Photo: Paul Hamill/Tandemstock

How To Choose the Right Snowboard

Picking a board is a big decision—here’s how to do it right.

Having the right snowboard for your body and riding style won’t just help you have fun; it’ll make you a better rider, too. To choose the right board, start by thinking about the kind of riding you’re doing now (or that you will be doing, if you’re a beginner), but don’t lose sight of the type of riding you hope to do down the road, once you get more experience. 

Ask Yourself These Questions

Before you dive into the details of snowboard design, ask yourself a few questions about what you’re hoping to do with your board.

What’s your ability level?

Beginners might want a simpler board with more forgiving geometry, while more advanced riders likely need a board that can handle higher speeds, steeper slopes, or even some terrain park features. While it’s important to find a board you can grow into, especially as a beginner, don’t choose one that will force you in over your head. 

How much does gender matter?

Short answer: quite a bit. Women’s snowboards are narrower, have an easier flex, and sometimes have less camber, all in an effort to match female body geometry and the way women put energy into a snowboard. But that doesn’t mean women’s boards will fit all (or only) women. Smaller, lighter men might find some benefit in a women’s board, and taller, heavier women might want to opt for a men’s board. The most important thing is to find a board that works for your body.

What type of snowboarding are you hoping to do?

Snowboards fall into a variety of specific categories based on the type of riding they’re designed for. Focus your search based on the terrain you like to ride and how you ride it (more on that below).

Plan on doing any backcountry touring?

If you want to do any touring with your snowboard, you’ll want a splitboard. These boards split down the middle into two separate pieces that work just like backcountry touring skis. Once you’re ready to head downhill, they clip back together into a complete board. Splitboards are light and often lack the stiffness of a regular board, but you can find them in most of the styles described below (with the exception of freestyle—you’re not going to be sliding across boxes in the backcountry).

Types of Snowboards

Snowboards come in a few main varieties to suit different terrain and riding styles. These are the categories to know.

All-Mountain

These are do-it-all snowboards. From groomers to terrain park features to a powder stash (and maybe even the occasional backcountry trip), an all-mountain board is a jack of all trades, but typically master of none. This is generally the best option for someone new to snowboarding, someone figuring out what kind of riding they like, or someone who wants a super versatile board. 

Freestyle

These boards are ideal for those who spend most of their time in the terrain park. They can be ridden switch (meaning you can ride them in both directions, see the section on “Shape” below), are shorter and lighter to make them more maneuverable in the air, and they’re springy, which makes them easier to get airborne. They won’t be as comfortable racing down groomers or hardpack, however. 

Freeride

These boards are best for ungroomed snow. They’re a little longer, they’re directional (meaning they like to be ridden in only one direction), and they feature flex somewhere between an all-mountain and a freestyle board.

Powder

Powder-specific boards are ideal for deep, soft snow. They have a broader, often pointed nose and a shorter tail (often shaped with split or swallow tail shape), the bindings are mounted further back, and they have more rocker. All those features help you float in the fresh stuff. 

Length

The first obvious difference between snowboards is their length. Different types of boards have different general lengths (for the same rider, a freestyle board will be shorter than a powder board, for example), but once you have a style picked out, the proper length varies based on your weight: The heavier the rider, the longer the board. To guide your shopping, refer to the recommended weights that manufacturers attach to the different lengths of a specific board. 

Width

This is also largely dependent on the size of the rider, but in this case it’s the length of their boots that matters. Ideally, your boots should hang over the edges by 1 to 2 cm on both sides, which gives you good leverage to turn and edge the board. If the board is too wide, you won’t be able to get it on its side; if it’s too narrow, you’ll feel your toes and heels dragging in the snow on turns. 

Camber and Rocker

The profile of the bottom of a snowboard has a big influence on the kind of riding it’s optimized for. To see it, set the board down on a flat surface and look at it from the side. 

Camber

This refers to the rise in the middle of the board. Camber is good for groomers and performance with speed as it allows you maintain edge contact, creating more stability and responsiveness while carving.

Rocker

Rocker is the opposite of camber (and it’s sometimes called reverse camber), where the middle of the board touches the snow, while the ends curve up. Rocker gives you better float in powder and more leeway in the terrain park (with less chance to catch an edge on rails and jibs). Boards with this shape will feel “surfy” and are easier to get into a turn, which makes them a popular option for beginners. 

Hybrids

Many board designs fall between the two extremes of full rocker and full camber to provide a mix of the features and ride characteristics described above. For instance, a hybrid profile will mix cambered and rockered sections in the middle of the board and underfoot to create a softer feel and allow for easier edging. Meanwhile, a profile that runs flat delivers better ground feel and decent stability at high speeds.  

Shape

Boards can be directional (they are meant to slide in only one direction), true twins (they move in both directions equally well), or directional twins (meaning they favor one side but move both ways without too much trouble). Directional twins are the most popular option in today’s boards because of their versatility. They assume a rider will move one way most often but may occasionally ride switch. 

Sidecut and Effective Edge

The sidecut of a snowboard is the shape of its edges looking down from the top. The sidecut has a big influence on how a board will turn. A snowboard with a more dramatic (deeper) sidecut will have a shorter turning radius than one with a straighter edge. 

Similarly, a board’s effective edge is the section of the board that’s in contact with the snow during a turn. A longer effective edge gives you good grip in hardpack and ice, or at higher speeds. A shorter effective edge will be easier to turn. 

Flex

The flex of a snowboard is how stiff or easy it is to bend, both from end to end, and across the centerline. A stiff flex board will be better at higher speeds and in hardpack, while softer flex boards will be more forgiving and easier to turn (these are more popular for beginners and freestyle riders).

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.