowboard with confidence!
What to Consider When Buying a New Snowboard
What’s My Ability Level?
All snowboards feature an “intended ability level”, which includes beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert. While these “intended ability levels” may differ from brand to brand, it's important to use common sense. That means not selecting an advanced board if you've never ridden before, or a beginner board if you’re an advanced rider. For our new riders, check out our guide to buying a beginner snowboard.
How Do I Determine the Appropriate Length?
Even if you are spot on with choosing a board that is the right type and ability level for you, it won’t mean much if you choose the incorrect size. Traditional sizing methods include standing a board on edge and measuring until your chin, or using an online snowboard sizing chart. Though these neglect to include the most important aspect of sizing a snowboard: your body weight.
For this, most brands provide size charts with corresponding weight brackets on their websites. While there’s no “perfect” size—in fact, your preference may be for a slightly longer or shorter board—it’s crucial to pick a board size that your weight is suitable for.
Does Snowboard Brand Matter?
Most brands on the market are reputable and professional quality. With that being said, avoid shopping for boards from Amazon or Walmart: these sites have been known to feature low-quality snowboards from companies who don’t specialize in this technology.
Contrary to what you may hear from friends, there isn’t any one “best” snowboard brand. Each company simply caters to different board and riding styles. The best snowboard brand for you will depend on your needs and wants.
How Much Should a Snowboard Cost?
Board price may vary anywhere from $300–900. The lower end of that range includes beginner-friendly or all-mountain boards, and the higher end is made up of advanced or very specialized boards, like powder boards. I find the sweet spot is about $450–600; boards in this range are solid quality, and most riders do not need to pay more for a board that’ll suit their ability level.
What Are the Different Types of Snowboards?
There are four main types of snowboards: all-mountain, freestyle, powder, and freeride. When purchasing a new board, it’s important for riders to choose a board type that aligns with their riding style. If you’re not sure what riding style category you fall into, I recommend opting for an all-mountain board, which are versatile and perform in any terrain.
As its name suggests, an all-mountain board is designed to provide maximum versatility. It allows riders to conquer all conditions and terrains. There are all-mountain boards designed for every ability level—from beginner to expert—so keep an eye on a board’s intended skill level before purchasing.
New riders, and riders who aren’t sure of what riding-style category they fall into, should opt for an all-mountain board. These boards are the most well-rounded, and will let you explore different types of terrain as you progress.
All-mountain boards are a great option if you want to ride powder one day and switch to the terrain park the next. But while an all mountain is good at everything, it will not be the best at any specific type of terrain.
- Incredibly versatile, meant to ride any and all types of terrain
- Allow beginners the freedom to explore and figure out what sort of terrain they like
- Good at everything, but not the best at anything
- Crucial for new riders to choose a beginner-friendly board
Freestyle boards are designed to excel in the terrain park. That means on box and rail jumps and when buttering. While some freestyle boards can do it all, others are more limited: excelling at rails or boxes but not jumps—or vice versa.
Before purchasing, freestyle riders should ask themselves how much they realistically ride other terrain. While dedicated freestyle snowboards are amazing in the park, they generally perform poorly on the rest of the mountain—especially at speed and on ungroomed terrain.
For those who’d like a snowboard that can handle most types of terrain but still excels in the terrain park, consider an all-mountain/freestyle hybrid.
- Designed to excel in a freestyle setting
- Typically beginner-friendly, as beginner boards and park boards share many characteristics
- Typically don’t handle terrain that’s outside the park well
These boards feature a unique shape and profile that gives them maximum float through the deep stuff. That being said, powder boards lag behind in their performance on other types of terrain. So, they should be reserved for those days when there are six or more inches of powder on the ground. Due to their lack of versatility, these boards should be avoided by beginners.
- Perform better in deep/fresh snow than any other type of board
- Not beginner-friendly
- Typically don’t perform well in groomed conditions
Freeride boards are much more versatile than powder boards. They give riders the ability to navigate both powder and other terrain—including groomed conditions. However, I’d advise true beginners to avoid freeride boards, as they’re usually intended for use by intermediate, advanced, and expert riders.
- Can handle aggressive riding and powder
- More versatile than powder boards, as they handle groomed conditions well
- Typically not intended for beginners—get onto blue trails before considering this type of board
- Don’t perform well in a terrain park setting
Splitboards are only used in the backcountry, where there is no lift access and one must hike up before snowboarding down. To ascend a hill, a splitboard detaches into two skis before being reformed into a snowboard in order to ride down.
Because the majority of riders recreate at ski resorts, this type of board is often unnecessary. And because navigating out-of-bounds terrain can be dangerous and tricky, they’re mostly intended for use by advanced riders.
- Make it easier to access backcountry terrain
- Can be used to ascend ungroomed terrain
- Backcountry is difficult and dangerous, and beginners should absolutely avoid purchasing a splitboard as their first snowboard
- Generally the most expensive type of snowboard on the market
Key Features to Consider When Buying a Snowboard
When it comes to picking a snowboard, the intended ability level and type of snowboard are determined by several key features including profile, flex, and shape.
A snowboard’s profile refers to how it bends when it lays on a flat surface. The three main types of profiles are camber, rocker, and hybrid.
Camber: Full camber snowboards provide a more energetic and powerful ride with better edge hold when carving, more pop to get into the air, and are typically more stable at speed. When viewing them from the side, their bend resembles an arc. Though keep in mind, camber boards are more prone to catch an edge and demand more attention when riding, so they aren’t recommended for beginners.
Rocker: Rocker profiles (sometimes called reverse camber) resemble an upside arc—or a “U”—when viewed from the side. These boards provide easy turn initiation, a more playful feel, and are less likely to accidentally catch an edge. For these reasons, they are often recommended for beginners.
Rocker boards also offer amazing float in powder. However, they do not handle speed well, and will “chatter” (vibrate) at high speeds. They also don’t hold an edge as well as camber boards. So if you’re a hard-charger, choosing a fully/mostly rocker board isn’t a great choice.
Hybrid: Nowadays, most boards on the market feature a “hybrid” profile. That is, a profile that contains both rocker and camber, so riders can reap the benefits of both.
As seen below, hybrid snowboard profiles feature different amounts of rocker and camber in the tips and between the bindings. Hybrid camber and hybrid rocker profiles are seen in all types of boards from all-mountain to freeride to freestyle. Whereas backseat camber profiles are typically reserved for powder boards.
Every snowboard comes with a flex rating which plays a crucial role in how the board responds. While all companies rate their board’s flex from 1–10 (with 1 being the softest, and 10 being the stiffest), the exact feel varies from brand to brand.
Typically, softer boards are easier to ride, more forgiving, but less stable at speeds. Stiffer boards are much more stable at speed, more responsive, handle variable terrain well, but take more effort to control. Medium flexing boards aim to provide a balance between stability and an easy-going ride.
The three main snowboard shapes are true twin, directional, and directional twin.
True Twin: A true twin is a board that is totally symmetrical from nose to tail. This shape is the easiest to ride switch (backward) on, so it’s a popular option for freestyle riders and beginners still figuring out which foot they want to lead with.
Directional: A directional snowboard features a nose and a tail that look significantly different. Oftentimes, the nose will also be much larger than the tail. These boards are designed to go one direction, and excel in riding in fresh powder.
Directional Twin: A directional twin closely resembles a true twin, with a nose and the tail that are roughly the same shape. However, it features a slight setback stance, causing the nose to be slightly larger than the tail.
These boards are designed for fresh snow, but also perform well in groomed conditions. This shape can be seen in virtually any type of snowboard, but is most common on freeride boards.
Volume-Shifted: While technically not a shape, volume-shifted snowboards are quickly gaining popularity. They feature a larger waist width and are meant to be ridden 3–6cms shorter than usual. To learn more about their benefits, check out my Expert Guide to Volume Shifted Snowboards.
How to Choose the Right Board for You
Below are three different types of riders I’ve helped on Curated, and the key factors I considered before suggesting a board for them.
Thomas: A Newby
Thomas is brand new to snowboarding. So new he’s never even been on a lift before. He hopes to find a board that’s easy-going and will make the learning process a breeze.
Features Thomas should look for:
- Full rocker for easy turn initiation
- A soft flex for a forgiving feel
- A true twin or directional twin to figure out which foot he leads with
Maria: Outgrowing Her Beginner Setup
Maria is confident on greens and blues and likes to ride fast when the trails are wide open. She’s also starting to explore ungroomed terrain like tree runs. While she’s finding that the beginner board she bought years ago is beginning to feel unstable, she’s worried about getting a board that’s too advanced for her.
Features Maria should look for:
- A hybrid profile to get the benefits from both rocker and camber
- A medium flex for an easy-going ride with more stability
- A directional twin shape for exploring ungroomed terrain
Jon: A Hard Charger
Jon is about as hard-charging as they come. He prefers to spend all his time snowboarding off the beaten path in the powder and woods. He loves nothing more than to ride fast and hard, so he wants to know his board can keep up with him. While he’ll catch air whenever he can, he’s not much of a park rider.
Features Jon should look for:
- A full camber or camber dominant profile for maxim power, stability, and edge hold
- A medium/stiff flex for maximum responsiveness and stability
- A directional shape for the best float in powder
Connect With a Real Expert
As we’ve seen, while there’s no “perfect” snowboard out there for you, there are a variety of factors you can take into account to pick a board that will suit your needs. Though if you’re still feeling as if you’d like some guidance or a second opinion, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or my fellow Curated Experts for free, customized gear recommendations. Happy shredding!