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How to Choose a Snowboard

Buying a Snowboard for the First Time?

One of the best ways to get in shape and stay in shape is by training for a physical activity that you really enjoy (like snowboarding!).  It is easier to motivate and stay committed to your workouts knowing that it will allow you to have more fun on the slopes.  I hope this post encourages you to go out, get a snowboard setup, and start snowboarding each season.  It is a very rewarding sport and a great way to stay in shape during the cold months, when 75% of weight gain occurs during the year!

So  you are ready to start snowboarding, but how do you choose a snowboard if you are a beginner?  The first question to ask yourself is “What kind of snowboarding activities do you want to learn?” and “Where will you be riding and what are the snowconditions like usually?”

Most people just want to snowboard, but keep in mind what direction you think you are most likely to head in; freestyle (trick in the park/pipe), grooomed trails, deep powder, racing, or all of the above.  If you are not sure, an “all mountain board” is a safe bet, and what most people start out with because it is versatile and allows you to try different things.  I didn’t get a more specialized set up until my second time around.

Below are some practical guidelines to keep in mind while doing research.  Be sure to write down any questions you may have and consult a pro at your local shop.  This is the best way to pick out a board for the first time, as a good snowboard store/company should have someone knowledgeable on hand to answer your questions.  I would avoid buying online, unless you have already tried out your setup in person and are sure it is the right one.

I would also check out the buyer’s guide from Transworld Snowboarding Magazine, which is really awesome!  I buy it every year, even if I am not on the market for a new board, because I love reading about it.  They do a “Good Wood” test (many boards have a wood core), in which they test a bunch of boards that have no branding elements on them so the testers are unbiased.  Highly recommended reading J

One other bit of advice; many major snowboard companies will have demo days at certain ski resorts.  You can demo your new set up for a fee, before having to purchase.  If you have the time and money, this is the best way to be sure your new set up will be perfect.

Feet First

The first step is to stop thinking about the actual snowboard, and start thinking with your feet!  Your boots are the foundation of a good snowboard setup.  If your boot’s aren’t comfortable, you will not be able to perform well, in fact it will be hard to have fun at all.  A little toe pain goes a long way when it comes to snowboarding.

Also, the size of the boot is going one factor in determining the size of the board, so boots first.  Your boots, once strapped into your binding, shouldn’t stick out over the edge of the board, otherwise you risk TOE DRAG.

Before trying on boots, make sure that you cut your toe nails.  Your boots should be very snug, but not tight or uncomfortable.  The boots will pack out a tiny bit when broken in, but not more than maybe a ? a size, probably less.

It is recommended to try on several brands, as each one cuts the shape of their cut differently, and uses different technology and materials to create a certain fit.  There are different lacing systems, different amounts of shocking absorption materials, and even different shapes depending on your style of riding.  Some of the boots will have heat molding; you can take out the inner boot, heat it up, and mold it around your foot.

Bindings Next

Your binding’s need to fit perfectly with your boots to assure optimal performance and safety.  Most brands of bindings in will work with most brands of boots, but I think it is a good idea to pick out the boots first, and then buy the same brand of bindings. I would also pick a board from the same brand too, just to keep things simple, as there are certain brands like Burton who have some boards that are only compatible with their own bindings.

Bindings come in different shapes, sizes, and materials; in general, the lighter/stronger ones will be more expensive.  Try finding bindings that are easy to use and avoid using plastic parts, which often break in the cold.  You should also be able to adjust your binding easily and take them off easily.

A quick note, I would completely avoid step-in binding/boot systems.  These basically allow you to step onto your board and be secured to it without having to strap on the bindings.  The convenience you get from saving 20 seconds strapping in is far less valuable than the cost of performance you will endure the rest of your time on the mountain.

Board Sizing

Picking the right size board depends on 4 main factors;

  • How wide is your foot?
  • How tall are you?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • What is your riding style and ability?

If you have a size 11 or larger, you will most likely need a wide board to avoid toe drag.  Not all boards come in wide sizes.  There are some boots now that are specifically designed to decrease the overall length of the boot, so people who can almost fit on a regular width board can wear these boots and don’t have to buy a wider board.

For quicker turning, transitioning from heel to toe edges, and more control (especially on groomed/hard pack trails), a narrower board a good sidecut is key.  (Sidecut is the shape of the edge of the board).  For floating on powder, a a slightly wider board is great.  For freetsyle riders doing tricks in the park, a shorter board makes it easier to rotate, and a twin tip board is ideal.  (Twin tip boards allow are shaped exactly symmetrical, which makes switch stance riding easier).

Again, most first timers will want to buy an all mountain board, which has a relatively symetrical shape, but if you know you are going to be focused on riding in deep powder, you may want to get a more specialized board for that (which will be longer, have have a much longer/wider nose, and much shorter narrower tail, which helps to sink the tail into the powder and keep the nose and board afloat.)

This is a pretty cool calculator for finding the right size board.  I wouldn’t trust it blindly, but it will definitely put you in the right ball park:

Board Options & Technology

There are allot of options and styles of boards with new technology coming out each year.  Camber and Reverse Camber boards are currently the hottest new trend.  These boards play with the shape of the board by adding rocker.  Essentially, all board used to be slightly convex to the ground, but now companies are making boards that are perfectly flat or concave to the ground.  Some companies are playing with mutliple kinds of camber in the same board.  As a beginer, I wouldn’t worry too much about this technology unless you know you want to be a freestyle snowboarder. But let me say that I love my new board’s reverse camber design; I find it makes flat landing slightly more forgiving, and helps me pop my ollies.

Goofy Versus Regular

If you skateboard, wakeboard, or surf, you know already what stance you like.  There are 2 good tests for determining whether you are goofy or regular (Left foot forward or right foot forward).  One is to run and slide against a slippery floor on your sock.  Which foot do you naturally foot forward ?  That is your front foot.  The other test is to have someone push you while standing, which leg do you put backward?  That is your back food.  Don’t think to much when doing these tests, just let your body react.

Take a Stance

You have the option to put your stance narrower or wider, and to turn out each foot to different angles, and on some new boards, the ability to move your stance forward or back
ward (closer to one of the edges.)  A great way to determine your stance is to (once you are a little warmed up) jump up as high as you can and try and land silently.  Your body will automatically put you in the position that you are most powerful in.  How wide are your feet?  How turned out is each foot?  This willl be pretty close to your ideal stance, although you may want to turn your backleg inward slightly if you are not planning on riding switch (with your oposite foot forward pointing downhill) to make you more comfortable on the board.

Seasonal Rentals & Pricing

One other thing to keep in mind; you may want to get a seasonal rental instead of purchasing a board your first year round.  Snowboarding can be totally zen, but it is equipment, money, and time intesive, and conditions vary on the weather.  If it is your first season, investing in buying a board may not be the best decision.  Many snowboard shops will have seasonal rentals. If you think you want to buy a setup, a good idea is to buy really comfortable boots and then get a seasonal rental for the board and bindings.  There may be an option to buy that board at the end of the season for a discount, and if not, you can pick out another board at the end of the season for a major discount. (Late March and April, a lot of equipment will be on sale, sometime for 50% off or more!)

In general, this is a great time to purchase equipment and clothing for snowboarding, if you can make it throughout the season without needing anything too much.  I bought my boots for 30% off in April, my gloves for 50% off in May, my jacket for off, and my pants for 30% off.  Major savings !!!  Of course, if you want a very popular board or boot in a popular size, there is very little chance that it will be waiting for you at a discount, so keep that in mind.

Surf the Earth

Now you are all set, and armed with information to pick out a great first setup and experience an amazing sport.  Snowboarding is total zen and one of the best ways to spend time outside in nature during the cold months.  If you are just getting started, I encourage you to get in the gym and start training for your time on the mountain.  The more conditioned you are, the more fun you will have.

In general, there is a 3 day learning curve for snowboarding, and I highly recommend taking a lesson the first day and not trying to keep up with your friends.  You should be linking turns and transitioning from your heel edge to your toe edge by the end of the first day, although this will vary from person to person.  (Most people will do what’s called a “falling leaf” in the beginning, which allows them to maintain control but prevents you from learning proper technique.)

Ideally, your first trip should be somewhere with fresh snow (for softer falls and slower “learning” conditions), and should put you on the mountain for 3 days in a short period of time (as long as you are relatively in shape.)  If you go 1 day a season, and wait a year to go again, that 3 day learning curve gets way longer.

I know you wil find that snowboarding is a rewarding sport that will allow you to stay in shape and connected with nature during the cold months of the year.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments below and I will get right back to you.

Take care, stay fit, and shred hard!

Johnny Fitness

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