Beginners guide to choosing a snowboard

How does anyone choose a snowboard? The choice is bewildering and, to the uninitiated, the only differentiating features are often the graphics. No surprise then that questions along the lines of "I am 5'11" tall, weigh 170 lbs and have blue eyes. What board should I buy?" are among the most frequently asked on snowboard fora the Web over.

Many people get hung up on length as it is the one specification which seems easy enough to understand but I would suggest that, as with any purchase, the primary consideration should be price.

Most boards are priced between £150 and £500 so the first thing to do is establish how much you need to spend. At the lower end of this scale you may end up with a board that is no better than a rental and might not be suitable for anything more than learning the basics on a dry slope. If you are serious about snowboarding and want a board that will last a few seasons you probably need to spend at least £300. This is because the quality of materials and construction varies significantly between a £150 and a £500 board.

The first thing you will notice when you pick up a high quality board is the weight. The best boards use sophisticated core materials and construction techniques to reduce weight while maintaining strength and flex. A light weight board is worth paying for. It will be easier to turn, easier to jump, easier to spin and, most importantly, easier to carry.

High end boards also use more sophisticated materials for the base such as sintered (rather than extruded) P-Tex, graphite or Electra. The more expensive the faster, and the less chance of being stranded on flats.

In terms of riding style the vast majority of boards are designated as freeride or all-mountain boards and these are the natural choice for anyone who does not want a specialised board. Freestyle boards for park and pipe are also marketed heavily and there is a certain amount of overlap between these and their freeride stable mates. They are more manoeuvrable but can be unstable when carving fast and have less float in powder.

When it comes to sizing a board there is a bit more science to it than the oft quoted rule of thumb that it should be between chin and nose height (this was made up by someone in a rental shop who wanted to finish early and get out on the slopes).

A short snowboard is easier to turn than a long one but a longer board will be more stable at speed when it will tend to bounce around and wobble less than a shorter one as more of the board will be in contact with the snow. To choose a suitable board length you need to first consider your weight.

Most board manufacturers give weight ranges for their boards and these are correlated to board length. The table below shows, as an example, Burton's recommended board lengths according to rider weight for their Custom model. The Custom is a typical mid range freeride board and the table should give you a good feel for the sort of length of board you need (bear in mind that there is also a relationship between rider weight and board stiffness).

Board lengthRider weightRider weight

Recommended rider weights for a 2004 model Burton Custom

Once you have an idea of the sort of length you need you can add a little bias towards the type of riding you anticipate. Add a couple of centimetres if you enjoy carving and yearn for long powder runs in the backcountry, knock off a couple if you need super manoeuvrability on the piste and dream of landing big tricks in the park.

Snowboard brochures list many other detailed specifications like side cut radius, effective edge, nose width, tail width, waist width etc. Most of these are in proportion to the board length and designated riding style and do not require detailed consideration. Waist width, however, is important.

In general the narrower the board is the easier it will be to turn but, equally, the more angled your feet will need to be to avoid toe drag. This means that those of us with big feet, say, UK size 10 or above, may need to find a slightly wider than normal board. In the last few years manufacturers have recognised this and most now offer wide versions of many of their mainstream boards with waist widths increased from the standard 24-25cm to 26-27cm.

Personally, I find these wide boards feel rather unresponsive and I have found that a normal board works well for me using low volume boots and risers under my bindings which all but eliminate toe drag. So do not feel you have to go wide if you have big feet but do consider board width and boot, rather than foot, size.

As a counterpoint to the discussion of wide boards many manufacturers also offer boards tailored specifically to women and these tend to be narrower and less stiff than regular boards suiting lighter riders and smaller feet.

The final important factor in choosing a board (other than graphics) is stiffness. As with length this is related to rider weight and longer boards will tend to be stiffer to accommodate heavier riders. Beyond that though a stiff board can yield greater stability at speed and in carved turns but it may be unforgiving for a novice. Bear in mind, however, that it will soften up as you use it and a slightly stiffer board may therefore last longer.

17 November 2003 Permalink | Comments (4)

I would like some more information about your board. I have large feet and I'm considering to buy a Wide-board. But as you mentioned, you have low volume boots and risers. I didn't know that.
Now, my question is: where can you find it? Is it really affective? How much does it cost?
I really have problems with toe drag and sometimes even heel drag.
Thank you in advance


Posted by: Frederik at February 15, 2004 09:39 PM

My current set up is a 2001 K2 Eldorado 164 board (waist width 25cm), 2001 Flow FL39 bindings (with built in "gas pedal" risers that lift the boot about 7.5mm above the board) and 1996 Airwalk Freeride boots.

I recently tried to buy some new boots but I must admit I have had difficulty finding anything which is as low volume as my 1996 Freerides.

Another option though is to consider using something like the Palmer Power Link riser system: or a board which incorporates a riser like the K2 Recon Riser:

Posted by: Luke at February 16, 2004 10:44 AM

I;ve got big fee too and went for a wide board. A K2 Ultima that was about 27cm wide. It works, no drag but you do have to really shift your weight to make the turn. It's super for high speed cruising but its not the best for tricks.

Unfortunately I broke it and pulled the binding insers out. I then bought a slightly narrower F2 Ultraglide directional freeride board. Its about 26cm wide. The toe drag was noticeable. I've added Palmer Powerplates and they work brilliantly. Worth the money.

Posted by: Nick at March 11, 2004 04:44 PM

i would like to know what size of snowboard i should be looking for. i am 5'11" and about 140 pds. if you could get back to me that would be great!
thank you

Posted by: Stacey at February 20, 2005 07:12 AM
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