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Buyer's guide for all-mountain, freeride, freestyle and jib snowboards

Snowboards by Jones, K2, Gnu and Lib Tech for different riding styles
Snowboards by Jones, K2, Gnu and Lib Tech for different riding styles

1. Riding level: your skill on a board

The riding level is good you are at snowboarding. This level ranges from beginner and advanced to expert. Be honest with yourself and don’t overestimate or underestimate your own skills! An expert snowboard will be more difficult to handle than is necessary for a beginner; an intermediate rider will not reach his full potential on a beginner board and an expert level rider could find an entry level snowboard boring.

1.1 Beginner: it's easy to get started

Shorter and softer boards are suitable for beginners even if you've never stood on a board before or have already made your first few turns. These boards make your first turns and tricks easier.

1.2 Advanced: mastering snowboarding

An advanced snowboarder is comfortable all over the mountain. You might have bagged your first airtime and tried a few tricks or you prefer dipping off-piste. At this level, you can cope with almost every board and you start favouring one type of riding or snowboard shape over another.

1.3 Expert: years of experience

Do you call yourself an expert rider? Then you should have control over your board in every situation. Razor-sharp turns on the slope, switch riding at the park and bomb drops in the backcountry are part of your daily business. You might already know which profiles and shapes suit your riding style and you have an idea about which board to get next. You won’t just have one anyway.

2. Riding style: how do you ride?

As a beginner you’re best served with an all-mountain board, because you can ride it in any terrain. If you want to ride in the park or in powder there are options which are better adapted to that particular terrain.

2.1 All-mountain: The whole resort is your playground

An all-mountain board can ride in any terrain. Beginners will quickly get used to the characteristics of the board and will probably progress rapidly. Most of these boards are directional or directional twin. The binding position is either in the centre or slightly set back.

All-mountain snowboards for piste, backcountry and park
Rider: Elias Elhardt. Photo: Markus Rohrbacher.

2.2 Freeride: feeling at home off-piste

Freeride boards usually have a directional shape. You’ll have more buoyancy in powder conditions due to the greater surface area of the wider nose. The nose stays above the snow because of the setback. With this setup particularly the pressure on your back leg is reduced and you need to put less weight on it.

Freeride and powder boards are available in different shapes. Manufacturers like Jones SnowboardsBurton and Nitro offer a large selection which you can choose from.

In the past few years very short but extremely wide powder boards with unusual shapes have been introduced to the market. Despite their length these boards offer awesome buoyancy and fun off the piste.

Freeride snowboards at Blue Tomato
Ready for freeriding

2.3 Freestyle: the park is your home

Most freestyle snowboards have a twin shape with a central binding position and the same length for the nose and the tail. You can ride it forward just as easily as backwards. Boards for the entire park – from boxes and rails to kickers – are a bit softer and usually a bit shorter, which makes them also more suitable for beginners. When riding big kickers a stiffer board will offer more control but also requires more skill from the rider. GnuCapita and Salomon are some of the renowned manufacturers of freestyle weapons.

Freestyle snowboards at Blue Tomato
Photo: Rossignol

2.4 Jib: rails and boxes are your first choice

Jib boards are typically shorter, softer and ride perfectly on boxes and rails. The edges are pulled up a little more than usual to avoid hang-ups on metal rails and usually are more durable. To be able to ride a jib snowboard you should already have some experience with turns and slides. These boards are really fun when you’re confident on your board.  Brands like RomeNitroArborBataleon and many others have the right boards for you.

Sparrow Knox jibbing the container
Rider: Sparrow Knox. Photo: Matt Georges, Lobster.

2.5 Splitboards: freeride touring in the backcountry

Splitboards are for freeriding in the backcountry. You split these snowboards into two separate skis, which makes the hike to the summit easier and more comfortable. Those boards require a special splitboard binding, too, which you can mount like a touring ski binding when the board is split and as a snowboard binding when putting the board back together. At the summit, you can transform your “skis” back into a snowboard and ride untouched powder fields. Proper safety equipment, especially an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe as well as an avalanche backpack are essential for riding off-piste since backcountry riding often comes with a higher risk of avalanches. Also, make sure to have snacks and drinks with you in your backpack because touring takes lots of energy. Burton and Jones Snowboards are two prominent manufacturers of these touring boards.

Splitboards at Blue Tomato
Ascending with a splitboard

3. Profile: How your board lies on the snow

When talking about different profiles snowboarders mean the different preloads in the board and how the board lies on the snow. Depending on the profile the board parts near the nose and tail may make up the only contact points with the snow for example (positive preload; camber profile) or the board may lie flat on the snow with only the nose and tail bending up (zero preload; flat profile). We differentiate between five different shapes:

  • Camber
  • Rocker
  • Powder rocker
  • Zero
  • Hybrid

Snowboard profiles from Camber and Flat to Rocker

3.1 Camber: great for power and grip

For years there was only a camber with two contact points near the nose and tail and a positive preload between them. This profile offers high stability, aggressiveness and a good edge hold. However, it's not very forgiving and may even catch an edge more easily.

3.2 Rocker: catch-free, floaty and easy to turn

When the rocker was launched it was considered revolutionary. A completely new riding feeling was born. The contact area between board and snow moved from the nose and tail to the centre of the board. The result was a board for easy turns and spins. The longer the rocker the easier you can turn the board. A rocker confined to the nose and tail (hybrid) offers more stability. Typical for a rocker board is that, no matter how distinct the rocker profile is, the board will have a higher buoyancy in the powder.

3.3 Powder rocker: the greatest floatation in soft snow

A powder rocker has a more pronounced bend in the nose than in the tail and the rocker part is usually pronounced up to the inserts for the front binding. The profile often has a kind of S-shape with a camber or flat areas before or under the back binding. This will give you extra buoyancy in the nose area for deep powder conditions. This profile normally goes hand in hand with a tapered shape. The tapering towards the back means the tail sinks down a little bit, making the nose stick out of the snow more easily and with less effort. Making turns in deep snow becomes way easier this way.

3.4 Zero: stable without being too aggressive

As the name of this profile implies this type of board lies flat on the snow. Some manufacturers might claim that a flat profile combines the advantages of rocker and camber. You won’t catch an edge as easily as with camber boards and it is more stable than a rocker.

Dominik Wagner

Team rider for Blue Tomato
"No way I'm gonna ride pure Rocker boards. Camber and Flat boards are the ones I believe in. They provide direct contact to the snow and give me support and stability at high speed. My board of trust is the Nitro Good Times: Flat between the bindings for good control and stability, slightly rockered tip and tail for butters and presses on pistes and rails."

3.5 Hybrid: a blend of stability, grip and floatation

The snowboard industry’s youngest invention is a skillful mix between camber and rocker profiles. This combination of both worlds aims to create a balanced riding feeling. Basically, there are three different variations:

  • Flat snowboards with rocker elements at the tips,
  • Camber boards with rockered nose and tail and
  • Rocker boards with camber sections underneath the bindings.
All of it comes down to personal taste. Even though rocker and camber have different advantages and disadvantages it is basically possible to ride a camber in powder and a rocker in the pipe. It just might be a little more difficult. There are no fixed rules; even pro riders sometimes ignore these recommendations.

4. Shape: the outline of the board looking from above

When you look at a snowboard from above you'll see a certain shape. The nose and tail can be shaped the same, like a true twin board, or be shaped differently, like a directional board. We distinguish between four different board shapes:

  • True Twin
  • Directional Twin
  • Directional
  • Tapered

Snowboard shapes from twin and directional to tapered

4.1 True twin: symmetrical shape for freestyle and switch riding

The true twin board has a completely symmetrical shape. The nose and tail have exactly the same shape and the board rides both forward and backwards in exactly the same way. The same applies to the sidecut and flex. They are the same for the whole board. You often find this shape in freestyle boards because they are best suited for park, kickers and rails. No matter in which direction you mount the bindings the riding feeling won’t change.

4.2 Directional twin: perfect for taking your tricks all over the mountain

Visually, there's hardly any difference between true and directional twin. The construction of the board is, however, fundamentally different. The flex in nose and tail is often different. The board has a centred shape with inserts set back. Besides stylish park runs you’ll also have fun with this board in other terrains. This is the ideal ride for freestylers who also want to prove themselves off-piste.

4.3 Directional: perfect for freeriding and carving on piste

The nose in this shape is a bit longer than the tail. The sidecut and flex are moved to the back as well as the inserts. This gives the board more manoeuvrability, stability and flotation. You can ride any terrain with this shape. However, the real strength of the directional shape become obvious during carves and turns. This shape is perfect for those who don’t want to limit themselves to freestyle or freeride. However, it is much harder to ride switch with this board.

4.4 Tapered: maximum floatation in powder snow.

A tapered board narrows towards the tail. This shape is particularly suitable for freeriding because it gives the board more buoyancy due to the greater surface area in the nose area. If you don’t care for riding switch this is your ultimate powder weapon.

5. Snowboard base: extruded and sintered

There are two different kinds of base types: the extruded and the sintered base. Apart from the manufacturing process they also differ in their characteristics.

5.1 Extruded: easy to maintain

Manufacturers use the extruded base mostly for beginner and rail boards. It’s cheaper to produce and easier to maintain than a sintered base. Rail and street snowboarding in particular profit from the ease of repair and the durability. On the other hand, an extruded base is slower on snow and the base doesn’t absorb wax as well as a sintered base.

5.2 Sintered: high-performance

High-end boards and boards for experienced riders normally have a sintered base. It's more expensive than an extruded base, but it absorbs wax better and it's faster. The only drawback is that it is a little more high maintainance, needing more frequent waxing.

6. The width of the snowboard

With the length of the board being the most obvious decision factor people usually neglect the width of a board entirely. However, it's important to consider that small feet need narrow boards while larger feet usually need wide boards. Once you have an EU size of 44 you should consider a mid-wide or wide board. They're particularly made for bigger feet. Because every manufacturer has their own interpretation of the concept “wide“, it's important to check the “waist width” of the board. The necessary width also depends on other factors such as the angle of your bindings or your boots. Many manufacturers have reduced the outer sole length of their boots so that people with big feet don’t necessarily have to choose a wide board. A rough guide is the Mondopoint size: your actual Mondopoint size minus 2 to 3 centimetres is approximately equal to the recommended board width.

Of course, your personal preferences and what you want to use the board for are also important factors to consider. Wider boards are more stable during landings for example and have more flotation in the powder due to their larger surface area. On the other hand, you also need more force to carve. Narrower boards are more aggressive, easier to carve (as long as they are not too narrow) and easier to put on the edge.

Snowboard length, width and edge from all-mountain to freestyle

7. The length of the snowboard

The assumption that a snowboard should reach your chin is highly outdated. We’re going to tell you what you should consider and how you get to the optimal length of your board. Basically, there are four points to consider:

  • Body weight
  • Body height
  • Area of use and
  • Personal preference.

Most manufacturers state for which weight class their boards are suited. Plus, the “chin formula” might work in most cases, but a few centimetres more or less work just as well. A longer board is more stable whereas a shorter board is more agile. If you weigh a little more add a few centimetres to your board length. If your body is equipped with fewer muscles, go for a shorter board. Generally, you can ride boards with a long effective edge a little shorter. In powder conditions you might want to choose a longer board for more buoyancy whereas for parks a shorter board is more agile when it comes to slides, spins and switch riding.

The following table gives you a rough overview of how to choose the right length. If you’re a little heavier choose a longer board and if you’re the skinny type you can also ride shorter boards and go up one line than you would actually choose according to your height.

Body height in cm Body weight in kg Snowboard size in cm
147 50 - 55 128 - 136
152 52 - 62 133 - 141
158 60 - 65 139 - 147
163 65 - 70 144 - 152
168 67 - 75 149 - 157
173 72 - 79 154 - 162
178 76 - 83 159 - 167
183 (+) 80 - 87 (+) 160 +

Mathias Weissenbacher

Team rider for Blue Tomato
"My boards just reach up to my chin approximately - for riding kickers I like it a bit longer for having more control. On rails I prefer shorter boards for more manoeuvrability. My favourite park shape is camber, but in powder I also love to ride a longer directional rocker board!"

8. Effective edge

The length of the effective edge refers to the part of the edge that is in contact with the snow when you make a turn. A short effective edge gives the board more manoeuvrability but also less control at high speeds. A longer edge length gives the board more control but makes turning more difficult.

9. Sidecut radius: the turning circle of the board

The smaller the radius, the greater the turning ability of the board. A large radius brings a smoother ride at high speeds.

10. Flex: the stiffness of your snowboard

The flex indicates how stiff or flexible the board is. Freestyle and jib boards are softer and, therefore, more flexible and also suitable for beginners, because they are easier to turn. All-mountain boards range from a low flex for beginners to a high flex for speed junkies. Halfpipe and freeride boards are much stiffer because the power transmission needs to be done directly on the edge. The heavier you are the stiffer your board should be. The flex is indicated from 1 for soft to 10 for stiff.

With the flex comes the lateral torsional stiffness of the board, also known as torsional flex. Freestyle and jib boards are significantly softer than all-mountain and freeride boards so they’re more forgiving with landings or on rails.