About Your Snowboard
If you are looking to buy a snowboard in Chamonix or you are interested in taking up snowboarding as a sport, then understanding how your board is made and works will help you choose the right one for you.
The basic construction of a snowboard is very similar to that of skis. A core, usually made of wood, is shaped to create a profile that gives the board its shape, stiffness and camber. The core is coated in fiberglass to add torsional flex and more stiffness. The outer layer is made of porous polyethylene for the base and top sheet of fiberglass. The outer edge of the snowboard is a metal strip that forms the contact point for the board.
That is a very simplified outline of snowboard construction and, as snowboarding has evolved as a sport, the methods and materials used as well as the design of snowboards have changed. Now there is a huge amount of choice on offer when it comes to buying or renting a snowboard from short, soft, detuned street rail boards to split boards for touring.
One of the best things about snowboarding, compared to skiing, is the boots. Snowboard boots are softer, easier to walk in and immediately comfortable compared to their plastic shelled brothers.
The type of boot you choose will be dictated to some extent by the type of bindings you choose, or vice-versa. Step in bindings and alpine bindings will require specific boots. If you have opted for conventional ratchet bindings almost any boot from any manufacturer will fit, which leaves you with a huge amount of choice. There are some great snowboard shops in Chamonix. Pop in and try as many as you can.
Stiffer boots will offer more control, softer ones will give more flex and allow you to move around more freely. As you can expect, it is all down to comfort and personal choice. Try as many boots as you can and find the ones that you can spend all day in.
All mountain snowboards
A freeride snowboard will give you the best of both worlds, shaped for both park and powder it will be fine on the pistes, in the park and in the back country. A true "go anywhere do anything" weapon. Freeride snowboarding has advanced so much and the needs of modern freeriders are vastly ahead of what they were just a few years ago. Top riders now demand a board that can be ridden in powder and off kickers and as such the boards available to the public are now built in so many different ways that there is something for everyone.
A basic snowboard that will make a perfect first board will probably be a little longer than a freestyle snowboard with the tip reaching the rider's chin or nose. If you are starting out then a directional snowboard, that has a distinct nose and tail, will be best as you are unlikely to be riding backwards to start with. A freeride snowboard will also have a more definite side cut (thinner at the middle) than a freestyle snowboard, which makes carving easier. As you progress you will want to take on more freestyle and off-piste riding.
In the past a snowboard for freestyle was short and a snowboard for powder was long. These days camber (the side on shape of the board) has been modified to create shorter snowboards with raised noses. Riders can now get on top of light snow without having to have a large surface area under their feet, the result is short manoeuvrable boards that float well in the deep stuff.
Alpine snowboards, also know as carving or racing boards, are long, narrow, stiff constructions and are focused on speed and producing the ultimate deep turn. Carving boards allow quick edge turns, swift superior edge-holding power on hard snow, and have good stability at high speed. They are very specific pieces of equipment and are not ideal for the majority of snowboarders. The boards are very directional with completely flat tails and only slightly raised noses. In most cases these boards are set up with rigid boots similar to ski boots and use a basic hard boot binding. They are popular with boarder cross riders and slalom competitors but otherwise they're not a good idea unless you know that carving is all you want to do.
Freestyle snowboarding involves jumping off and over obstacles, often while doing fancy tricks in the air. It's not the simplest way down the hill but it's the most expressive, embracing theatricality over practicality, and the most exciting to watch. In Chamonix, the most obvious place to see freestyle skiing and snowboarding in action is in the snowpark but freestyle can be practiced anywhere on the hill. It's about using the mountain as a playground; spinning, dropping and jibbing off natural features or man-made kickers.
In general, freestyle snowboards are shorter and softer than most other snowboards making them more forgiving in landings and easier to maneuver. They are also usually "twin-tipped", this means that the snowboard is symmetrical at nose and tail so that it can be ridden backwards as easily as forwards. There are some specific types of snowboards that also fall under the freestyle banner.
Snowboards specific to rail riding are usually very soft and have de-tuned edges. This means the edge of the board has been filed down, reducing the sharpness of the metal edge and often the angle of the edge. This stops the edge from catching when the board is sliding along metal, plastic or wood. They tend to be short, with the nose of the snowboard reaching from the breast plate to the bottom of the neck.
Rail boards are often flat or display reverse camber helping them slide on obstacles and again reducing the chances of the edge of the board biting into the rail or box. They are very specific and not ideal for any other discipline as the lack of an effective edge makes them difficult to control on normal snow. Perfect if all you want is jibbing but not ideal for the all rounder.
Park boards should reach between the bottom of your neck and your chin and are designed to be ridden in the park and half-pipe. They are nearly always "twin" - the shape of the board is symmetrical so it can be ridden forward or backwards - and tend to be shorter than other snowboards. In general, they are good for riding all over the hill. They will not be as fast or responsive as an all mountain board and are often too short for riding in powder but they are great fun.
Pipe boards and more advanced freestyle snowboards tend to be stiffer than boards geared towards beginners and intermediate riders. A stiffer board means more "pop" and more power in take off but it requires more effort and more precision. If you are new to freestyle then go for something softer, you will have more fun and when it is time for a new board you can try something stiffer.
Off-piste & backcountry snowboards
Riding powder is one of the best feelings a snowboarder can enjoy and, for those that live for the back-country, there are boards designed just for use in the deep stuff. Powder specific snowboards are long and stiff and truly directional with a pointed nose and sometimes a V-shaped "swallow tail". The bindings on the board will be set near the tail increasing the length of the nose.
More recently, snowboard manufacturers have begun designing and building systems that allow a snowboard to split down its length. A splitboard allows the user to turn his snowboard into skis for touring and back into a snowboard for riding powder. Both of these boards are very specialist pieces of equipment and will only be used in specific conditions a few days a year. Quite an outlay, as they are not cheap but they may be the best days of your winter.
There are many boots and binding combinations on the market today, so it is important to know your riding style before you purchase. There are basically two types of bindings available: step-ins or ratchet/strap. Each has their own benefits and drawbacks.
Strap or ratchet bindings are the original and most popular of the bindings available on the market. There are generally two straps, one across the toe and one which secures at the ankle. A high plate rides up the back of your lower calf and assists in forcing the heel into the binding, bringing the toe side of the board up. Strap or ratchet bindings offer good control and comfort as the foot feels secure.
Step-in bindings are becoming less and less popular as they do not offer the same control of the snowboard, the boots and binding system are far heavier than traditional strap bindings. The various step-in systems available limit the amount of time you spend doing up your bindings and reduce the need to bend down as the connection to the board is made by clipping the boot to the board using a spring loaded mechanism.
The choice of binding is individual and depends on your riding style, although we would always recommend strap bindings rather than step-ins. As it is so personal it is worth trying all the systems and styles at a board test. Before you make a decision on bindings, check that they will fit your snowboard. Different snowboard manufacturers have different fixings mounts for their bindings and not all bindings fit on all boards.
Companies like Rome have been putting asymmetrical high backs on their bindings for a couple of years. This left-or-right specific shaping has filtered down to heel straps too. The theory is that by making the strap wider and more padded on the inside of your foot, it reduces the biting pressure point so often found when you've got your bindings really cranked.
Likewise, Burton has reintroduced the winged high back for maximum tweakability. Found on the Infidel model, the top of the high back curves outwards, around the boot, for greater lateral board control on the ground & in the air.
A company that's been bubbling below the radar for a season or two is Spark R&D. Now general acceptance of their product, plus a huge quality increase, has resulted in Spark being the binding of choice for split board enthusiasts. The lightweight stiff base plates slide directly onto the Voilé mounting pucks, for a seamless and disc-free set up that's far less likely to come loose.
If you can't make up your mind, hire your board and find out which one suits your style. You will also be able to check out the latest innovations in snowboarding gear.