how to choose a snowboard (beginners guide)

How To Choose A Snowboard [Buyer’s Guide 2024]

by Fraser

Choosing a new snowboard is like online dating. There are a confusing array of options, most of which look great, but will they actually suit you?

Fortunately, unlike the complexity of dating, snowboards are relatively straightforward. This buyer’s guide includes everything you need to know about how to choose a snowboard.

1. Snowboard Anatomy

snowboard anatomy diagram

2. Size Matters

The most important aspect when buying a new snowboard is getting the right size. Seriously… stop trying to ride the shortest board possible. You know who you are!

Snowboard Length

The length of a snowboard is integral to how it rides. Too long and it will feel like an unresponsive lump of wood. Too short and it will be more jittery than a caffeinated cat!

Board length is determined by your weight, ability and riding style. Fortunately, every board comes with a size chart. Even better… use the official snowboard length and width calculator.

If you don’t know your size, check it and then hop back over. Don’t stress too much… while size matters, a couple of centimeters doesn’t make that much difference.

Snowboard Width

Narrower boards are more responsive; wider are more stable.

Ensure that your snowboard is wide enough to prevent your toes and heels from touching the snow. This is called toe and heel drag. It causes horrible wipeouts when you’re carving hard on edge.

If your feet are a US 10 (and in most cases US 11) or below, then a standard board will be fine. But with larger feet you’ll need a wide board. 

There is some variability – snowboard boots of the same shoe size don’t always have the same footprint (physical length).

Ideally your feet should hang slightly over the edge as it’s easier to apply pressure. But more than a couple of centimetres could be a drag.

To test, put your boots into the bindings and slowly increase the angle of the board until the boots touch. If the board is at more than 70 degrees you’ll be fine (unless you’re a hardcore carver!).

3. Types of Snowboard

There are six main types of snowboard, each designed for a specific riding style and terrain.

All-Mountain

All-mountain boards are the snowboarding jack-of-all-trades. From piste to powder to park and every terrain between. They are versatile and provide a balance of control, stability and manoeuvrability. Ideal as your first snowboard.

Freestyle

Designed to make freestyle snowboarding easier, but not just for park rats and jibsters. Typically lighter, shorter, softer and with a twin shape, these are great for beginners and playful riders.

Freeride

Designed for backcountry and off-piste. Think treelines, dropping cliffs and steep couloirs. Freeride boards are generally longer, directional and stiffer for stability and control.

Powder

Powder boards are designed with deep freshies mind. They often have a wider nose and a tapered narrower tail, or even swallowtail, which helps you stay afloat when you’d normally need a snorkel.

Powder Board

Splitboards

Splitboards can be split into two skis for hiking uphill using skins. They reconnect into a snowboard for the downhill fun.

Freecarvers

Freecarver boards are for riders who enjoy carving on groomed runs. They’re typically longer, narrower and stiff, providing a similar feeling to alpine skiing.

Update: I thought it was worth mentioning in this how to choose a snowboard guide, that the above ‘snowboard types’ are not fixed. There is a sliding scale between them. For example, you’ll now see backcountry freestyle boards, all-mountain freeride sticks and powder splitboards.

4. Snowboard Shape

The shape of your snowboard plays a huge role in how it rides. Here are the common shapes you’ll encounter:

Directional

Designed to be ridden predominantly in one direction, they are great for carving, high-speed riding and off-piste. They usually have a longer nose, a shorter tail and/or bindings set back towards the tail.

directional board

Ability: Intermediate – Advanced
Terrain: Freeride, Powder

True Twin

Symmetrical in shape and flex, they’re designed to be ridden in both directions. Perfect for freestylers who need to ride switch.

Ability: Beginner – Advanced
Terrain: Park, All-Mountain

Directional Twin

Combining the shapes above. Typically a symmetrical shape (like a twin) but with directional flex (like a directional board) with bindings slightly set back. Super popular amongst all-mountain riders. 

directional twin

Ability: Beginner – Advanced
Terrain: All-Mountain, Park

Asymmetrical

A shorter or tighter heel edge sidecut compared to the toe edge. This helps to account for our physiological deficits on our heel side turns. Ideal for all-mountain freestyle riders.

asymmetrical board

Ability: Beginner – Advanced
Terrain: Park, All-Mountain

Tapered

A wider nose than tail, to provide extra float in deep snow. The tail is often a different shape to the nose too. Great for freeriding.

tapered directional board

Ability: Intermediate – Advanced
Terrain: Freeride, Powder

Volume Shifted

A wider but shorter snowboard that allows you to size down. This provides the same float and stability as longer boards, but with more manoeuvrability.

volume shifted board

Ability: Advanced+
Terrain: Powder

5. Snowboard Profiles

The snowboard profile is the shape of the base relative to a flat surface. It hugely affects the way a snowboard performs.

Camber

A cambered profile, means the middle of the board is raised off the ground and arches down towards the contact points at the tips. Camber has excellent edge hold and pop, which is ideal for carving, high-speed riding and boosting big airs.

camber snowboard

Ability: Intermediate – Advanced
Terrain: Carving, All Mountain

Rocker

Rocker or “reverse-camber” is the opposite. When laid flat, the centre of the board touches the ground while the tips are raised. Rocker increases float in powder and creates a more forgiving, playful ride with easier turn initiation.

rocker snowboards

Ability: Beginner – Advanced
Terrain: Park, All Mountain, Powder

Flat

Laying flat against the snow when unweighted, this offers a balance between the powerful stability of camber and the forgiving playfulness of rocker. However, without any curve, there is less pop.

Flat Zero Snowboards

Ability: Beginner – Advanced
Terrain: All Mountain, Park, Powder

Hybrid

Hybrid combines the above profiles to offer a balance of the benefits. For example, ‘camrocker’ is camber between the bindings and rocker at the tips. This makes a powerful and stable ride that is playful, forgiving and good in powder.

Hybrid Combo Profile

Ability: Beginner – Advanced
Terrain: All Mountain, Park, Powder

Note: If you need any extra guidance with snowboard profiles, I’ve written a dedicated in-depth article >> Snowboard Profile Guide

6. Snowboard Flex

Snowboard flex is all about the stiffness of the board. 

Most snowboard brands rate their boards on a scale from 1-10 (1 being the softest). But there is no official standardisation between brands. So use it as a rough guide. 

soft snowboard flex chart

Softer snowboards are easier to turn and more forgiving, making them excellent for beginners and freestyle. 

medium snowboard flex chart

Medium flexing snowboards are the most versatile, performing well in the park, groomed slopes and even powder. This makes them perfect for all-mountain riding (and all abilities). 

stiff snowboard flex chart

Stiffer boards provide better stability and edge hold, making them ideal for high speed, carving and steep terrain. They are ridden by more advanced snowboarders.

7. Base Materials

The base of a snowboard is usually made from P-Tex, which can either be extruded or sintered.

  • Extruded bases are cheaper, and easier to repair, but they tend to be slower and less durable.
  • Sintered bases are faster, harder and more durable, but they require waxing more frequently and cost more.

8. Sidecut Radius

The sidecut is the curve on the edge of the board.

A smaller radius (less than 7m) is more playful, excellent for quick turns and tricks. A larger sidecut radius (more than 8m) carves wider turns and provides more stability at higher speeds.

Don’t worry too much about sidecut; snowboard brands generally choose the right sidecut for the board’s intended purpose.

snowboard sidecut radius

There are also several different types of sidecut, based mostly on the snowboard shape. 

  • Radial: A deep, symmetrical sidecut, creating a narrow waist for lightning fast turn transitions. Found on true twin and directional twin snowboards. Perfect for all-mountain and freestyle riding.
  • Progressive: A gradually increasing sidecut, allowing easier turn initiation (when riding forwards). Found on directional snowboards. Perfect for freeride. 
  • Asymmetrical: A tighter sidecut on your heel edge, allowing your heelside turns to be initiated almost as easily as your toeside (which are naturally easier).

9. Effective Edge

The effective edge is the portion of the snowboard edge that makes contact with the snow.

effective edge diagram
  • A longer effective edge gives the board more grip and stability, but can make the board more difficult to turn.
  • A shorter effective edges make a board easier to turn and manoeuvre, but reduces stability at high speed.

10. Binding Compatibility

There are a few different binding systems, most of which are compatible with the traditional insert of four holes.

snowboard binding mounting patterns

The exception is Burton’s channel system, which requires Burton EST bindings. You can use bindings from other brands, just check that they come with an EST disc. 

11. Ability Levels

Snowboards (and snowboard gear) are designed with your ability in mind. Check out the descriptions before choosing a board. Be honest with yourself!

snowboard ability levels

Beginner

Beginners are learning the basics, becoming accustomed to their board, and primarily riding on gentle slopes (green runs). Safety and confidence building are crucial at this stage.

Beginners can ride advanced boards, but will have much more success (and fun!) on a beginner to intermediate model.

Intermediate

Intermediate riders can navigate steeper slopes (blue runs) and experiment with different turns and snow conditions. They may have tried some off-piste riding and simple park tricks.

Advanced

Advanced snowboarders can manage the steepest in-bounds trails (black runs) in various conditions. They can execute precise carves, more complex freestyle maneuvers, and probably some backcountry snowboarding.

Expert

Experts can handle any terrain and condition, including extreme inclines and gnarly backcountry lines. They perform advanced tricks and have a deep understanding of snowboarding techniques. Continuous self-improvement, humility, and respect for the mountain mark this stage.

Note: If you’re still unsure about your level, take our snowboard ability quiz

12. Price Range

The average snowboard costs around $450 these days, but you can find discounted models for $100 and limited edition decks for $1500+.  

Beginner boards are generally cheaper. Beginner-intermediate boards offer the best bang for your buck.

Remember, cheap doesn’t always mean bad; expensive doesn’t always mean good. Do your research!

13. Bonus Snowboard Features

There’s a whole world of snowboard tech out there these days. Some of it is downright incredible, the rest is just marketing jargon. 

Here are a few of the features you might want to invest in.

Magne-Traction

Magne-Traction is a technology developed by Mervin Manufacturing, featuring serrated snowboard edges with multiple contact points.

These additional contact points increase control and stability, improving performance on hard and icy slopes. 

Multiple other brands have followed suit with their own edge hold technology (like Grip-Tech), but Magne-Traction is the OG!

3BT

3BT, or Triple Base Technology, is a unique concept from Bataleon, a company known for its innovative approach to snowboard design.

3BT involves the snowboard’s base being split into three sections, forming a 3D snowboard base. The middle section is flat, while the side sections are angled upwards. 

This enhances turn transitions and improves float in powder. Admittedly, not everyone loves it. But there are plenty of die-hard 3BT fans out there (myself included). 

14. It’s Not All About Looks!

Love at first sight is not exclusive to relationships. I have known “people” to buy boards simply for the graphics (okay, it was me). 

But this is not how to choose a snowboard. Even the most gorgeous board is still just a piece of wood beneath your feet.

So just like dating, resist choosing on looks alone. Matching your needs and attributes will achieve the best ride. 

15. Snowboard Inspiration

Taking inspiration from your favorite pro rider is great. But those guys could shred on an old wooden plank!

Sadly, us mere mortals need slightly different tools for the job…

But when readers ask me how to choose a snowboard, they often expect just one or two snowboard suggestions.

Of course, there is no “one-size-fits-all” snowboard. So I’ve put together a comprehensive list with something for everyone…

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the art of “how to choose a snowboard” is like the quest for the Holy Grail – a personal journey filled with spectacular face-plants. Or at least, it was for me.

Hopefully this snowboard buying guide will save you from making the same mistakes!

Consider your riding style. Consider your ability level. Consider what tech is essential… and what you can live without. Once you find what works for you, you’re set for life!

Any questions? Drop them in the comments below. 

Happy riding. 

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