Getting to Know Your Snowboard
So, are you a 'knarly free-riding dude or dudette?' or is a 'nose grab' with a 'tail poke' more your thang....? Confused....?
The snowboarding craze really took off in the 1980s, although there is evidence to suggest that it began as far back as the 1960s. Over the past couple of decades the sport has continued to grow in popularity and its skateboarding roots have undoubtedly been responsible for the change in today’s cool and trendy skiing fashion and clothing designs. Along with the introduction of the snowboard however came a rebel like 'bad boy' image which was largely brought about by the fact that it was adolescent males who were taking to the sport. Fortunately in today's skiing climate the sport is continuing to grow and appeal to men and women of all ages. In 1998 snowboarding made its debut at the winter Olympic Games but this was not without contraversy, Sadly even in todays open-minded skiing community it continues to struggle to shrug off its arrogant and misconceived 'rebel like' image amongst skiers and other mountain users. Moreover, there are still a few American ski resorts where the sport is completely banned!
Its popularity can be partly due to the fact that snowboarding is quite simply... easier than skiing! Not only is there less paraphernalia to carry around but the gear is also considerably more comfortable as the boots are soft and almost trainer like, (making them perfect for a spot of après ski partying!) Speaking from personal experience too, the ‘art of skiing’ can take years of hard work and dedication to perfect. Even after a good twenty (plus) years at the sport (which includes many hours as a child at the dry ski slope and days heather hopping in Scotland’s mountains), I still haven't managed to perfect my off-piste and moguls technique, and apparently I possess a number of bad habits and faults that I had pointed out by a qualified instructor during a recent refresher lesson.
Snowboarding on the other hand is pretty straight forward. In general it can take a good three to five days to get the hang of it. There's no denying, it can be a painful three to five days but after that the learning curve is generally as big as your courage! It’s also much easier to ride a snowboard in fresh powder too so you can safely hit the off-piste much quicker than you could skiing. Riding off piste offers a gliding or floating sensation that is completely different to that experienced on skis. There’s also an indescribable exhilarating feeling felt when you make a turn in fresh powder that sends a huge spray of powder in the air or at your mate if you’re skilled enough!
There are a few distinct styles that have emerged within the sport of snowboarding which have been characterised by the type of riding preferred. There are different types of gear and equipment to buy depending on what style of snowboarder you are so it is important to understand your style before you splash out on new gear! Broadly speaking, snowboarding styles are Freestyle, Freeride and Alpine.
Freestyle boarding is considered by many boarding sportsmen to be the most spectacular and impressive style of riding. Freestyle riders will usually be found in the board parks, half pipes (and any natural obstacle with a suitable launch ramp!). A general all round freestyle board will be shorter, lighter, fatter and more manoeuvrable than a Freeriding board although there are specific snowboards designed for halfpipe’s or the perfect rail slide, it’s not usually financial possible to have a board for every occasion. More often than not, freestyle boards are Twin tipped or directional-twin boards (identical in shape at the tip and tail) to facilitate easy 'switch' or 'fakie' riding and turning.
Freeriding (All Mountain) Snowboards
Mastering the art of 'Freeriding' will allow you to ride, carve, jump and/or do some aerial manoeuvres either on or off-piste. Freeriding is generally the most popular of the snowboarding styles as it’s the easiest for the snowboarding novice to learn and master. As such, a freeriding board is generally the most popular and common on the slopes. As soon as the powder comes, Freeriders’ will be first in the lift queue!! A Freeriding board has directional shape, and as such is primarily designed to be ridden in one direction. The board is relatively longer and narrower so the Freeriders stance is slightly positioned to the rear of the board to make it easier when riding fresh, untracked powder.
Alpine (Carving) Snowboards
Alpine boards, also know as Carving or Racing boards, are focused on racing, speed and producing the ultimate carving turn. Carving boards are long, narrow, stiff constructions and are configured for higher speeds with cleaner carved turns. Carving boards allow quick edge turns, swift, superior edge-holding power on hard snow, and have good stability at high speed. Since many boarders descend at high speeds with turns that demand a lot of strength, it is often difficult for beginner snowboarders to master the carving technique. A Carving or Alpine board will be longer, narrower and stiffer to give stability during periods of high speed descent. (It almost looks like a large ski!) Furthermore, Carving boarders will wear hard boots instead of the usual soft boot as worn by Freeriders and Freestylers.
Selecting the Right Snowboard for Your Style
Whatever your snowboarding style, if you ride a Freeride, Freestyle or Carving board, the choice of manufacturer and design are plentiful. Selecting the right board from the magnitude available is difficult and individual to your skill level and riding style however the type of snowboard you purchase should be in correlation to the type of riding you like to do. Both Freeride and Freestyle boards are good all-rounders, and a good starting point for beginners to get their ‘boarding legs’. As you progress through the boarding ranks, you’ll understand what type of board suits you and your riding style best. The following considerations are also important:
The length of your board depends of the type of boarding done. Generally, taller, heavier people will take a longer board than smaller, lighter men and women. Similarly, whereas Freeriders or riders who want stability opt for a longer board, Freestyler boarders normally favour a shorter, twin tipped board in the park. There are however a couple of basic guidelines to remember when selecting the appropriate snowboard length:
- Long boards should go from your forehead to well above your head. Used by advanced boarders, they are effective in high-speed carving, deep powder and off piste mountain terrain
- Medium sized boards should reach between your chin and eyebrows. Favoured by many intermediate to advanced riders who cover a wide variety of terrain
- A small board for use in the boardpark and riding tricks, should reach somewhere between your shoulder and chin. It’s not advisable for heavy riders to use a short board as they will be come unstable at high speeds
The width of the board is relational to your boot size and binding and affects stability and flotation. Experienced Freeriders prefer a widerboard to glide through the powder. Although they are slower edge to edge, some Freeriders prefer a narrower board to initiate turns faster with more manoeuvrability. Men with large feet tend also to select a wider board so that they don’t catch the front of their feet when riding on the toe edge! Riders with big feet who prefer a narrower board can set their bindings accordingly at a steeper angle.
Every board has its own flex pattern. As with skis, flex is measures in ‘torsional’ (the flex across the width of the snowboard), and ‘longitudinal’ (the flex from tip to tail). As a guide, the more experienced rider will ride a stiffer board as it gives them more control in higher speeds. A soft, flexible board is great for a beginner rider as turns are easier making the board more manageable in low speed conditions.
Of course, a funky design will only add to your street cred!
Alongside snowboard boots, snowboard bindings are another essential piece of kit when snowboarding. There are many boots and binding combinations on the market today so it is important to know your riding style before you purchase. Additionally, not all boots fit all bindings so if you are not buying them together it is important you try them with your boots before you purchase. There are generally three types of bindings available: Step-ins, ratchet/strap or flow. Each have their own benefits and drawbacks.
- Step in bindings are worn with a soft boot and as they name implies, you step into the binding ‘clicking’ the boot into the catch. Step in bindings do not have the hassle of loosening and tightening the straps every time you have to take your board off on the lifts. If going down the step-in binding route, you need to ensure that you purchase specific step-in boots which are still soft, yet slightly stiffer than boots made for strap bindings. An experienced rider may feel less control with step-in bindings however, a beginner may prefer the step in binding as you don’t have to spend more time grovelling on the ground doing up your binding
- Strap/Ratchet bindings are the original and most popular of the bindings available in the market. There are generally two straps, one across the toe, and one which secures at the ankle. A highback plate rides up the back of your lower calf, and assists in forcing the heel into the binding, and brings toe side of the board up. Strap/ratchet bindings offer good control and comfort as the foot feels secure in the binding. As such, they are the most popular and there are a variety of designs in the marketplace
- Flow bindings are the newest of the bindings designed, and are a cross between the step-in and ratchet binding system. The boot slips into the ‘tongue’ of the binding with the ease of a step-in, and is fastened at the rear by flipping up highback plate and securing with a clip. Whilst these bindings give great ease to put on, they are sometimes slightly difficult to adjust to your exact requirements and don’t always give the same feeling of control as a ratchet or strap binding
The choice of binding is individual and depends on your riding style. If you’re a beginner, it might be worthwhile trying all three to find out which you prefer. Whilst most bindings will generally fit all boards, it is always worthwhile making sure your binding fits and is the correct size for your feet and board before you purchase!
Companies like Rome have been putting asymmetrical high backs on their bindings for a couple of years. This left-or-right specific shaping has filtered down to heel straps too. The theory is that by making the strap wider & more padded on the inside of your foot, it reduces the biting pressure point so often found when you've got your bindings really cranked.
Likewise, Burton has reintroduced the winged high back for maximum tweakability. Found on the Infidel model, the top of the high back curves outwards, around the boot, for greater lateral board control on the ground & in the air.
A company that's been bubbling below the radar for a season or two is Spark R&D. This year, general acceptance of their product, plus a huge quality increase, has resulted in Spark being the binding of choice for split board enthusiasts. The lightweight, stiff base plates slide directly onto the Voilé mounting pucks, for a seamless and disc-free setup that's far less likely to come loose.
Finally, Ride Snowboards continue to excel with their high-end aluminium bindings looking awesome for 2010. The Contraband, an integrated heel strap and cap strap which saw limited success last year, has got drastically stronger and less prone to freezing and breakages. It's a great system that needs close inspection if you're in the market for new bindings.
Snowboards used to be cambered - ie: when lying on the floor in your kitchen, the board touched the floor near its tip and tail, the centre point hovering a few millimetres off the floor. The introduction of rocker technology reverses that, and simply means the application of reverse camber in the snowboard. Now with rocker (or reverse camber!), there is one contact point at the centre of the board, and the rest of the board curves upwards, away from the floor. This year, the major snowboard brands have employed reverse camber in different places on their 'rocker' boards, combining reverse camber with regular camber -and even no camber - to make their boards handle differently.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:
Your snowboard is no longer a wide ski - rocker is snowboard-specific design. Boards with rocker have a looser feeling, are less prone to catching edges and are a lot of fun for goofing around on the pistes. They're more responsive, and since the tip and tail are higher than on a regular snowboard, they also float better in powder. The compromise of the technology is that edge hold suffers and you'll find yourself skidding out of turns more - hence they're not that great for riding chopped-up snow off piste. You also lose the feeling of pushing against the board to load it up - for example, when you ollie.
Burton have used rocker on the Fish LTD, calling it 'S-Rocker'. This tapered, pointy-nosed, swallow-tailed powder weapon employs reverse camber under its nose to lift the tip higher, making it handle more smoothly in powder. Burton have also made a true all-mountain board with rocker - the late-model Hero has rocker which increases in severity along the length of the board, giving it a predictable feel but all the advantages of the technology where it counts.
Lib Tech have called their version of rocker 'Banana'. It's been marketed very well, and practically all of their boards use it. With the reverse camber section between the bindings, the rest of the board is flat underfoot, until it curves up at tip & tail. It's a formula that's received the best feedback so far of any of the brands, and the one that we're most stoked to try here at Zero G. The Skate Banana is their softer freestyle deck, and the Travis Rice & TRS are stiffer and designed to be ridden everywhere.
Rome, one of the biggest successes in snowboarding over the last five years, have always had an excellent freestyle board called the Artifact. This year, they've made a limited-edition rocker Artifact called the RC1985. This board is totally flat (read: no camber) between the bindings, the reverse camber kicking in toward the ends. To make up for the looser feel of the board, they've added some carbon for more pop. We are happy to have bagged the last couple of Artifact 1985s available in Europe, which'll be arriving here mid-November.
Infinite Channel System (ICS)
Conventional bindings used to be attached to snowboards by screwing four screws into four inserts in the board. Then, Burton changed that by making you attach bindings to their boards with three screws. Two years ago, Burton then went down to two-screws, under the soles of your boots. This year, it's a two screw attachment again, but - critically - it's an attachment at the side of your boots.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:
The Channel & EST are Burton products, so the tech is only available throughout the Burton product family. With EST, you can remove the binding base entirely - should you wish - and ride with your boots straight onto the topsheet of the board. In doing this, feeling is increased but shock absorption is reduced. Also, as these EST bindings screw into free-moving inserts in The Channel in the board, you have unlimited stance width and angle adjustment. The downside: as this is Burton-only technology, you can only use Burton bindings with the system. Fortunately, it's reverse-compatible, so those 10-year-old Burton CFX bindings will work fine with it.
Burton have employed The Channel on their entire range - but they'll also be selling standard 3-hole versions of their boards. That means that if you're not convinced of the benefits of The Channel, you have the option to buy your board with the conventional 3D insert pattern. Cynics claim one reason for the introduction of The Channel was that the patent on the three-hole system was about to run out!
The Infinite Channel System is found on nearly the entire range of their boards now. This means that you can only mount Burton bindings onto Burton boards. Like it or not, Burton bindings are very well built and very popular, so this'll only effect a small amount of people who have a preference for an alternate binding manufacturer. And if you really want to take advantage of the system, get the specifically-designed Burton EST bindings, which have no base plates to increase the feel of the board.
Fortunately, the naff rubber washers on the 2008/9 bindings have been replaced by much more effective metal ones.
Models to check out:
Any Burton or Forum
The Rise of the Little Guy - Up and Coming Brands
Burton have been making the best products out there for years and years, but their dominance of the market is under threat. Increasing prices and a slimmed-down, American-focussed team have allowed new, smaller, rider-driven companies to creep onto the scene and gain a substantial following. Look out for DCP, JP Solberg & Romain de Marchi's Yes! brand, and Travis Parker's delicious Airblaster outerwear brand. Little companies like these, with a little more soul to them, seem to be more into growing their brands than stacking the dollars, so often the same quality is available much cheaper.
It's more about the limited-edition thing now...standing out is easy in snowboarding, why not do it?
Models to check out:
Snowboarding - Cash to Splash?
The 1500€ Burton Method has become the world's most expensive mass-market snowboard. It's incredibly light, with an Alumasuperfly core, titanium alloy edges and a Carbon S2 Vaporskin. In a drastic measure to reduce weight, Burton have left out the graphics, finishing the board off with a simple, thin clear coat on top.
So how does it ride? Well, a bit like a stiffer Custom, really. The weight stands out and increases the board's flickability and agility, whilst it rails in turns like a T-6. Is it worth it? Doubtful, unless you're in the oil industry, or have just had a streak of good luck on the dogs.
Whilst there are many brands of snowboards, some of the more established providers offer the latest in technology and ‘funky’ designs for both piste and off-piste skiing. The following manufacturers can be found out and about on the slopes:
Snowboarding Tips & Techniques
Improve your snowboarding style with our helpful techniques tips section, brought to you courtesy of Keith McIntosh. It's often the smallest thing that makes all the difference to your riding!