Carving is a sport of precision, which means you will benefit from knowing
some of the finer details about how carving boards are designed, and the subtle
characteristics that add to carving performance.
There are four main types of boards that cater to carving: Race, Freecarve,
All-Mountain, and Boardercross:
Burton Factory Prime 157
A race board is a stiff snowboard with a flat, square tail and a long effective
edge for good grip. A race board likes perfect groomers: if there are any bumps
or crud on the slope, you will get knocked around, which means it's an early
morning board. GS boards often have a few mm of taper to make them handle crud a bit better. Some racers prefer narrow boards for quick edge changes, but
some racers go for wider boards that allow lower stance angles and more mobility.
Race boards come in two flavors:
- A Giant Slalom (GS) board comes in a longer length and larger sidecut radius.
- A Slalom (SL) board has a shorter length and smaller sidecut radius, and is sometimes
a tad wider to allow lower binding angles.
As a beginner, you can use a slalom board to learn how to carve at low speed,
but you will want to quickly progress to a GS board for carving, because it provides more stability and edge hold at higher speeds. You should
use hard-shell boots with a race board. Some recommended race boards:
- Three boards stand out:
- Donek GS: Lively, lightweight, quick, nimble, but less forgiving.
- Coiler PureRace (Coiler is not to be confused with the Burton Coil).
Damp, heavier, and forgiving, with plenty of spring at the end of a turn.
They are lower cost, but the waiting list is rather long.
- Prior WCR: Has a lot of pop to it, so that you can jump from one turn
to another. Recent models seem to be a bit damper.
- F2 Speedster RS: Damp and fast. Model years after 2001 have a softer flex.
- Nidecker Custom GS: Lively. Since 2002, Nidecker has made the Custom
GS softer and damper in the longer lengths.
Nidecker race boards tend to lose their camber rather quickly.
- Some examples of GS race boards for comparison:
|18 or 19cm
- Tomahawk: Made in Italy in small quantities. Popular with world cup racers.
- Völkl Renntiger: Volkl boards are very lively. Older models were a
bit too soft in the nose for aggressive carvers. They have extra tail pop,
which makes them good for slalom racing.
- Sigi Grabner boards: designed with a boat-hull nose to get through crud on a race course.
- Hot Blast. It has as much pop as the Volkl. Often preferred as a slalom
- Oxygen Proton: Very Damp, with great edge hold, but not so much pop.
- Discontinued gear that is still available new or slightly used:
- Nitro GTO
- Burton Factory Prime
- Burton Speed (Softer than the Factory Prime)
- Nidecker Tornado (older version of the Custom GS)
- Rossi World Cup: damp.
- Rossi Throttle
A freecarve board is a detuned race board. It will typically be slightly shorter
and less stiff than a race board, have a smaller sidecut radius to allow tighter
turns at lower speed, and have a slightly rounded tail in place of a square tail. Freecarve boards are ideal for beginners, since they don't require high speeds before they will start carving a locked-in turn. Like race
boards, they are narrow to allow fast edge changes. They do not lock into a
turn quite as tightly as a race board, but you won't get bumped around on less
than perfect grooming. Some freecarve boards, like the Donek Freecarve, hold
an edge as well as a typical race board. Most freecarve boards have zero taper, which provides a bit extra edge hold for carving a deeper trench. You should use hard-shell boots with a
freecarve board. Some recommended boards include:
- Donek Freecarve: Excellent edge hold, stability, and response.
Starting in '06, the Donek Freecarve boards are softer, for better hold on ice.
- Coiler Freecarve and RaceCarve
- F2 Silberpfeil. The nose aggressively hooks for great edge hold, but requires
more skill to ride.
- Some examples for comparison:
|F2 Silberpfeil 172
- Discontinued gear that is still available new or slightly used
- Burton Ultra Prime
- Nitro GTX
- Rossi Accelerator
- PureCarve Maverick
Burton Coil 173
An all-mountain board is a go-anywhere board: it's good for carving, but also good for crud, bumps, and surfing in powder or
slush. The waist width is typically around 21 cm, which is wider than a race or freecarve board to allow
lower boot angles for more leverage when maneuvering. The nose is softer and the boards have taper, to
avoid diving in powder. They have a small sidecut radius, which makes them very
easy to turn, and are a little shorter than a freecarve board, to assist in
maneuverability. The nose and tail are more upturned, allowing the board to
glide over bumps and crud, and to float in powder. In addition, the nose and tail have a more rounded profile, which makes the board much more forgiving when entering a turn.
Because of the more rounded and upturned tail, all-mountain boards have less effective edge, which results
in somewhat less edge hold than either a race board or a freecarve board. These boards provide the easiest transition from freeriding to carving, since you
can learn to carve on these boards even if you have never ridden a snowboard. A lot of carvers
ride all-mountain boards with softer hard boots and/or softer hard bindings as their "soft"
setup for surfing powder.
It is also possible to ride all-mountain boards with soft boots and soft bindings, as long as the board is wide enough for your boot/binding combo:
- If you have smaller feet and use high binding angles, you may be able to ride a 21cm all-mountain board with soft boots/bindings without too much boot overhang.
- If you have normal size feet and/or want to ride with lower angles in a softboot setup, you might want to go with a BX board instead, with a waist width of at least 24 cm (26 if you have bigger feet).
All-mountain boards are designed by trading off among three characteristics:
flotation in powder, carving on groomers, and maneuverability in bumps/trees.
An all-mountain board is usually designed to excel in one of these characteristics, at
the expense of the others, which is why going custom can make sense if you want
to control the tradeoffs. Some recommended boards:
- Three all-mountain boards stand out:
- Coiler All Mountain (a tad more maneuverability in the trees, and very damp on piste)
- Donek Axis (stiffer, so it's not the best in pow, but it's a tad easier to carve groomers). It's a board "made for carving, that also can go off-piste". Because it's stiffer, so you might lose some of the nimble control if you use it
with soft boots.
This board was designed for people who spend 80% of their time on the groomers.
- Prior 4WD (a tad easier to float in powder). It's a board made for off-piste, that carves well. It's a bit softer than the Axis. It's unusually versatile: some people claim that
these boards carve on the groom as well as a freecarve board.
- Some examples for comparison:
All Mt 169
All Mt 172
|19, 21.5, or 23
|21.5 or 23
- Volkl Coal
- F2 Speedster GTS
- Discontinued gear that is still available new or slightly used
- F2 Speedcross
- Burton Wire
- Burton Coil
- F2 Roadster
- Nitro Blazer
- Hot Shine
A Boardercross (BX) board is a combination of a freeride board and a race board. It has the
light weight and stiffness of a high-end freeride board for maneuvering through
jumps and quick ollies, plus it has race board attributes like stiffer flex
and better edge hold. Compared to a freeride board, it has a longer effective
edge and larger sidecut radius for carving on a berm. All of these features
require more advanced fabrication, and it's typically the most expensive board
in a manufacturer's lineup. You can ride all of these boards with soft boots,
and most of them with hard boots. Some recommended boards:
- A few boards stand out:
- Madd BX
- Donek Incline - You can ride this board in hardboots. If you have big feet, it may be a bit narrow for softies unless you crank the binding angles or use risers.
- Donek Wide - This board is designed to be wide enough for softboots (26 cm). If you want to ride it with hardboots, you need to get a custom modification that reinforces the area around the inserts.
- Prior ATV or custom MFR
- F2 Eliminator Ltd
- Nidecker Proto
- Palmer Crown. It has a Titanium butterfly pattern (just like the Madd
boards), as well as carbon fiber strips.
- Discontinued gear that is still available new or slightly used
- Nitro Naturals
- Nidecker NBX
- Nidecker Project TM
- Volkl Downhell
- Volkl Cross: More of a modified race board, it allows high-speed carving
on the berms of a BX course
- Volkl Spline (more mellow than the Cross)
- Sims Daytona: The forward loaded camber requires an aggressive carving
- Palmer Channel
- Nidecker Escape
- Nidecker Smoke
- Prior Playas
- Nitro Attax
- Nitro Torque
- Salomon FRS
- Oxygen SX
- Burton Fusion
- Hot Fireball
Stiffness, Length, Sidecut
For each type of board (race, freecarve, all-mountain, etc), stiffness, length,
and sidecut are related and primarily determine how the board performs.
- Stiffness: The lengthwise stiffness for a given flex pattern
is measured by placing weights at the binding locations and measuring the
deflection of the board while it is supported horizontally at the tip and
tail. It is important to get a board that has the right stiffness based on
your weight so that you can decamber it properly when you are in the middle
of a turn. Stiffer boards require more weight or harder carves to decamber.
If you weigh more, you need a stiffer board. If you intend to carve hard GS
turns, you need a stiffer board. There is no standardized measurement for
stiffness, and each manufacturer has a different metric. Donek has a "stiffness
index" for its boards on the spec
sheet. Manufacturers often do not indicate the stiffness of a board at
all: in the case of production boards, stiffness is implied by the type of
board (race, freecarve, etc), and the length (longer = greater stiffness). The
SWOARD is the only non-custom board on
the market to offer multiple stiffnesses for each length.
- Flex Pattern: A single stiffness metric for a board is somewhat misleading, because it does not take into account the flex pattern. The flex pattern determines how the board decambers in a carve. Some boards may have a non-linear flex, depending on the materials used: the board flexes rather easily, then suddenly becomes very stiff past a certain decambered radius. If a board manufacturer specifies stiffness indexes, it's best to treat those values as relative, for use only in comparing stiffness between boards in the manufacturer's lineup.
One other thing to keep in mind: a board becomes slightly less stiff every time you apply a base grind. Flex pattern also partially determines how
much energy springs back from a turn to help you hop into the next turn.
The flex pattern plays a role in how
pressure is transmitted to the edge of the board. If all the pressure gets transmitted to the center of the edge, the board will have bad edge hold on ice. Different flex patterns are optimized for different terrain:
- Boards that are stiffer at the nose and tail, but softer between the bindings are better for powder. The stiffer nose provides support to prevent the nose from digging in. The softer mid section will give you more maneuverability through the trees, since it will allow you to shift your weight back and wheelie your way through powder when necessary.
- Boards that are softer in the nose and tail, and generally softer throughout, tend to have better edge hold on ice.
- Length: There are three parameters related to length:
The total length is the tip-to-tail length, usually along the surface of the
board (not the chord length). Running length is the length along the edge
that will be in contact with the ground when laid flat, between the upturned
nose and tail sections. Effective edge is the length of the edge in contact
with the snow when the board is decambered in a turn, and is usually a bit
longer than running length, since a small segment of the edge in the upturned nose
and tail can be used as part of the sidecut. For carving, effective edge is
the most important edge length measurement, and depends on both the overall length
and the type of board. Race boards are designed to maximize the amount of
edge in contact with the snow, whereas all-mountain boards have a more upturned
tip and tail, which raises more of the edge off the snow. A board with more
effective edge provides more grip and therefore more stability at high speeds,
but is more sensitive to chopped up terrain. Longer boards are also faster,
because the force is spread over a greater length. Shorter boards tend to
be more squirrelly at high speed, but are more maneuverable, provide better
response, and are somewhat more forgiving. If you need to skid your way down
a section that you can't carve, it will be more difficult on a longer board.
For hero snow, you want a longer effective edge to take advantage of the better
grip. For chopped up snow, you can use a board with a shorter effective edge
that is more maneuverable. As an example: On the Donek spec
sheet, the Freecarve 171 and Freecarve 179 have the same sidecut radius,
but different lengths - the longer board will be more stable when carving,
but less maneuverable in chop.
- Sidecut radius: The sidecut radius is the radius of the approximate circle that defines the board's edge when the board is laid flat on
the ground. The sidecut radius is a measure of how tightly the board will
want to turn.
- Small sidecut radius boards such as slalom boards want to make small-radius
turns at low speed. If you push them beyond a certain speed, the G-force
from the turn will try to push them into making a larger arc, and they
won't be able to hold an edge, resulting in a chatter or wash-out. Large
sidecut radius boards like GS race boards want to make large radius turns
at high speed, and let you cruise big arcs. They won't start to carve
until you get them up to a certain speed, which means you may need to
burn up more terrain when starting down the hill before carving, otherwise
you will either tip over or skid out. Smaller sidecut boards are good
for crowded slopes where you need to slalom your way around people at
lower speed, or for resorts that have narrow runs. Get a large sidecut
radius if you want to go fast on a wide run during the weekdays when few people
are on the slope. Some manufacturers have introduced "racecarve"
boards with a sidecut in between a GS board and a freecarve board.
- The actual radius of a carved turn (the decambered radius) is tighter
than the sidecut radius and is a function of the sidecut, how high the
board is tilted on edge, the stiffness of the board, and the pressure applied by the rider through the bindings. You will get a smaller radius turn with a
smaller sidecut, higher board edge angle, softer board, and more binding pressure. However, the dominant effects are different depending on how high the board is tilted on edge:
- If the board is very high on edge, the stiffness of the board and the binding pressure mostly determine the decambered radius.
- If the board is lower on edge, the sidecut radius will primarily determine the decambered radius.
- It is possible to muscle a large-sidecut board into a smaller
arc, but you can't force a small-sidecut board into a bigger arc. If you
get a large sidecut board, you can "grow into it" as you gain
more carving skill, by shortening the decambered radius
as you get better.
- What sidecut is better for ice? A smaller sidecut allows you to carve at a lower speed, but you don't get as much effective edge for edge hold. A larger sidecut forces you to carve at higher speeds, but you get more effective edge. The answer is to use the largest sidecut for your skill level: Advanced carvers can muscle a large sidecut radius board into a small decambered turn radius, bleeding off speed, while using the longer effective edge of the bigger board.
- In order to make the board follow a path that is circular
when decambered on the snow, the manufacturer often designs the board using a sidecut shape that is not a circle. Which means the sidecut radius changes along the length of the board, using one of several
- Using a mathematical curve: Conic sections, Quadratic, Elliptical,
Parabolic, etc. The average radius of the sidecut curve is different
at different points on the board, and determines how the nose, tail,
and center of the board hook up with the snow. For instance, Donek
boards have a combination of flex and parabolic sidecut that allows them to
grip well on ice by transmitting pressure to the nose and tail. As a result, Sean Martin claims that Donek boards do not need any extra dampening. Atomic uses a triadic progressive sidecut for their snowboards, whatever that means.
- Using a progressive sidecut that starts out larger near the nose
(to make it easy to enter turns), then changes to a smaller radius
near the tail (to provide acceleration, like a slingshot). The Volkl
3D sidecut is one example. This design is often used for BX boards.
- Some board companies still use circular sidecuts: namely, SWOARD and Coiler.
- Sidecut Depth: The distance that the sidecut intrudes into
the board, measured from a line connecting the widest point at the tip and
tail to the deepest point on the sidecut. Greater sidecut depth (smaller sidecut
radius on a larger board) results in a board that is more hooky. There is
sometimes ambiguity when people use the term "sidecut" without
a qualifier, since they could be referring to either sidecut depth or sidecut
radius. Plus, some people consider a small sidecut radius to be more "extreme".
When people say "that board has more sidecut," they sometimes mean
a smaller sidecut radius and more sidecut depth (a more extreme
When selecting a board, your weight directly determines only the best stiffness
of the board that you select - it does not directly determine the length or
the sidecut. Manufacturers don't usually give stiffness metrics for their boards,
so the only way to measure it yourself is to get your hands on the board and
flex it. Since this method isn't so practical, the actual selection of a board
depends on whether you are looking to buy a production board or a custom board:
- For a production board, the length, stiffness, and sidecut radius of a manufacturer's
production lineup are correlated - the longer the board, the stiffer the board
and the larger the sidecut radius, which means that your weight will also
happen to correlate to length, so you can buy a board by selecting a length
based on your weight. However, it is important not to buy a board based on
your height - the slackers at the board shop seem to have the misconception
that height corresponds to board length.
- For a custom board, the board manufacturer will suggest a starting point
for stiffness, length, and sidecut optimized for your weight and riding style.
Then, you get to tweak the parameters more or less independently within allowable
ranges. For instance, you could ask for a long 185 cm board with a short 11
M sidecut, and the longer board may stipulate a certain minimum stiffness.
After stiffness, length, and sidecut, the other significant characteristic
is lively vs. damp:
- A lively board is more nimble, and will provide snappy tail spring at the end of each turn to
launch you into the next turn so that you get a trampoline effect. You can
also "pump" the board at each turn to tap into the energy. A lively
board requires a little more skill to handle, since the energy can throw you
if you don't handle the rebound. A lively board is ideal to have on perfect (hero) snow.
However, it will not hold quite as well on ice or crud, and is slightly more
susceptible to chattering and skidding, since it transmits all the energy from bumps in the terrain.
- A damp provides better edge hold
on ice because it's "quieter," it can absorb bumps in the terrain, and you are less likely to experience chattering. However, damp boards generally have less tail spring to launch you into the next turn. Some board companies claim to use advanced techniques and materials to add more tail spring to damp boards. It's easier
to learn new skills on a damp board - then, move to a lively board and try
leveraging the "snap."
When buying a board, it's highly recommended to demo at least one lively board and one damp board, because you will probably find that you much prefer one type over the other. Your style will play a role: if you do a lot of slalom-type cross-under, you want a lively board that
easily crosses under you on each turn. The Hot Blast and Volkl Renntiger are
favorites here. If you use a GS cross-through style on a rutted slope, you may
want a damp board like the F2 Speedster RS, Oxygen Proton or Coiler Pure Race: those boards keep the edge in the snow
as you shift your weight downhill and over the board.
You can get an indication of the tail spring by holding the tip of the board
off the ground with one hand and bracing the tail on the floor with your foot.
Then, with your other hand, flex the board and see how fast it springs back.
Whether a board works for you depends on your specific riding style and skill
level, so you really can't rely on reviews from other people. When you demo
a board, you will want to compare it side-by-side under the same conditions
with one of your existing boards, since binding setup and snow texture have
a huge impact on board performance. Reviews of a board in isolation are basically useless: the best reviews will do a head-to-head comparison. When you have a chance to demo a board,
try to determine what subtle changes you need to make to your riding style to
get the best performance from the board.
The setback of a board is the amount by which the insert packs
are shifted rearward relative to the center of the contact edge. Manufacturers
typically design boards with a setback of 0 to 4 cm so that when you shift
your weight forward during a carve, your center of gravity (COG) is over the apex of the sidecut.
For this reason, it's usually a good idea to setup your bindings symmetric
to the insert packs, and then adjust from there as necessary.
Snowboards come with Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) bases that are either
sintered or extruded. Sintered bases are more porous, and as a result are
better at absorbing and retaining wax. They also have longer polymer chains,
which makes them more durable, but more expensive to repair. There are three
major suppliers of snowboard base material:
IMS Plastics was the first to patent a process to create a plastic
material that can be easily bonded using epoxy, resulting in P-Tex, their brand
of base material. However, base materially of any type is generically referred to as "P-Tex".
Each company offers several different grades of base material with different
durabilities and additives. Indium absorbs heat generated by friction between
the base and snow, allowing the board to be "self cooling." The heat
is carried away from the base and prevents the snow from melting into a layer
of water that slows down the ride. Graphite conducts static electricity away
from the base to lower friction, providing a small gain in speed on a race
course. The P-Tex Electra base consists of about 11-12% graphite. However, graphite makes the base less durable and less able to absorb
wax. Here are the specs for several grades of P-Tex.
|Wax absorption mg/cm²
Abrasive volume loss relative to carbon steel
|Transparent or colored polyethylene
|Transparent or colored UHMWPE
|P-Tex 2000 Ga/In
|P-Tex 2000 + thermo-active additives
|P-Tex 2000 Electra
|P-Tex 2000 + carbon additives
|Transparent or colored UHMWPE
|P-Tex 4000 Ga/In
|P-Tex 4000 + thermo-active additives
|P-Tex 4000 Electra
|P-Tex 4000 + carbon additives
"Old Titanal" dates back to the 60s: It was sold under the Aluflex brand, and it was actually an aluminum sheet.
Frank shows off the Metal Virus board.
|The Titanal that everyone is talking about is an aluminum alloy that has been used for several years by various manufacturers, either with fiberglass, or "raw" without fiberglass. Several board manufactures experimented with it in the 1990s, and in particular, Volkl has mentioned the use of "Titanal inlays" in its marketing literature. However, starting in '05, Kessler fabricated custom race boards using Titanal specifically to provide dampening for racers going through an icy and rutted-up race course. Kessler also made a splash marketing-wise, since the Titanal was visible on the topsheet of these boards. Subsequently, Jasey-Jay rode on a Titanal-enhanced Coiler and won two gold medals at the World Championships in Whistler. As a result, there is something of a Titanal frenzy going on in the racing world, with racers and board makers eager to get on the Titanal bandwagon.
- Titanal provides more torsional stiffness, and gives a damper response. As a result, it is much easier to carve on icy slopes than with a regular board - there is really no comparison. At first glance, a Titanal-enhanced board would seem likely to help only folks who are already at the top of their game on the race course. However, carvers are reporting that Titanal improves the performance of any type of board (all-mountain, freecarve, race) for freecarving as well as racing, and for people with various degrees of carving skill. Presumably, if Titanal can smooth out the bumpiness from badly groomed ice, then it could theoretically benefit anyone. However, based on observations from several board manufacturers, it appears that there is something in the Kessler boards other than Titanal that provides the boards with exceptional dampness.
- Titanal is similar to 6061 aluminum or series 7000 aluminum. It's an Aluminum alloy with a special anodized surface that attempts to make it stick better. A Titanal-enhanced board will typically have a layer of Titanal just under the topsheet, and another layer near the base. However, there are still problems with adhesion, and Titanal boards are somewhat more susceptible to delamination. Because Titanal bonding is iffy, care has to be taken to prevent delamination. Prior has a disclaimer on their web site that applies to their metal boards: "damage caused by metal baseplate bindings that do not have sufficient rubber gaskets underneath them does not fall under the coverage offered by warranty."
- Titanal is normally available in a 0.4mm thickness, however Kessler ordered a special 0.3mm thickness that has questionable durability.
- It is still debatable whether Titanal boards are durable enough for frequent freecarving, or whether they are limited to racing. When a board is built with a layer of fiberglass on top of the Titanal, the board is much more durable. But Titanal boards without a layer of fiberglass may be particularly prone to delamination problems from localized stresses.
Most snowboards have a wood core. Ash, Spruce, Poplar, and Beech are common. Most board companies use vertically laminated cores for a more predictable flex pattern, with the exception of Hot, which still uses horizontal lamination. A vertically laminated core consists of several strips of wood, maybe 3/4 inch wide, lined up side-by-side like a miniature hardwood floor, with each strip going down the length of the board. The stringers are the strips of wood that run through the areas occupied by the inserts. The stringers are often a stronger wood, such as Ash, whereas the rest of the core might be a cheaper wood, like Poplar. Ash has a maximum insert strength of around 1500 lbs/insert, whereas Poplar is more like 900 lbs/insert. Wood cores can be either straight or pre-cambered. Pre-cambered wood cores have a camber milled directly into the wood. Boards with straight cores get their camber entirely from the press while the epoxy cures. Volkl and Coiler use pre-cambered wood cores, which extends the life of the board by preserving the board camber longer.
Cores will deviate in stiffness by a small amount from board to board, however the important thing is that each core should have a symmetrical flex pattern about the long axis. This symmetry is often achieved by creating a core that consists of two half-cores, where each half-core core is half the width, and a mirror image of the other half.
The type of core also determines how well a board holds its camber: Older Rossi boards used a foam core, which provided a highly consistent flex pattern. However, Rossi boards with the foam core tended to lose their camber quickly.
Sidewall construction comes in two major flavors: cap construction and sandwich construction. Cap construction is a type of sidewall construction where the topsheet is rounded to meet the metal edges, and it has a few advantages:
- It's cheaper to build.
- It makes it easier to create a board that is more torsionally stiff.
- It can provide more edge hold, because the edge profile is thinner than sandwich construction.
- Cap boards tend to be more lively.
- They have durability problems: they will start to lose their structural integrity if they get dinged
from the side.
- They are difficult if not impossible to repair.
- Cap construction is also somewhat weaker than sandwich construction.
- Despite having good edge hold, cap boards tend to transmit the all the terrain bumps to the rider.
Sandwich construction is a type of sidewall construction that looks like a sandwich from the side. It is stronger than cap construction, more durable, and easy to repair. Nominally, boards with sandwich construction have less torsional stiffness, but snowboard makers who know what they are doing can build a board with sandwich construction and still maintain good torsional stiffness. Slantwall construction is a type of sandwich construction, and may help provide more edge hold with a thinner edge profile.
Dualtec: Some boards have cap construction at the tip and tail, and sandwich
construction in the middle - Rossignol used the term "Dualtec" for
Other board facts
- The bases of boards tend to warp a little over time, usually becoming more concave (edge high), and must be flattened with a belt sander.
In addition, some boards tend to warp significantly as a result of temperature changes; the base may be flat at room temperature, then warp into a concave shape when you are on the slope. For this reason, it's not too terribly important to attempt to achieve a perfectly flat base when you get a base grind.
- The camber of a board is the natural lengthwise concave curvature of the
base. If you lay the board flat on the ground, the middle of the board will be elevated by 1 to 2 cm. Along with board stiffness, the camber is what gives the feeling of
snap to the board. If a board loses its camber, it will feel dead. It's important to identify when your board has lost its camber, so that you can replace it before it starts to impact your carving performance. You can measure the camber by placing the board base-down on a flat surface and observing how much force is necessary to flatten it. It's a good idea to measure this camber-force when you get a new board, so that you can monitor any loss of camber. A forward-loaded
camber shifts the apex of the camber more toward the front, allows very snappy turn initiation, and requires a rider to start each
turn with weight shifted toward the front of the board. For a board with forward-loaded
camber, some people tweak their binding setup to help with the weight shift:
- Use a flat binding on the front foot, rather than toe lift: it will naturally shift your weight forward.
- Move the binding stance forward.
- Torsional stiffness is the resistance to twisting along the length of the
board. You can get a very rough measure of the torsional stiffness by clamping the tail of the board between your feet and trying to twist the nose with your hands. A more torsionally stiff board does two things:
- It can better transmit
force to the edge, which provides better edge hold on ice and more stability
at speed. If you are looking for a board that holds an edge well on groomed ice, high torsional stiffness is the most important factor.
- It can prevent the board from twisting, and therefore prevent the nose and tail of the board from trying to carve different radius arcs, which can reduce skidding or chattering on heel side.
- Most snowboards are tapered, which means the overall width of the board
decreases when going from the nose to the tail: Taper = (nose width - tail
width), and typically ranges from 0 to 6 mm for carving boards, achieved by
tilting the sidecut curve at an angle relative to the long axis of the board, or by moving the sidecut curve back.
Taper will keep the board from hooking too much in the tail, allowing the
board to release easily. It also provides better flotation and turning ability
in powder. Boards designed for powder, like swallowtails, have huge taper. Racers often order custom boards with large amounts of taper, up to around 11mm, because they need to get the board to easily transition from one turn into the next turn on a rutted-up race course. On the other hand, Inca carving snowboards have a large amount of reverse
taper, which gives them great edge hold on ice.
Boards that are very torsionally stiff benefit from extra taper, to make them release easier.
- Soft in the nose: Some boards are soft in the nose, allowing the nose to
flex more easily to provide better flotation in powder, and to absorb the
shock of bumps and crud. However, if you carve aggressively with a board that
is soft in the nose, you risk putting too much weight on the nose as you shift
your weight forward to enter a turn, which can cause the nose to catch on
the slope and "fold over", bending like a hinge. Folding the nose
can launch you into a cartwheel, and possibly break the board. Some boards
have a very nonlinear nose response - they seem to have a hard nose until
you push them past a certain point, when the nose gives out completely.
- Width: A narrow board will allow you to change edges quickly, and will be
easier to turn, especially when doing cross-under movements. But narrow boards are somewhat more difficult to balance, and
don't provide as much leverage. They also require higher binding angles to
avoid boot-out, which may limit your mobility and rotation, and prevent you from being able to absorb bumps from ruts and chop.
When riding off-piste, your want a wider board, such as an all-mountain board; with a wider board, you can turn down your binding angle, which provides more maneuverability to help navigate around the crud.
- Some boards are not tuned at the factory, and/or have really cheap wax on
the base. You may need to stone grind the base, sharpen your desired edge
angles, and wax the board yourself. When you buy a new board, you should wax
it several times to make sure the base is fully saturated. Many race boards
come from the factory with a side edge bevel of 1-2º and a base edge
bevel of 1º.
If you buy a board directly from the manufacturer, you should ask what edge angles are on the board. See the tuning page for more details.
- Very old snowboards had no inserts: instead, they were like skis and required
holes to be drilled to accept ski screws. Without beefy 3/4" inserts in the board, ski screws on their own cannot handle the
stresses required for carving - they will probably rip right out of the board. So don't buy an old board without inserts.
It's also not a great idea to try to add a whole bunch of inserts to an old board, since the area around the inserts won't be reinforced, and it may weaken the board in that area. Ski screws are the metric equivalent of ANSI #12 AB (5.5mm in diameter), whereas
snowboard bolts are 6 mm in diameter.
- Insert pattern: Most boards other than Burton come with the 4x4 hole pattern,
which accommodates a binding that is attached by 4 bolts at the corners of
a square, 40 mm on a side. Many boards with a 4x4 hole pattern have a 40mm
x 20mm insert layout to allow finer adjustment fore/aft, such as Nidecker
and Oxygen. However, with double the number of inserts, there are more holes and less core material to reinforce the inserts, lowering the insert strength. It's better to go with a board that has a 40x40 insert pattern, and use bindings like Bomber or Catek, that offer fine adjustment fore/aft. Burton uses the 3D mounting pattern, which accommodates a binding
that is attached by 3 bolts at the corners of an equilateral triangle that is 43 mm on a side. The 3D pattern is considered "a bit weak" for handling the stresses of carving. Also, compatibility
problems between 4x4 bindings and the 3D mounting pattern can cause headaches.
- Older Burtons, like the PJ series from the early 90's, have the "variplate"
5-hole pattern that is not compatible with modern bindings. This pattern had
an insert that mated to a mounting hole in the middle of the binding, and two pairs of inserts that mated to
the extreme ends of the binding. Older Nitro boards and Sims board had their own weird 5-hole patterns,
and Hooger Booger had a 6-hole pattern.
- There is yet another type of board that you need to get for early and late
in the season - a rock board, which is an old banged up carving board that
you don't mind trashing on the rocks hiding under thin cover. Rock boards
are also useful for practicing your tuning skills. Rossi boards with the foam
core make great rock boards. Don't bring out your good carving boards until
your rock board spends a day going untouched. In many parts of the US,
Thanksgiving is often a rock board day.
- If you force the board to bend by pulling your feet together in a turn,
any added performance that you get will depend on the flex pattern of the
board, but typically you will lose performance.
- A handful of alpine boards are reviewed at BoardReviews.com
(Donek, Coiler, Custom Craft, Hot, PureCarve, Volkl), but the most extensive selection of reviews are on Bomber.
- Racers typically use a pair of boards, consisting of a trainer and a racer. The idea is to preserve the base grind of the racer board by using it only for races.
Split-tail racing board
A split tail is a long race board with a narrow split-tail gap. The greater length of the board provides stability, but the split tail makes easier to turn, as if it were a shorter board. You can also get split-tail race boards custom made. Some split-tails
have an adjustment bar that spans the gap in the tail to make the tail softer
- Coiler previously made split-tail boards, and included multiple insert pairs in the tail that could be bridged with an adjustment bar to vary the stiffness. Coiler may no longer make split-tails to order, due to the time and expense involved.
- Alpinepunk sells the AfterBurner split-tail, made by Prior. It goes for 8900 Swedish Kronas.
- Sims previous made the legendary Sims Burner, a stiff split-tail race
board that Mark Fawcett helped design. It has very high stability and is designed
for pure speed, but with the maneuverability of a shorter board. '00 was the
last season that you could buy a Sims Burner in the US, but it was continued
for a few years later in Japan, then the model was manufactured under the Hasco brand until '03. Burners require some care when riding, since
it is possible to break the tail if you land on it hard. It came in lengths
of 162, 167, 188, and 197: all lengths except the 162 had a split tail.
Burners are becoming increasingly rare, since the tails continue to break on what few boards still remain. If you own a Burner, you'll probably break the tail sooner than later, so it's best if you sell it now while it still has good resale value. The 178 length was custom made for the Japanese snowboard team, and is extremely rare.
Swallowtail powder board
Regular freestyle boards don't work well in powder because they are too short,
don't have enough taper, and lack adequate flotation. As a result, you will always be putting all your weight on your back foot - your back leg will get really sore, and it's not fun. For deep powder days,
forget the carving board and go with a swallowtail, a rocket-shaped board designed
for surfing turns in powder. The swallowtail has a few characteristics that
make it great for bottomless pow-pow:
- A wide gap in the tail, which allows it to naturally sink in powder without
requiring excessive back foot pressure, allowing you to be centered on the board. As a result, it really feels like surfing. In addition, the gap in the tail allows you to turn the board without losing speed.
- A nose that comes to a point (boat-hull), which causes the board to rise to the surface
and float on top of the powder. The nose of the swallowtail is generally immune
- A softer nose, to further enhance the float.
- It often has a large taper, which means the width of the board decreases
when going from the nose to the tail. The large taper helps with flotation.
- They tend to be longer - up to 200 cm. The extra length provides good flotation
and makes them go fast, but it also means they are sluggish when turning.
Not all of them are maneuverable through trees. If you are going on a heli-trip, and the terrain is mostly wide open, go with a swallowtail, but if the terrain includes glades and trees, the swallowtail may not be maneuverable enough.
- Due to the deep gap in the tail, swallowtails lack torsional stiffness and
are not good at carving on groomers: they will typically vibrate and
nervously flop around when carving at high speed. Some swallowtails are uniquely unsuited to groomers.
Most swallowtails can be ridden with soft boots or softer hard boots, and one good option
is to use the older (and now discontinued) snowboard hard boots with fully lugged soles, like the Raichle
121 or the Raichle Snowboarder. Swallowtails also require some care when riding, since it is possible
to break one of the tail sections if you apply too much leverage on hard snow,
especially with plate bindings. See the boardspecs link on Swallowtails.org. Some recommended boards include:
- Rossi Undertaker 185: great flotation, and it rides fast, but it's not agile:
you can't make tight turns or take it into the trees. You can ride it with
softer hard boots.
- Nitro Saber P.O.W. 181. It looks like a continuation of the Nitro PowderGun:
Great flotation. It has a soft flex that doesn't like groomers, and it should be ridden only with soft boots. 20mm of taper.
- Winterstick: For '05, a 185 cm
model is available. Great performance in powder, but don't take it on the
groom. A historic anthology of the Winterstick brand is located at winterstick.org.
- The APOcalypse Swallow RR, designed by Regis Rolland. If you watch the older snowboard video "Apocalypse SNOW," you can see Regis surfing it up on a swallowtail.
- SwellPanik Magistral 185
- A fishtail, which has a shallow V-shaped cut in the back instead of the
deep gap of a swallowtail. In addition to riding well in powder, a fishtail
retains torsional stiffness for carving on groomers. A few examples:
- The O-Sin 4807 powder
board. It has a unique combination of good float in pow (even
at low speed), good maneuverability in the trees, and OK carving on the groom
as long as you don't push it - if you carve hard on it, the nose starts to
vibrate. It's also not going to respond quickly when carving on groom since
it's wide. You can ride it with plates or softies. Plus, the soft boat-hull
nose allows it to go over crud. '05 was the last year that the 4807 was made, but you can still find them used. They came in two lengths: 168 and 178. Go with the 178 if you are > 185 lbs.
- The Volkl Selecta has a fishtail shape, but the tail gap area is covered and reinforced with an unusual "powder exhaust". 20mm of taper.
- Rossi Judge
Nico from www.freestyler.it provided a review of the
F2 Lancelot 172 Swallowtail ('02 model)
The Lancelot is incredible in powder, no weight shift to rear leg, no difference between tracks and out. In the tracks you still can use it for carving with (better) really stiff softboots. Yes it is better to avoid putting too much weight on the tail, but the Lancelot, thanks to reduced length tails and V shaped rear cut, still keeps a good back torsional stiffness (compared to my excellent actual Nitro Supernatural 163). Carving on the edge, you can reach high speeds, thanks to 1400 mm of effective edge, F2 called it a powdercarving machine, but carving tight radius curves is not allowed. It is really a bx Eliminator with added big tip and swallowtails. In opposite, it is a bit larger than written on specs, about 259, and stiffer than usual (perhaps less on 2003 sandwich second and last model); obviously the edge to edge transition is not so quick for the average-footed rider (I have euro 42 us 8,5), and maneuverability (handling) is poor if compared to a normal freeride board. Never tried it with hardboots, but I think there should not be problems (the brother Eliminator since 2002 was made to be ridden also with plate bindings). The board surely requires almost a medium-heavy guy (i'm 85 kg) and active riding.
Powder boards: In addition to the swallowtail and fishtail,
there are several others:
- A round-tail powder board with extreme taper. The downside of these boards is that you tend to lose speed every time you turn the board. Because these are shorter, you need to achieve a certain minimum speed before they will float.
- The Prior Khyber, with a taper that ranges from 20 to 31mm. It is similar to the Malolo, but perhaps a bit stiffer, which makes it lean more to on-piste than off. See Phil's review
- Burton Fish: For '05, the 160 cm length had 40mm of taper, which was reduced to 30mm for '06. Because
the Fish is a shorter board, it requires more speed to get flotation, but it's highly
maneuverable in the trees, so it's good if you are on a heli-trip and
plan on going though glades as well as wide-open. But, the huge taper
will keep you from finishing turns on groom. Maybe a bit less float than a 4807. The insert packs are set way back on the board so that you can remain centered in pow. The Fish comes in two lengths: 156 or 160. Go with the 160 if you are > 185 lbs. See Phil's review. Because of the versatility and good float of the Fish, it tends to be a favorite at Mike Wiegele's heli-ski resort, which has a lot of trees - On their web site, it says that the board shop rents the Burton Fish, Malolo and Baron.
- Burton Malolo: For '06, this powder board has 20mm of taper, and goes
up to 162 in length. With less taper than the Fish, it is supposed to work OK on groomers. But the fish will be more fun, turny, and nimble in deep pow.
- The Dupraz D1 powder board, with a boat-hull nose.
- A longboard designed for powder. These boards are twin-tip, freeride-shaped boards, in long lengths and with larger sidecuts. These boards work well when either
floating or carving. When looking for something that surfs well in powder,
a longer and wider board has better performance. It also helps to get a board
that is softer in the nose so that it doesn't dive in powder. A couple of options:
- The Rad-Air Tanker. The 167, 177,
and 187 lengths come in oversize widths, and are great powder boards. The
older '03 Limited Edition Crown is a premium version of the Tanker, which is stiffer, lighter,
and provides more snap. All the Tankers carve surprisingly well on hardpack, but their extra-wide
shape slows everything down a notch. In contrast, they tend to be fast when surfing powder. You can use them with either a stiff softboot setup, or with softer plate bindings / hardboots. If you go with the non-oversized models, go long, for better powder flotation. They come in sizes up to 200cm. Because they are wide, they are ideal for people with big feet.
- Lib-Tech Grocer 180 11/9M 26.2 waist 152 contact length
- Lib-Tech Doughboy 193 11/9M 26.2 waist 139 contact length
- Glissade Big Gun 175: 10.0M, 26.5 waist, 143 eff
- Glissade Big Gun 185: 11.0M, 26.6 waist, 153 eff
- Glissade Big Gun 195: 12.1M, 26.7 waist, 163 eff
When surfing powder, try putting your hard boots in walk mode.
Splitboard: A splitboard is a snowboard for the backcountry, consisting
of two ski-like planks that fasten together. The snowboard has two modes of
- You can separate the planks and use them like telemark skis to ascend the
mountain, with the help of Tractor Skins and/or crampons. Hinged slider tracks
mount on each plank and pivot at the toe. Your snowboard bindings mount on
- When you get to the top of the mountain, you remove the bindings, connect
the planks together, remount the bindings for a snowboard stance with a locked
heel, and ride the board back down.
Splitboards are often used with hard boots, so the idea of splitboarding holds
interest with carvers. Some recommended splitboards:
- Prior makes a splitboard in several versions: regular, powder board (Khyber), swallow-tail, and BX style (ATV)
- Voilé makes the Split Decision,
in both regular and swallowtail.
- The Burton S-Series, and the older Burton Omen.
don't have enough torsional rigidity for carving.
For splitboards, you need either stiff soft boots, or soft hard boots. Soft
snowboard boots don't always provide enough lateral support when traversing
on a splitboard. Hard-shell boots that are lightweight and have a walk mode
are ideal for splitboards. To make backcountry hiking easier, hard boots should ideally
have these features:
- A full lugged Vibram sole with no rocker. Unfortunately, many newer hard-shell
snowboard boots have rockered soles, which means the base of the boot curves up at the toe and heel. snowboard hard boots need the rockered sole to minimize the sole length. With a rocker
on the toe, it will be difficult to climb, and with a rocker on the heel,
you are likely to slip when descending.
- Have a walk mode.
- Compatibility with a crampon.
There are a couple of boot options:
- All-terrain (AT) or Randonnée boots, also known as ski mountaineering boots. These are your best bet. AT boots are
sold by Lowa, Garmont, Scarpa and Dynafit.
Because AT boots are designed for hiking/skinning, they are made to be lighter weight than regular snowboard hard boots. In addition, AT boots have a DIN sole, which means you can use them for skiing. Just keep a few things in mind when looking at AT boots for splitboarding:
- You have to be careful about the boot/binding fit if you are using bindings intended for snowboard hard boots. If the fit is not optimum, the boot may be able to twist out of the binding.
- Some AT boots have more built-in forward lean, or a more adjustable forward lean.
- Like snowboard hard boots, you can sometimes get tongues of different stiffnesses, and heat-moldable liners.
- Don't go with telemark boots, which have bellows on the instep that allow the boot to bend at the ball of the
- Softer snowboard hard shell boots
- The Raichle SB series
- The older Raichle SB121, Raichle Snowboarder, and Raichle Concordia have a Vibram lugged sole
and crampon compatibility.
- Softer ski boots
- The older Nordica SBH ski boots have a lug sole and crampon compatibility,
and also ride well in snowboard mode. The Nordica TR series and Nordica
Fun Drive are successors.
- The older Kneissl Rail boot, a softer ski boot.
- Also see the section on carving in Ski boots
Two companies make the slider tracks that mount on the splitboard: Voile and
Burton. You can use any type of bindings on the tracks, as long as they fit
your boots. You can also get splitboard specific bindings:
- BomberSplitBoards.com makes splitboard
bindings, in either regular or step-in, that work only with the Voile slider
- Voilé makes lightweight splitboard
- Skiboard bindings work and are also lightweight.
Voile offers the split-kit, which allows you to convert one of your old boards
into a splitboard by slicing it down the middle with a circular saw. When making
your own splitboard, a stiffer all-mountain board works best, and avoid boards
with foam cores or 3D insert patterns, which have an insert on the centerline of the board.
An alternative to using a splitboard is to use crampons or short telemark skis
and hike up with a lightweight snowboard, then switch to the snowboard and board
down. Starting in '05, Burton started selling the T6 snowboard with the Alumafly™ core,
made out of super-lightweight aluminum honeycomb.
See Couloir Magazine for more details. The October issue usually has reviews of AT boots, and the December issues usually has reviews of bindings.
Also see the Telemark
Donek makes a telemark ski that is beefed up with M6 inserts.
A relic of the past, asymmetric boards have a sidecut on the toe side that
is centered on the toes, and a sidecut on the heel side that is centered on
the heels. The tail often has a diagonal notch cut on the toe side. As a result,
asym boards are either goofy or regular, and so you have to buy a board that
matches your stance. With two orientations for each model, it was a nightmare for retailers to stock, which contributed
to its demise. With an asym board, you must turn by flexing your ankles to pivot
the board in the diagonal toe/heel direction, and by shifting your center of gravity (COG) fore/aft as your body crosses the board into the next turn.
This approach can be done with low binding angles using a slalom racing technique,
but when you are carving, you typically use higher binding angles, and change
edges by moving your hips, rolling your knees, and shifting your COG
straight across the width of the board. As a result, asym boards are to be avoided
because they will limit your GS carving ability. Asym boards used to be popular,
but they are no longer manufactured, with a few rare exceptions, like the #one
board manufactured by PureBoarding, and the Cookie
Cutter made by Snowblind (which is almost an asym Skwal). Asym fun facts:
- The last asym board manufactured by Burton was the 1998 Factory prime 159
cm (red topsheet).
- Some asym boards, like the Santa Cruz, used a smaller sidecut radius for
heel side than for toe side.
- There are also twin-tip asyms. The only difference is the sidecut radius
on toe and heel side. It allows either regular or goofy stance, with the smaller
sidecut radius at the heel. For 2005, Santa Cruz made a few jib decks with an asym sidecut: The TT Viking and TT Revolver had deeper sidecuts on heel side. The heel side was marked with a foil stamp.
- Some wider asym boards are only "slightly" asym, like the #one,
whereas some narrow asym boards have lots of offset between edges.
- Asym boards are unsuited for GS carving, but that has not stopped people from
paying too much for them on eBay.
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