How to Choose Snowboards
Like to cruise groomed runs? Float through powder? Hammer chutes? Or ride the rails? The right snowboard for you is one designed for the terrain you prefer.
The learning curve on a snowboard is very fast, so if you’re a beginner, you should consider buying for where you want to be and aim for a board that will accommodate improving skills.
Before you buy, take time to learn about the types, sizes and shapes of snowboards out there so you can make a wise choice.
Types of Snowboards
- All-mountain: best for any terrain
- Freestyle: best for the park
- Splitboard: best for the backcountry
Best for any terrain and conditions. All-mountain snowboards perform anywhere on a mountain—groomed runs, backcountry, even park and pipe. They may be directional (meaning downhill only) or twin-tip (for riding switch, meaning either direction).
Most boarders ride all-mountain boards. Because of their versatility, all-mountain boards are good for beginners who are still learning what terrain they like.
Best for a playful ride in and out of the park. Freestyle snowboards are light, short and flexible with twin tips. They are good for riders who want a lively ride anywhere on the mountain, or those who like to push their limits in terrain parks; they’re not so good for stability or cruising fast on hard snow.
Best for climbing in the backcountry. These backcountry-specific boards split in half to create 2 skis and permit climbing on untracked backcountry slopes. You later reconnect the halves and ride downhill.
It’s a great design for adventurous backcountry devotees who have the knowledge, skills and confidence to safely explore unpatrolled slopes. You'll also need climbing skins and a split kit, usually sold separately.
Snowboards by Gender or Age
Women-specific boards match a woman's frame and stance, with narrower waist widths (for smaller feet), slightly less camber and softer flex (engineered for the way women drive energy into a board). REI has an extensive selection; click on the "women's" checkbox on the left column of the snowboard page.
Taller women, particularly those with a boot size of 9 or higher, may find it useful to look at some boards in the men's category.
While kids grow fast, parents should avoid buying an adult board, hoping your child will grow into it. An oversized board can be unmanageable for a child and slow their skill development.
Snowboard Camber / Rocker
Camber delivers a lively, stable ride and provides pop and responsiveness on hardpack or groomed runs, especially when powering out of turns. Experienced, speed-oriented riders favor cambered boards.
Flat (neutral, or no camber). Enables quick turns and maximum feel while increasing float.
Rocker (aka reverse camber) creates upturned tips and tails. The design excels in powder and when jibbing or riding rails in the park. Rockered boards are softer than cambered boards and tend to have a surfy feel that offers easy turn initiation, making them popular among novice riders. Experienced riders, though, can still coax powerful rides out of them.
Mixed camber (or modified rocker) has exploded in popularity, and manufacturers have hatched lots of rocker variations to address specific performance attributes, too many to explain here. Look to an REI snowsports specialist or snowboard manufacturer to explain the nuances of rocker variations.
Directional boards are designed to be ridden forward (downhill).
True twins are symmetrical in construction and exhibit no difference in performance whether you ride them forward or backward. This makes them a popular choice for park and pipe riding.
Directional twin boards are good for people who ride all over the mountain, from groomers to the park.
Length: Stand a board on its tail. Its nose should reach somewhere between a rider’s nose and chin. Fast, aggressive riders often prefer a longer board. Park riders eager to hit lots of jumps and twists may want a very short board.
Weight: Recommended rider weights are listed in the spec charts of individual boards on their REI.com product pages.
Width: Riders with large feet (men U.S. size 11 and higher; women size 10+), should consider wide boards. Toes or heels that excessively overhang snowboard edges could cause drag and diminish performance. A little overhang is fine, though; it gives you more leverage during turns.
Additional Snowboard Features
This term describes the curve of a board’s edges.
Deeper sidecut (lower numbers, in centimeters): These boards have narrower waists, so they turn quickly and easily. Good for beginners and park riders.
Shallow sidecut (higher numbers): Because they have wider waists, these boards float more easily on soft snow. They do a good job of handling high speeds and powering through crud.
Snowboards have metal edges that bite into snow to provide control and steering. A snowboard's "effective edge" (measured in centimeters) is the edge section that actually touches the snow or ice throughout your descent.
A longer effective edge provides stability at high speed and good grip in turns or when descending icy slopes.
A shorter effective edge creates a board that is easier to turn and spin.
“Multi-radial” edge designs also exist, another variation that snowboard makers offer to make their boards stand out. Usually it means they offer better control on ice.
A board can flex 2 ways. Longitudinal flex is the flex along the board’s length (most important to most boarders). Torsional flex is the flex across the board’s width.
Soft flex boards are forgiving and easy to turn. They’re usually preferred by beginners, riders with lower body weights and park riders.
Stiff flex boards provide more grip when turning and hold speeds better than softer boards. They also hold an edge better when descending fast.
Two types of polyethylene (PE) are used in snowboard bases:
Extruded bases are less expensive, low maintenance and relatively easy to repair, but sometimes vulnerable to warping.
Sintered bases are faster, stronger, lighter and more durable, but more expensive and require waxing.
Snowboards offer several different mounting options for bindings. Make sure your bindings and your board are compatible. For more details, see our Expert Advice article on how to choose snowboard bindings.