When I first hit the slopes with my shiny new board, I was overwhelmed by the terminology. It’s like a secret language!
One concept that stood out was the “effective edge”. It was something that seasoned riders talked about but no-one stopped to explain.
Now that I’m somewhat seasoned (old) myself, I’m going to attempt an answer; so what is effective edge on a snowboard?
The effective edge of a snowboard is the length of metal edge that's in contact with the snow when a rider is carving or turning. It does not include the portions near the tip and tail, which are typically lifted off the snow. A longer effective edge provides more stability and control, especially at higher speeds. A shorter effective edge gives the board a more nimble, responsive feel.
If that was enough of an answer, hurray!
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Hungry for more details?
Then keep reading, my curious compadre!
What is the Effective Edge?
The effective edge of a snowboard refers to the portion of the edge that actually makes contact with the snow while riding.
Picture the underside of your snowboard; you’ll see metal edges running along both sides. These are your snowboard edges.
When on its side, not all of these edges are in contact with the snow; only a part of them. That part is the effective edge!
Why Does Effective Edge Matter?
You might ask, “why does this even matter to me?”
Allow me to explain:
- Control: In theory, longer effective edges provide better edge hold and carving performance.
- Stability: Longer effective edges are more stable (when engaged).
- Versatility: A longer effective edge usually provides more stability and control, while a shorter one offers agility and quicker turns.
- Board Feel: Shorter snowboards with longer effective edges can feel much longer than they are. Knowing this can help with size choices. For example, some boards can be ridden 5cm shorter, without losing any effective edge compared to your regular size.
Effective Edge vs Contact Length
Here’s where things get a little tricky. Many riders use these two terms synonymously. Call me pedantic, but I don’t!
The contact length (or running length) of a snowboard refers to the distance between the two points where the snowboard touches the snow while lying flat.
This length does not include the curved sidecut of the board, and is measured in a straight line.
Contact length is therefore always a smaller measurement than the effective edge. Contact length tells us how much of the base is in contact with the snow when riding.
By contrast, the effective edge is the portion of the snowboard’s edge that makes contact with the snow when turning (with the board on it’s side). It’s the primary influencer of control and stability, affecting how your board reacts to shifts in weight and direction.
I know this can be a little confusing, especially as I’m writing this after a few beers (oops).
To simplify matters, here’s how your effective edge and running length differ:
- Effective Edge measurements are affected by the sidecut radius. Deeper sidecuts create a longer effective edge, whilst shallower sidecuts (straighter edges) are shorter.
- The effective edge to overall length ratio is affected by the nose and tail lengths. Boards with short tip and tail may have disproportionately long effective edges.
- Contact Length varies based on the snowboard profile. Rocker profiles lift the ends of the board off the snow, reducing contact length when riding.
- Contact length is disproportionately low on boards with longer noses beyond the contact point (i.e. powder boards). The nose is designed to rise above powder, therefore much less of the base will be in contact.
2. Influence on Ride
- Longer effective edges provide more stability at high speeds and better grip during turns. Short effective edges are easier to disengage and can therefore be more agile.
- Longer contact lengths (running lengths) mean more surface area touching the snow. This improves stability during landings and when flat-basing.
Most manufacturers provide effective edges these days, but very few provide contact length (although Burton provide both!). You’ll therefore gain more applicable knowledge by understanding effective edge.
An Example of Effective Edges
- Effective Edge: 1096 (mm)
- Running Length: 990 (mm)
- Effective Edge: 1196 (mm)
- Running Length: 1145 (mm)
Here we have two legendary boards, the powder-destroying Burton Fish and the all-mountain Burton Custom.
Right off the bat, we can see that the Custom has both a longer effective edge and a longer running length. We can safely assume that this will translate to better edge hold and improved stability.
Does this mean the Burton Fish is no good?
Not at all. In fact, the Fish is the same length, despite having a much shorter tail. This tells us that there is a nice, long nose – not accounted for in the running length.
What I also didn’t tell you is that the Fish has a 260mm waist width and a massive 315mm nose width. The Custom has a 252mm waist and 294mm nose.
Therefore the fish has significantly more overall volume. Which board would you rather take through 2-feet of fresh?
Making the Right Choice
So why I am I telling you all this?
Well, because understanding these terms is both a blessing and a curse. It’s quite easy to become overwhelmed by the numbers!
Take a step back and consider what you’re using the board for. Who cares about effective edge when you’re bouncing around in powder?
The best use of effective edge measurements is therefore to differentiate between two similar boards.
A 155cm all-mountain snowboard might have a 1180 mm effective edge in one brand, but a 1250 mm edge in another. All other things being equal, the brand with a longer effective edge should offer better edge hold.
But try not to get too bogged down in the nitty gritty. Ultimately, you won’t notice minor changes.
Effective edge isn’t just a term reserved for pros; it’s a concept that every snowboarder should understand (to a degree).
It’ll help you to appreciate snowboard tech, and choose between snowboards when the time comes.
So next time you strap on your snowboard, remember the magic that lies beneath your feet.