Snowboard

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A snowboard with boot bindings
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A snowboard with boot bindings

A snowboard is the main piece of equipment used in snowboarding. It is a board designed to be attached beneath the rider's feet with bindings, and ridden down dry ski slopes or snow-covered slopes. No ski poles are used.

Most snowboards are constructed of a wood core and laminated with fiberglass. The front of the board (the "nose" in snowboarder parlance) is upturned, to help the board glide over uneven snow; the back of the board (the "tail") may be equally upturned, less upturned, or relatively flat, depending on how much time the snowboarder plans to spend riding backwards. The base (the side of the board that touches the snow) is covered with a plastic called p-tex, which is typically sintered to help it absorb wax, which helps it slide faster. The edges of the base are fitted with a steel edge, just a couple millimeters square, which helps the board grab the snow when tipped up on edge. The top of the board typically sports graphics designed by board makers to attract riders to their boards. Snowboard topsheet graphics can be a highly personal statement and many riders spend many hours customizing the look of their boards. You can find more information in board construction.

Snowboard designs differ primarily in:

  • Length - Boards for children are as short as 120 centimeters; boards for racers (aka "alpine" riders) are as long as 215 cm. Most people ride boards in the 140-165 cm range. It is a myth that mainly the height of the rider dictates the length of the snowboard. Snowboards actually respond to the weight of the rider, and a length board should be selected so the rider falls in the middle of the manufacture's weight range for that model and size. The longer the board, the more stable it is at high speed, but also a bit tougher to control.
  • Width - The width is typically measured at the waist of the board, since the nose and tail width varies with the sidecut and taper (which we will get to in a moment). Freestyle boards are up to 28 cm wide, to make it easier to keep one's balance. Alpine boards are typically 18-21 cm wide, although they can be as narrow as 15 cm. Most folks ride boards in the 24-25 cm range.
  • Sidecut - The edge of the board, as viewed from above, is not straight but curved, so that the tip and tail are wider than the center. This curve aids turning and affects the board's handling in ways too complex to describe here. The curve has a radius that might be a short as 5 meters on a child's board or as large as 17 meters on a racer's board. Most boards use sidecut radii in the 8-9 meter range.
  • Flex - The flexibility of a snowboard affects its handling, again in ways too complex for this space, and typically varies with the rider's weight. Usually a softer flex will make turning easier while a harder flex will make the board more stable at high speed. There's no standard way to quantify snowboard stiffness, but novices tend to prefer softer flex, racers stiffer flex, and everyone else something in between.


Bindings

Though bindings are not strictly part of the snowboard, they are necessary for its use. The bindings are affixed to the board, and the booted feet are then held in place in the bindings using a variety of systems. Behind the heel and up the calf area is a stiff molded support called a "highback." The HyBak was originally designed by inventer Jeff Grell and built by Flite Snowboards. Flite Snowboards, an early and often underquoted designer, pressed the first closed-molded boards from a garage in Newport, RI in the mid-80's, well before Burton did it. This allows the rider to lean back and effect a "heelside" turn. Unlike ski bindings, snowboard bindings do not release. There are several types of bindings:

  • Strap-in - These are the earliest types of bindings, but perhaps still the most popular and technical. The rider wears a boot which has a thick but flexible sole, and padded uppers. The foot is held onto the board with two buckle straps - one strapped across the top of the toe area, and one across the ankle area. They can be tightly ratcheted closed for a tight fit and good rider control of the board. The downside for this is they take longer to put on, usually requiring the rider to sit in the snow and bend over to adjust the straps. Also, because there are two points of pressure, the strap locations must be adjusted for each individual rider, making it more cumbersome for rental operations. Cap Strap bindings are a recent modification that provide a very tight fit to the heel cup which makes excellent edge control. Such companies as Salomon, Rossignol, Bakoda, Tech Nine, and Burton have created different models of cap straps.
  • Step-in - In response to the inconvenience of strap-in bindings, step-ins were created to make entry easier for beginners, allow for fast ski-lift to slope transition, and appeal to the rental market. Step-in bindings require special boots which are stiffer and particular to the step-in binding system. Step-ins use a technology similar to the clipless pedals in cycling, by allowing the binding to snap and engage stiff hardware on the rider's boots. Popular (and incompatible) step-in systems include Burton, K2 Clicker, Rossignol and Switch. While much more convenient than strap-ins, they are widely considered to be inferior because they do not provide as much of an immediate response from the rider's legs to the board.
  • Hybrid - There are also proprietary binding systems that seek to combine the convenience of step-in systems with the control levels attainable with strap-ins. An example is the Flow binding system which is similar to a strap-in binding, except that the foot enters the binding through the back (which then clips into place) rather than the top.
  • Plate - Plate bindings are used with hardboots on Alpine or racing snowboards. The stiff bindings and boots give much more control over the board and allow the board to be carved much more easily than with softer bindings. Alpine snowboards tend to be longer and thinner with a much stiffer flex for greater edge hold and better carving performance.

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