What Are Snowboards Made Of and How Does That Impact Your Ride?Published on 09/20/2023 · 7 min readEver been curious about the materials making up your snowboard and how different materials might affect how a board feels? Read on to find out more!
Photo by Dragana Gordic
When it comes to snowboards, you've got many options! There are dozens of brands to choose from. Even if you can narrow it down to a single brand, you're then met with many other variables, such as the board shape, flex rating, profile, graphics, and base type, just to name a few!
But, have you ever wondered what snowboards are made of and, more importantly, how the materials a snowboard is made of could affect its durability and performance? I aim to discuss that in this article today, so if you're curious, read on!
Hi, my name is Gaelen. I'm a snowboarder based in Vermont and have spent over half my life riding. I've also been working as a Snowboarding Expert at Curated.com for several years. It's safe to say I'm pretty obsessed with snowboarding. I'm constantly trying to learn more about different board technologies to give Curated customers the best possible experience when advising them on what board to buy! With that being said, let's dive into the nitty-gritty of how snowboards are built, what they're built with, and how different materials can impact your ride.
A snowboard topsheet is pretty self-explanatory. It's the topmost layer of the board. It is easily identifiable because of the graphic you can see when you look down while riding your board. Topsheets can be made with quite a few different materials. Let's explore some of them!
Nylon topsheets are best known for being lightweight and decently durable, and they don’t scuff so easily. However, they’re also prone to moisture absorption, which can lead to your board potentially delaminating down the line.
Wooden topsheets, or more specifically wood veneer, are a thin layer of natural hardwood that can give snowboards a more natural look. Many boards from the Arbor brand, like the Arbor Wasteland, use this sort of topsheet. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, wooden topsheets can provide a dampening effect, making them great for riders who want to ride at high speeds on ungroomed terrain. Their big downside is that they can be damaged more easily than other topsheets as wood is less durable than other potential topsheet materials.
While it’s uncommon for manufacturers to make fiberglass topsheets due to associated costs, it happens occasionally. These topsheets are known to be durable and provide a stiffer board feel, which translates to extra stability for a rider. This can benefit riders who need all the torsional stiffness they can get in a board for more aggressive riding.
Topsheets that use polyurethane are durable while remaining flexible (which can be a tricky combination). They also have natural dampening properties, which is great for riders who may ride lots of ungroomed snow. The main drawbacks are that they are heavier than some other topsheets and can raise the overall price of the board as they tend to be more expensive to produce.
This is not an exhaustive list of every type of topsheet material out there, but rather just some of the more common ones. While it’s great to understand different topsheet technologies, please don’t sweat these smaller details. Topsheet material is perhaps the least important aspect of a snowboard’s construction.
The wood core of a snowboard is by far the most important part because it's what gives it the majority of its riding characteristics! This core is built by pressing and gluing several laminated wood strips together, like a sandwich construction. As you might imagine, there's a lot of room for variables regarding what core materials are used. Here are some of the most common wood materials:
- Birch: Birchwood is on the denser/stiffer side, which means boards with this core offer good torsional stiffness and edge hold without the downside of requiring more energy to control. This makes them suitable for aggressive riding styles, such as freeride, but not ideal for beginners.
- Maple: Maple wood is even denser and more rigid than birch, so boards with this control are typically very stable at high speeds and provide excellent edge control in gnarly terrain, but like birch, they’re not suitable for beginners.
- Aspen: Aspen wood is extremely lightweight and flexible, making boards with this core quite forgiving and easy to learn on. Therefore, they’re most suitable for beginners or riders who want a softer, more playful board. They’re not ideal for high-speed or aggressive riding.
- Bamboo: Bamboo is both lightweight and strong, which makes boards with this core lively and responsive. They’re great for all riding types and abilities!
- Paulownia: Paulownia is another lightweight wood that balances weight reduction and performance well. Boards with this core are commonly powder and freestyle-oriented as less weight is typically considered better for these riding styles.
Some brands will also use a mixture of these woods in their core to combine each core type's benefits.
Snowboard edges are probably the most identifiable part of a snowboard. However, the metal strips run along the sides of the board. These edges are also very important to the board's performance. They can affect how well your snowboard carves and handles different types of terrain and snow conditions. The main factors affecting a snowboard's edge and its performance are its side-cut sharpness and stiffness.
Steel is the most common edge material used for snowboards. Steel edges are standard across the industry because they are durable (think how many things your snowboard edges come in contact with other than snow). They typically only require minimal maintenance, such as sharpening and cleaning.
Stainless steel has all the benefits of a steel edge but with less rusting, as stainless steel is rust-resistant.
Aluminum edges are lighter than steel, meaning it’s commonly used on boards where weight is an important factor (think freestyle or powder). However, it’s generally not as durable and is more likely to be damaged by rocks, trees, skiers riding over your board in the lift line, and whatever else you might encounter on the mountain.
A snowboard base is the bottommost layer and the layer that comes in contact with the snow when you're riding an “exclamation point.” Bases are easily identifiable because they sport sweet graphics that can be seen on the bottom of boards. All bases are made from ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (commonly known as P-Tex). Still, there are two types of P-Tex bases, which both have unique advantages and disadvantages:
Extruded P-Tex Base
Extruded bases typically have a low cost of ownership because they’re cheaper to produce (meaning they keep the total cost of the board down). They require fewer repairs and less frequent wax applications than the other bases below. However, they tend to be on the slower side and can cause a snowboard to reach its maximum speed easier.
Sintered P-Tex Base
Sintered bases are typically faster than extruded bases. However, they’re also typically more expensive to produce, which can increase board pricing. They also require more frequent wax applications, making them more expensive to maintain properly. Unique to sintered bases, a number is sometimes included (for example, sintered 5,000). This number indicates the material's molecular weight; the higher the number, the higher the base quality.
What Is Your Snowboard Made Out Of?
Now that you’ve reached the end of this article, hopefully, you have a general understanding of the different materials that can be used in snowboard topsheets, cores, edges, and bases and how they’ll affect your riding. The more knowledge, the more informed of a decision you’ll be able to make about your next board, or, at the very least, you’ll have a couple of fun facts you can whip out next time there's an awkward silence on the ski lift!
If you're interested in buying some new snowboard gear, whether it be a board, bindings, boots, or other accessories (like a helmet or goggles), a Curated Snowboarding Expert like myself is here to help! Feel free to reach out to one of us for free, personalized advice.