Like a lot of American technological innovations, the snowboard was borne of inspired tinkering. An engineer from Michigan, Sherman Poppen, fabricated the first modern board in 1965 by bolting two kids’ skis together and attaching a rope to the unit. The rope helped riders — initially, his daughters — control the sans-binding board. His wife named the product, conflating “snow” and “surfer” — and just like that the Snurfer was born.
Fast forward more than 50 years, and while you can still get a Snurfer, snowboards have evolved in a way Poppen could not have dreamed. There are boards out there for literally every kind of riding imaginable — and choices galore.
Don’t get paralyzed by the options, though. Just do your homework and choose well. The right choice will reap daily dividends on the mountain, helping make each turn a little sweeter. Here are seven new boards we love, plus some info and tips (below the boards) to ensure epic good times whenever you hit the slopes.
Best Overall Snowboard
Jeremy Jones is one of the greatest free riders on the planet. He’s also an environmentalist: the founder and president of Protect Our Winters, an advocacy group fighting climate change, was recognized as one of President Obama’s 2013 Champions of Change.
Jones has brought his passions together, using his splitboard to ascend huge mountains that most believed were only accessible by helicopter. Teton Gravity Research documented the insanity in the films, Deeper, Further and Higher.
Even if you’re politics are different, you should still consider a Jones board. The 11-year-old company puts out some of the best free ride, powder and all-mountain boards on the planet.
Initially released last winter, the Stratos is a great do-it-all board. The board is stiffer between the bindings than at the tip and tail. This stiffness paired with camber and a narrow waist makes turn initiation quick. A soft tail and even softer nose help you cruise over chunder.
The directional freeride board loves carving and screaming down groomers. We even chased Jeremy and his crew for a few runs in Mammoth. The Stratos helped us almost keep up. Almost.
Best All-Mountain Snowboard
A lot of brands have been leaning into what they call volume-shifted boards. Instead of adding surface area by making the board longer, they make it thick. It's snowboarding's version of the difference between a wild cat that’s long and lean like a leopard and a chonky cat on Instagram.
The Golden Orca merges the original Orca with Lib Tech’s T. Rice Pro: it’s a bit stiffer and more resort-friendly. One of four Orca options, it’s for aggressive riders.
The added width makes it great in the powder and a solid choice for guys with big feet because toe drag shouldn’t be an issue. But it’s not so wide that you can’t just spend a day ripping groomers like there’s no tomorrow.
One of many Travis Rice pro models, the Golden Orca is great for short, slashy turns in tight trees, whether they’re filled with fresh snow or skied out.
Serious MagneTraction is one way this board stands out. Each sidewall has seven serrations, so when you’re scraping on hardpack or ice, the board can bite into the trail — and you can stay upright.
Not unlike Rice himself, the company has a sense of humor, punk rock edge and DIY ethos. Lib Tech brags that its boards are “built by snowboarders with jobs.” Jokes aside, the company crafts all its boards domestically, with innovative techniques for “green building” and favoring non-toxic substances.
Best Budget Snowboard
When it comes to “budget” boards, there’s not a huge difference between entry-level and pro-level. Most company’s entry-level boards start around $400 and max out around $750. Sure, some boards cost $1,000 or more, especially splitboards, but unless it’s custom — hello, Franco Snowshapes — the qualitative upgrades once you head north of the $600 neighborhood are incremental at best.
And here's snowboarding’s dirty little secret: some sponsored riders prefer the inexpensive decks.
The Endeavor Ranger is a great daily driver. A true twin, it’s great for riding switch all day long. With camber between the feet mixed with some rocker at the tip and tail, it finds the sweet spot between playfulness and responsiveness, which is pretty much the goal of hybrid camber.
Adjusting your stance is easy, thanks to Burton’s EST system, which requires fewer bolts, and allows incremental adjustments that four bolt hole patterns don’t. Just make sure you have the appropriate bindings or binding disk. Although Burton makes EST-specific bindings, most other binders work with this system, too.
For fans of Endeavor, it will come as no surprise to see clean, minimalist graphics. The Ranger delivers a timeless look in spades. That means it will age well for seasons to come. The classic styling also means you should be able to get decent cash for it on the used market if you want to upgrade next year.
Best Powder Snowboard
The short and fat revolution has hit middle-age. Big companies like K2 did a great job kicking off the “volume shift” movement that lopped off a few centimeters of board length and added it to the width, a great move for bigger riders as well as those who get more than their fair share of powder.
Weston’s freestyle-killer, Logger, did it better than any other board we know of. Same goes for the Hatchet.
Available in the tiny 152 and a not much bigger, at least for bigger riders, 156, the Hatchet is built for slashing pow lines. Its shortness makes it easy to turn, even in tight spaces. This is great news for folks who ride areas with great trees like you find on the East Coast and a lot of lower elevation resorts that include a lot of acreage below treeline in the Rockies and further West.
This is a small board for big people. With a wide waist, the Hatchet accommodates riders with Sasquatch-sized feet. The larger model accommodates at 14.5 and the smaller a 12.5. If that doesn’t work for you, maybe take these Michael Phelps flippers to the pool?
Shape? As close to being a true twin without quite being so. There’s a touch of taper in the tail that helps out on corduroy. (Due to the width of the board, it does takes some work to get a turn going on hardpack.)
Tip-to-tail carbon stringers woven between the core and the base keep the board lively and the base is quick as can be. Polyurethane sidewalls provide additional dampening and durability, and the four-year warranty is one of the best in the business. Weston even offer a 30 percent discount if you destroy your shred stick doing something stupid and want to re-up.
Covet one? Know this: global shipping delays are affecting delivery. There’s more info on the Hatchet’s website.
Best Park Snowboard
Although pro models are few and far between these days, the Head Space by Forest Bailey never disappoints. Like fellow Mervin athlete Jamie Lynn, Bailey is an artist and his handiwork adorns his freestyle deck.
It’s hard to tell at first glance, but the Head Space is asymmetrical, a design approach that GNU has been honing for years. The thought behind it? Since snowboarders stand sideways, heelside and toeside turns are biomechanically different . Accordingly, each side of the board is shaped to optimize each type of turn: a deeper sidecut on the heelside and more shallow one on the toeside.
The Head Space includes a hybrid camber with mellow rocker between the feet and camber in front and behind the bindings. With soft flex, the board doesn’t beat you up in crappy conditions. And a core that’s a combination of sustainably harvested aspen and paulownia wood delivers plenty of pop.
Days and even weeks after a snowfall, many ski areas still have lots of fresh powder not too far from lifts. The rub? You often need to “earn your turns” by ascending under your own power, using a board that basically turns into skis.
With no lift ticket needed (although some resorts will still charge you 10 bucks to hike), the costs for backcountry-specific gear are upfront: poles, climbing skins, avalanche transceiver, education... and a board that splits in two, typically at a cost of at least $750.
The Burton Family Tree Hometown Hero Camber Splitboard is a directional camber board that takes the best characteristics of an all-mountain shape and a twin. Not too twitchy, the camber includes plenty of liveliness and precision if getting to or from your line includes some exposed sections.
Want all the bells and whistles? The lightweight X version — Burton Family Tree Hometown Hero X Camber — can be yours for a cool $1,600.
Best Advanced Snowboard
Many high-performance shapes have been inching closer and closer to traditional camber. The most responsive board shape going, it’s great for those with a few years of riding under their belts — less so for noobs because this profile doesn’t suffer sloppy turns gladly.
The ATV camber paired with a deep sidecut loves to turn. Big trenches as well as quick, side-to-side slalom-like fun. That camber paired with the core that's a mix of high-end lumber (paulownia, poplar and beech), plus fiberglass layers, ensures more pop than Blink-182’s back catalog.
For most of us, this board is a race car. Great for going full tilt — but with less forgiveness than a Catholic priest.
The directional twin only has a smidge of setback and there’s no taper between the nose and tail; it plays well in the park as well as any side hit you can find. At just a smidge over $600, you’ll have a tough time finding more board for less dough.
Terms to Know
Backcountry: Terrain outside resort boundaries.
Base: The bottom of the snowboard that slides on the snow.
Corduroy: The tracks left by a snowcat after grooming a trail. The grooves in the snow look like corduroy pants.
Directional: A board shape where the riders stance is off-center, typically set-back a few inches.
Duckfooted: A stance angle featuring both sets of toes pointing outward. More common for freestyle riders and riders who ride a lot of switch stance.
Edge: The metal edges that run the perimeter of the snowboard.
Effective Edge: The length of steel edge that contacts the snow when making turns.
Flat Camber: A board profile that’s neither concave nor flat.
Flex: The stiffness or lack of stiffness of a snowboard. There are two types of flex. Longitudinal flex refers to the stiffness of the board from tip to tail. Torsional flex refers to the stiffness of the width of the board.
Float: The ability of a board to stay on top of deep snow
Freeride: A style of riding focused on groomers, backcountry, and powder. Freestyle: A style of snowboarding that includes a mix of terrain park and non-terrain park riding.
Goofy: Riding with your right foot in front of your left.
Hybrid Camber: A snowboard shape that mixes reverse camber and hybrid camber profiles.
MagneTraction: A trademarked serrated metal edge on boards built by Mervin manufacturing, the parent company of GNU and Lib Tech. This is for better edgehold on ice. Other manufacturers have their own versions.
Pow: Short for powder. Fresh snow.
Rocker: The opposite of camber. Often called reverse camber.
Regular footed: Riding with your left foot in front of your right.
Reverse Camber: A snowboard shape that looks like a banana that’s concave between the tip and tail. Sometimes called “rocker” because a board with reverse camber looks like it can rock back and forth.
Shovel: Lifted sections of the board at the tip and tail.
Sidecut: The radius of the edge that runs alongside a snowboard.
Sidecountry: Terrain that’s outside resort boundaries that’s accessible from the resort.
Traditional Camber: A snowboard shape similar to a mustache AKA convex between the tip and tail.
Splitboard: A board that split into two ski-like shapes so riders can ascend the mountain like an XC skier and reassemble when it’s time to descend.
Twin tip: A board with an identically shaped nose and tail.
Waist: The most narrow part of a board between the bindings.
Understanding the Construction of a Snowboard
Building a snowboard is a lot like making a good burger. Although new and better ingredients can improve both burgers and snowboards, the process of making them hasn’t changed much.
“Board construction has remained basically the same for the last 20 years. By that, I mean there is a polyethylene plastic running base with an edge surrounding it. There is a layer of fiberglass. A wood core. A layer of fiberglass and a plastic topsheet. Those basic materials haven’t changed much. But there’s been a lot of innovation in each of the specific materials that has really driven the ride performance and the weight of the boards that we see in the market today,” said Senior Design Engineer at Burton Snowboards, Scott Seward.
One of the most important parts of your board is the core. Typically built from wood — different types change the flavor of the ride. Many manufacturers even utilize a handful of different trees in a single core. Many Lib Tech boards include three different types of wood. Some manufacturers build cores from foam. Builders sculpt cores. Thinner in areas where you need more flex and thicker in areas where you don’t. Unlike a burger, you should never see your board’s core. “If the customer ever sees the core, then I’ve done my job wrong,” said Seward.
Sustainably grown cores are more popular than ever. Monitored by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the FSC “ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits,” according to the council’s website.
Next up, the “buns” — in the form of the base. These high-tech plastics are placed in a mold with the board’s edges. Gummy paper or a strong glue helps the edges bond with the base.
The “cheese and condiments” are layers of fiberglass. Operative word: fiber. The layout of the weave of this cloth affects the ride quality of your board. Adding epoxy to the cloth turns this into fiberglass, and there’s a layer on each side of the core. Higher-end boards often have carbon stringers — narrow strips of carbon fiber running the length of the board for added stiffness and pop.
Epoxy covers each layer, holding the board and its pieces together. This isn’t your grandfather’s nasty, toxic epoxy. One of the more recent innovations by folks at companies like Lib Tech and Burton is bio-based epoxy. You can’t understate the importance of epoxy because it holds the board together, bringing its character to life.
After the second layer of epoxy, the board is ready for the topsheet. Once that’s added, the top is inserted into the mold and sent to the press where heat and pressure will do the work of the grill, bonding all of the layers together as well as setting the camber profile of the board.
Although heavy machinery is critical to building snowboards, there’s a lot of craftsmanship mixed in. “Most people are surprised at how much hand-work is done,” said Seward.
The board’s in the press for about 10 minutes. Once removed, the board goes to finishing, where craftsmen remove excess material and add sidecuts. After that, the board is ground down, to remove excess resin. After a handful of grinds, the board is either waxed or shipped.
Looking into his glass ball, Seward sees boards with a smaller carbon footprint.
“The future of snowboarding is going to see more innovation of sustainable manufacturing,” said Seward.
How to Pick a Snowboard
Picking a snowboard can be tough. With so much many different styles of boards available, paralysis of choice is a real threat if you aren’t honest with yourself. But, if you know what you want, the world is your oyster.
Before even wading into the waist-high selection of what’s available, it’s important to think about how and where you ride.
“There’s such a broad spectrum of riding styles and riding preferences, that people get to find out what’s really in their heart and soul as to where they want to find themselves on the mountain. Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll want to start looking for what’s a better tool for that discipline or trying to cover as many disciplines as possible with one snowboard,” says General Manager of Wave Rave in Mammoth Lakes, Tim Gallagher.
Most shops worth their salt will ask you a handful of questions, like: Where’s your home mountain? What type of riding do you want to do with this board? Is this board going to be a do-everything board or is it filling a specific need in your quiver? Where do you normally ride? Is there a style of riding or is there a rider you want to emulate?
They’ll also ask about your foot size and weight. The former question will ensure your board is the appropriate width. Not too narrow, so your toes and heels are hanging off the sides and not too wide, because that can make a board feel sluggish.
One of the best ways to find a good match is to do your homework and find a shop you trust. “There’s some misinformation out there. A lot of people are educating themselves. It’s not always good info. Come into a shop with an open mind, accept some guidance and try before you buy if you can,” says Gallagher. The value of a good shop is paramount. Utilize its brain trust. Another good move for folks who really like to be thorough? Talk to more than one salesperson.
Demoing a few boards is one of the best ways to ensure you make the right choice. Most good shops let customers apply part of the cost of a demo towards a purchase. Most narrow their choices down to three boards or less. “If there’s more than that, you don’t know what they want,” says Tucker Zink, the General Manager at Darkside in Killington, Vermont that includes a demo fleet of about 75 decks. Darkside’s slopeside location in Killington makes demoing boards easy because customers don’t have to leave the hill to switch up boards.
It’s also worth asking the shop near the mountain you ride the most about their most popular board. Last year at Darkside, that was Burton’s Deep Thinker, an aggressive all mountain board with some of the coolest graphics in history — artwork by skateboard legend Mark Gonzales. That deck was followed closely by a similar board: a Lib Tech Travis Rice model (he probably has more pro models per year than any snowboarder in history).
At Wave Rave, the Jones Storm Chaser was last year’s best seller. At first glance, that’s a bit surprising. It’s a powder board with a short swallowtail. Designed by surfboard shaper Chris Christenson, the Storm Chaser is inspired by the shapes of fast gliding surfboards. And many riders in Mammoth use it as their daily driver, making surfy turns down the hill all winter long on corduroy, through crud and in powder.
Part of the popularity of the Storm Chaser in Mammoth is due to the mountain’s location. The 3,500-acre resort is about five to seven hours away from some of the most popular surf spots in Southern California, so it attracts lots of surfers, many of whom love to mimic riding waves when they’re in the snow.
But that doesn’t mean, pow and the new shorter but wider boards are just for So Cal surfers. At Darkside, they sell plenty of these boards as well, many to folks who travel out west to ride. Others appreciate the short turning radius that makes these boards great for riding trees.
“There’s no right or wrong way to snowboard. If you’re having fun and you’re exploring the mountain, and you’re pushing yourself, you’re doing it right,” said Gallagher.