How to Choose a Snowboard

By: Jonathan Strickland
Three snowboards
Snowboards come in different styles and lengths - which one is right for you? See pictures of winter sports.

Back in the 1960s and '70s, adrenaline junkies like Tom Sims, Sherman Poppen and Dimitrije Milovich began to design equipment that seemed to be the offspring of a surfboard and a pair of skis. Each created his own design independently of the others. Their work eventually evolved into the sport we call snowboarding.

The earliest snowboards were homemade and relatively crude. But by the late 1970s, some enterprising individuals began to produce snowboards on a larger scale. Today, sporting goods stores and snowboard shops carry dozens of boards varying in shape and size.


How do you know which board is right for you? The answer depends mainly on your skill level and style of snowboarding. Most snowboards fall into one of three major categories: freestyle, freeride or alpine.

A freestyle board is good for use in parks and halfpipe snowboarding. The boards tend to be more flexible and wider than freeride or alpine boards. Freestyle boards are good for beginners as well as masters on the board. Skilled snowboarders may want to buy specialized freestyle boards that are particularly good for specific tricks. Freestyle boards tend to be twin-tip or directional-twin boards -- you can ride both forward and backward on these boards.

Freeride boards are a good choice for snowboarders who like to tackle the mountain. You can still use them in parks and on the halfpipe but they really come in handy if you want to carve your way down the mountainside. Unlike freestyle boards, the freeride style is directional -- you're meant to travel in a forward direction most of the time. If you like powder surfaces, you may want a wider board.

Alpine boards are the dragsters in the snowboard world. They're longer, narrower and less flexible than freestyle and freeride models. These boards are good if you plan to participate in races. They aren't built for tricks or jumps but you'll get to the bottom much faster than your friends -- assuming you stay on your feet.


Snowboard Sizing

Snowboard length
When the snowboard is standing on end, its tip should rest between your chin and nose.

Picking the right category of snowboard is just the first step. You'll also find different lengths and widths for each style of snowboard. Choosing the right size will help you get the most out of your snowboarding experience. If you go home with the wrong size snowboard, you may find it frustrating once you hit the snow.

Snowboard lengths are measured in centimeters. You can find snowboards ranging from around 129 centimeters up to more than 165 centimeters. Alpine boards can be even longer. Manufacturers design shorter snowboards for women and children.


You may have heard a general rule of thumb to follow is to pick a snowboard that's long enough so that when you stand it on end, the tip reaches somewhere between your nose and chin. But a more important factor to take into consideration is your weight. If your weight is in the average range for your height, the rule of thumb is safe to follow. But for heavier riders, a more important consideration is the board's flexibility.

Let's say you're a heavier rider and you follow the general guideline. You pick a board that's long enough to reach your chin when you stand it on end. The board might not be rigid enough to support your weight. That means your new board could break out on the slopes.

For heavier riders, rigidity is more important than length. It's fine if a heavier rider can find a board that both supports his or her weight and falls within the general guideline for board length. But it's better to get a board a little longer than normal if that's the only kind that's strong enough to support the rider safely.

It's also important to consider the width of the board. Riders with large boots may need wider boards to avoid toe drag -- that's when the front of the boot makes contact with the snow. The board's width will change the way the board handles, too. Wider boards are better on powder. Narrower boards are good for racing or carving.

Another factor to consider is the type of snowboard. In general, an alpine board that's right for your height and weight will be longer than a freeride board, which in turn will be longer than a freestyle board. If you look around a snowboard shop, you'll find freestyle boards that are longer than some of the shortest freeride boards but these aren't meant for riders of the same height and weight.


Snowboard Boots

Snowboarding boots
Your riding style should guide your choice of snowboarding boots.

Picking the right snowboard is important. But just as important is choosing the right pair of snowboard boots. After all, the boots and bindings are what link you to your snowboard. Buy the wrong kind and you won't enjoy your snowboarding experience very much. At best, you'll experience discomfort as you ride your board. In a worst-case scenario, you could put your board and safety at risk by picking the wrong kind of boots and bindings.

The first step is picking the right boots. Even a well-made snowboard won't be fun to ride if you have a lousy pair of boots. You'll want a pair that gives you the most control of your board as possible. They should provide support for your feet and ankles and protect them from the cold and the stresses you'll encounter as you ride your board.


There are three major types of snowboard boots: soft boots, hard boots and hybrid step-in boots. Soft boots give the rider flexibility and control. Most freestyle snowboarders prefer soft boots because they give the control needed to pull off difficult tricks. Hard boots are better for riders who want to ride with precision and speed -- they're a good choice for racers. Hybrid step-in boots fall in the middle -- they're both sturdy and flexible.

When trying on boots, make sure you wear the same kind of socks you'll be wearing when you're riding your board. You'll want the boot to fit snugly over your foot. It's best if you can test the boot while it's attached to a snowboard. It's important that the heel of your foot remain in contact with the heel of the boot even when you lean forward. You don't want the boot to be loose -- that would result in a loss of control while riding.

The type of boot you choose will also determine the bindings you need. There are two major categories of bindings: strap-in and step-in bindings. As a rule, any strap-in binding will work with any non-step-in boot. But each step-in boot only works with a corresponding step-in binding. So, if you want a pair of step-in boots, you'll need to buy the matching bindings at the same time.

The flow-in binding is a hybrid of the strap-in and step-in bindings. Rather than straps or a latch, the flow-in binding has a tongue that covers a large part of the snowboard boot when secured. It's easier to put on than a strap-in binding but gives the rider more control than the traditional step-in binding.

Your choice of boots, bindings and board all depend upon your build and the type of riding you plan to do. It may seem like a lot to think about if you're eager to hit the slopes; however, a little preparation will help you have a great experience when you finally hit the snow. Have fun!

Learn more about snowboarding and other outdoor activities by following the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • ABC of Snowboarding. "Snowboarding Information." MaxLifestyle International Inc. (Nov. 23, 2009)
  • Oswald, Ed. "A Look at the Different Types of Snowboards." Feb. 16, 2009. (Nov. 23, 2009) whats_the_best_snowboard_for_me_and_my_needs
  • Snowboard Mountain. "Dimitrije Milovich: One of Snowboarding's Modern Fathers." 2007. (Nov. 23, 2009)
  • "How to buy a Snowboard." 2007. (Nov. 23, 2009)
  • Xtreme Sport. "Snowboard Types - Different Types of Boards." (Nov. 23, 2009)