Snowboard Anatomy 101 | Things & terms to know when choosing a board
Camber vs. rocker. Sintered vs. extruded. Twin vs. directional. There are a lot of technical-sounding terms out there in snowboard-land that can be a little mystifying if you’re new to the sport, or if you just have better things to do than to geek out on board tech all day.
Still, learning some of the basics about what makes boards ride differently from one another can be a big help when it comes to finding the right snowboard for your riding style. Whether you’re researching manufacturer websites or shopping for UnNew snowboards, read on for a quick ‘n’ dirty breakdown of some of the top things and terms you should know about different snowboard shapes, profiles, and constructions.
The shape and proportions of any board’s tip, tail, and waist make a huge difference in how it rides. Most snowboard shapes fit into a few general categories, though keep in mind the lines between each of these are getting blurrier and blurrier. Just because a board is directional doesn’t mean you can’t shred it in the park, and you can still ride a twin-tip on a pow day—you just might be on the struggle bus a bit compared to your friend with a dedicated pow slayer.
Twin-tip or just twin boards are built to be easy to ride in either direction, and are often preferred by park and freestyle riders who spend as much time riding switch as regular.
Directional twin boards are great all-mountain machines, and can be ridden either regular or switch with ease, though they tend to perform a bit better in their default stance. Their nose and tail are the same width, but may have different heights and flex patterns.
Directional boards are built to ride primarily in one direction, and often have tapered shapes that make for quick edge-to-edge transitions and improved float in fresh snow. These can come in many different shapes and sizes, from nimble carving machines to big ol’ powder planks.
As a sub-category of directional boards, short-fats or volume-displaced boards have become increasingly popular in the last couple of years. These boards are often ridden much wider and shorter than “normal” boards, which can make for some hilariously deep carves and unheard-of float in even the deepest of powder.
One additional note on width: if your boots are bigger than a men’s size 10.5 or so, you’ll want to look for a wide board (~260+mm waist width). Otherwise, you might find yourself dragging your toes or heels while turning hard on steep slopes, and that’s no fun for anybody.
In tandem with its shape, a snowboard’s camber profile is what determines a lot of how the board feels and handles in different situations.
Putting a snowboard flat on the floor is the easiest way to learn about its camber profile. A full-camber board resting on a flat surface will be raised up away from the surface at its narrowest point (aka waist). If you step on the board, you’ll see it flatten out before returning to its previous shape as you lift your foot.
Camber boards are awesome for fast, aggressive riding, and people who like lots of pop and edge grip out of their board. The downside of camber is that the same flex that reliably grips the snow can also lead to unfriendly edge catches, or greater difficulty riding in powder.
Conversely, rocker refers to a board with a profile that looks roughly like the bottom of a rocking chair. Rocker boards feel less catchy, which can make it easier to learn new tricks without getting punished. Rocker also makes a board much easier to ride in powder without feeling like your back leg is going to fall off. The downsides of rocker tend to be reduced edge grip and less powerful snap out of your takeoffs and turns.
Hybrid camber boards are very common, and combine camber, rocker, and flat zones in different areas to strike a balance between power and user-friendliness. How much of each, and in what places, is what makes each board unique. When comparing hybrid profiles, a general rule is that anywhere there’s camber, you can expect to feel greater grip and more power. Anywhere there’s rocker will have somewhat less grip and pop, but more float over the snow.
The guts of a board aren’t quite as visibly obvious as its shape and camber profile, but they can make just as big of a difference in the overall feel of a board.
Flex is one of the main factors in how a board rides, and is determined largely by fiberglass layout and additives like carbon. Stiffer boards feel more responsive edge-to-edge, and hold a better line in choppy conditions. They’re also much less forgiving to mistakes or off-balance landings. Softer boards tend to be preferred by park and rail riders, or those with a loose, playful riding style. They don’t quite have the same level of pop or power, but they’re also easier to maneuver at slow speeds and let you get away with more funny business.
The core is another place where you’ll find some separation among snowboards. Top-end boards tend to have lighter cores made of stronger wood, while budget-friendly boards often use heavier, less expensive types of wood. Some budget boards may use foam or balsa wood, which are light, but unlikely to survive too many rock hits or tail-heavy landings.
Sidecut refers to the curvature of the edges of your board, and is measured in the radius of a theoretical circle you’d trace if you kept following that same curve. Smaller numbers indicate a more responsive, tighter-turning board, while larger numbers tend to come with better stability at wide-open speeds.
Closely related to sidecut are your edges and sidewalls, which grip into the snow and can help dampen some of the vibrations that occur as your board bounces around. Basically all boards use steel edges, and manufacturers use many different materials from rubber to urethane to plant-based materials to add shock absorption to their boards.
Finally, the board’s base material is what determines how much speed you can carry around the mountain, and how resistant your board is to minor impacts. The two main types of base materials are extruded—the slower, more budget-friendly option—and sintered, a much more high-end material that absorbs tons of wax when heated with an iron. Sintered bases are not only faster, they’re also more resistant to impact. However, extruded bases tend to be easier to repair, so if you’re a park rider who’s constantly gouging up your base, you may be willing to sacrifice speed for ease of repair and wallet-friendliness.
Like almost everything else in life, the feel of your board mainly comes down to personal preference. But with so many options out there, knowing a bit about different types of boards can help you narrow down your search when it comes to finding the perfect ride for how you approach the mountain. And if you ever feel overwhelmed by choices, just remember the old rule of thumb to pick a board that’s ideal for what you like to ride 80% of the time. You’ll figure it out for the other 20%—or at the very least, you’ll come away with a great excuse to add another board to your quiver.
TJ Parsons is a semi-reformed snowboard bum who now has a semi-adult career as a professional writer and creative. He's a self-proclaimed perpetual intermediate who thinks the outdoors are for everyone, and who wants to help dismantle gatekeeping and elitism in outdoor sports. When he's not squeezing brain juice into a keyboard, you'll find him riding boards or bikes throughout the Intermountain West.
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