If you are looking to buy a snowboard in Alpe d'Huez or you are you interested in taking up snowboarding as a sport then understanding how your board is made and works will help you choose the right board for you.
The basic construction of a snowboard is very similar to that of skis. A core, usually made of wood, is shaped to create a profile that gives the board it's shape, stiffness and camber. The core is coated in fiberglass to add torsional flex and more stiffness. The outer layer is made of porous polyethylene for the base and top sheet of fiberglass. The outer edge of the snowboard is a metal strip that forms the contact point for the board.
That is a very simplified outline of snowboard construction and as snowboarding has evolved as a sport the methods and materials used and design of snowboards have changed too. Now there is a huge amount of choice on offer when it comes to buying or renting a snowboard from short, soft, detuned street rail boards to split boards for touring.
All Mountain Freeriding Snowboards
Go everywhere, do everything on a versatile All Mountain Board
A Freeride Snowboard will give you the best of both worlds; shaped for both park and powder it will be fine on the pistes, in the park and in the back country. A true go anywhere do anything weapon.
Freeride Snowboarding has advanced so much and the needs of modern freeriders are vastly ahead of what they were just a few years ago. Top riders now demand a board that can be ridden in powder and off kickers and as such the boards available to the public are now built in so many different ways that there is something for everyone.
A basic board that will make a perfect first board will probably be a little longer than a freestyle board with the nose of the board reaching the riders chin or nose. If you are starting out then a directional board, that has a distinct nose and tail, will be best as you are unlikely to be riding backwards to start with. A Freeride board will also have a more definite side cut (thinner at the middle) than a Freestyle Board, which makes carving easier. As you progress you will want to take on more freestlye and off piste riding.
In the past a board for freestyle was short and a board that was for powder was long. These days camber (the side on shape of the board) has been modified to give short boards with raised noses. Riders can now get on top of light snow without having to have a large surface area under their feet, the result is short manouverable boards that ride in the deep stuff.
Alpine (Carving) Snowboards
Super Stiif, Super Fast, Super Expensive
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. These are very specific peices of equipment and are not ideal for the majority of snowboarders. The boards are very directional with completely flat tails and only slightly raised noses. In most cases these boards are set up with ridgid boots similar to ski boots and use a basic hard boot binding.
They are popular with Boarder Cross Riders and Slalom Competetitors but not a good idea unless you know that carving is all you want to do.
Short, Soft and Twin These are the Boards if you Want to Spin
Freestyle is the term used to describe the form of snowboarding that involves tricks and obstacles. Jumping off objects or sliding along them is freestyle, it's not the simplest way down the hill but the most expressive. This is the discipline that embraces theatricality over practicality.
In Alpe d'Huez the most obvious place to see Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding in action is in the Park but freestyle snowboarding can be practiced anywhere on the hill. It's about using the mountain as a playground; spinning, dropping and jibbing off natural features or man-made kickers.
In general Freestyle boards are shorter and softer than most other boards making them more forgiving in landings and easier to manouver. They are also usually "Twin-Tipped". These means that the board is symmetrical at nose and tail so that it can be ridden backwards as easily as forwards.
These generalities are the rule but there are exceptions to these rules and specific types of boards that fall under the Freestyle banner.
Boards specific to rail riding are usually very soft and have de-tuned edges. This means the edge of the board has been filed down reducing the sharpness of the metal edge and often the angle of the edge. This stops the edge from catching when the board is sliding along metal, plastic or wood. They tend to be short too ith the nose of the board reaching from the breast plate to the bottom of the neck.
In recent years comanies have begun experimenting with the camber and flaex patterns in boards to make them more specific. Rail boards are often flat or display reverse camber helping them slide on obstacles and again reducing the chances of the edge of the board biting into the rail or box.
These boards are very specific and not ideal for any other discipline as the lack of an effective edge makes them difficult to control on normal snow. Perfect if all you want is jibbing but not ideal for the all rounder.
Park/ Pipe Boards
These boards should reach between the bottom of your neck and your chin and are designed to be ridden in the park and half-pipe. They are nearly always "Twin" - the shape of the board is symetrical so it can be ridden forward or backwards - and tend to be shorter than other snowboards. In general they are good for riding all over the hill. They will not be as fast or reponsive as an all mountain board and are often too short for riding in powder but they are great fun.
Pipe boards and more advanced Freestyle boards tend to be stiffer than boards geared towards beginners and intermediate riders. A stiffer board means more pop and more power in take off but it requires more effort and more precision. If you are new to freestyle then go for something softer, you will have more fun and when it is time for a new board you can try something stiffer.
Riding Powder is one of the best feelings a snowboarder can enjoy and for those that live for the backcountry then there are boards designed just for use in the deep stuff.
Powder specific boards are long and stiff and truly directional with a pointed nose and sometimes a V-shaped "Swallow Tail". The bindings on the board will be set near the tail increasing the length of the nose.
More recently snowboard manufacturers have begun designing and building systems that allow a snowboard to split down it's length. A Split Board allows the user to turn his board into skis for touring and back into a board for riding powder.
Both of these boards are very specialist pieces of equipment and will only be used in specific conditions a few days a year. Quite an outlay as they are not cheap but they may be the best days of your winter.
So many ways to fix yourself to your board
There are many boots and binding combinations on the market today so it is important to know your riding style before you purchase. There are basically two types of bindings available: Step-ins or ratchet/strap .
Each have their own benefits and drawbacks.
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
Step in Bindings are becoming less and less popular as they do not offer the same control of the board and the boots and binding system are far heavier than traditional strap bindings. The various step-in systems available limit the amount of time you spend doing up your bindings and reduce the need to bend down as the connection to the board is made by clipping the boot to the board using a spring loaded mechanism.
The choice of binding is individual and depends on your riding style, although we would always reccomend starp binding rather than step-in's. As it is so personal it is worth trying all the systems and styles at a board test. Before you make a decision on binding though check that they will fit on your board. Different snowboard maunfacturers have different fixings mounts for their bindings and not all bindings fit on all boards.
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.
Comfy & Soft Snowboard Boots are a Joy
One of the best things about snowboarding, compared to skiing, is the boots. Snowboard boots are softer, easier to walk in and immediately comfortable compared to their plastic shelled brothers.
The type of boot you choose will be dictated to some extent by the type of bindings you choose, or vie-versa. Step in bindings and alpine bindings will require specific boots. If you have opted for coventional ratchet bindings almost any boot from any maunfacturer will fit which leaves you with a huge amount of choice. There are some great Snowboard shops in Alpe d'Huez. Pop in and try as many as you can.
Stiffer boots will offer more control, softer ones will give more flex and allow you to move around more freely.
As you can expect it is all down to comfort and personal choice. Try as many boots as you can and find the ones that you can spend all day in.