Snowboard Buying Guide
Please note this guide is very general and you will need to make informed choices based on your personal requirements, destination and the likely weather conditions. If you have any specific questions, please give us a ring for advice 7 days a week on 0191 413 6848.
Your snowboard boots are probably the most important piece of kit you can buy. You could be the best rider on the planet but if your feet are killing you after the first run you not going to have a very good season or holiday. There’s no specific company who make the best boots they all have different selling points and features, you can go out and buy the most expensive and high tech boots on the market but if they don’t fit right all that hard-earned cash will have gone to waste.
- Try before you buy
Try as many different pairs of boots from as many different brands as you can. This is a tried and tested method for finding the best fit. All the manufacturers have a different fit because they all make their boots on different lasts (a last is a mould of a foot). Each boot manufacturers last are based on what they think is a standard foot shape and they all differ from brand to brand.
Also read up on as many different makes and models as possible before you enter a snowboard shop check the pre season buying guides in magazines and online.
- Take your time
You want to try each pair of boots for at least ten minuets if not longer. This will give you feet time to feel any pressure points. If you notice any parts of the boot digging in or rubbing after 5 minutes in a shop imagine what it will feel like after 5 hours on a mountain.
You need to help the shop staff to help you so it is important that you tell him/her how the boot feels on your foot. You need to let them know if the boot is uncomfortable in any way. If he asks if it feels don’t just sit and nod your head tell him/her the full story just imagine your on the couch with Sigmund Freud, and don’t be afraid to ask questions, there is no such thing as a silly question. The only silly question is the one you didn’t ask.
- The fit
If you can imagine being on a nice sunny beach with the sun setting in the distance, now walk up to where the water just laps up onto the sand, you now need to push your feet into the sand so that they are buried. That’s how your boots should feel! Snug not cramped and without any pressure points. Remember that any sore spots or pressure points that you can feel in the shop will feel a whole lot worse when you get on the hill!
- The length
There are a few old wives tails kicking about that say your board boots should be a size too small or a size bigger than your shoe size. These are both wrong! You need a boot that is the size of your foot. The first thing any good snowboard shop should do is measure your feet you might think you’re a size 9 because that’s what you wear from day to day and you’ve always bought size 9 Nikes since you were 15, but when you measure you feet your actually an 8½. Don’t pay too much attention to what size is on the side of the box what one boot company thinks is a size 9 can differ from another boot company thinks is a 9.
When you’ve got some boots on and you’ve laced them up they should feel ever so slightly too small when you stand up straight, this is how you want them to feel. When you stand in your snowboard stance with your feet apart and you knees bent your toes should come away from the front of the boot by a couple of millimetres just enough so that you can wiggle them with out them touching the front of the boot.
- Heel lift
Heel lift is something your foot naturally wants to do when transferring your weight from your heel edge to your toe edge. There are a few different ways to get round this. The first is obviously is to find a boot that has a good fitting heel cup for the shape of your foot. The second is to lace them up right. Most boots these days have a heel harness around the boots liner this wants to be fastened tight but not too tight, remember you want your boots to be snug. Cranking you boots up too tight can be worse than not lacing them up at all and can cause unnecessary pressure points. Now depending what kind of lacing system you have gone for you need to fasten up the outer boot. The same goes for the outer boot as the inner boot, you need to fasten them up tight but not so tight that you can feel the lace eyelets digging into your shin. If your boot fitter is seasoned and experienced he/she should be able to show you a few different ways to lace up your boot.
Now your all fastened up you’ll notice that you can still lift your heel as you walk round the shop or sit on the fitting bench, this is normal. The real test is to again stand with your feet flat on the ground and apart with your knees bent as if you’re snowboarding, now try to lift your heels. 5 to 10 millimetres of lift is pretty normal but once your strapped onto a board you shouldn’t notice it as your binding straps also help to keep you in place.
- Heat moulding
For many years now snowboard boots have come with heat mouldable liners that take the shape of your foot. You can kick start the process off in store by sticking the liners on to heaters that warm up and expands the mouldable materials inside the liner this can be an uncomfortable experience for some but normally nothing more than a couple of numb toes. This is because the heat mouldable material expands. At first the boot will feel slightly too small this is completely normal.
When it comes to lacing your boots up when they have just come off the heaters you don’t need to fasten them as tight as when you first tried them on. If you crank them up really tight when the foam is warm and soft you can end up squashing it flat, moving all the cushioning and ending up with imprints of lace eyelets in your leg.
The best way is to lace them up normally and stand still in your snowboard stance while they cool down once they’re cool then you can crank them up a bit.
Heat moulding won’t make a bad fit good but it will get out any little pressure points you might have or give you and extra millimetre or two in the toe box if needed.
- The flex
How soft or stiff you want your boots is a bit of a personal preference. As a rule of thumb when your starting out you should go for a softer more forgiving boot but if you only weigh 8 stone you might find that a boot quite stiff while the guy sitting next to you on the fitting bench that weighs 14 stone finds the same boot very soft. If you’re just buying your first pair of boots it’s best to start with an entry-level boot until you get a feel for what you like and don’t like. Again it comes down to trying as many different boots as you can till you find the right one and don’t just buy some boots
- Classic laces, Boa or Speed laces
There are many different lacing systems on the market now and they all have their avid fans and again it all comes down again to personnel preference. Classic laces are to be more tweakable and have more room for adjustment. Boa systems use steel cables attached to a ratchet system on the tongue that you tighten by twisting the ratchet and it evenly tightens up the boot. The big advantage with Boa is that you can do up your boots with little effort. Speed laces come in a few different shapes and forms. One of the most popular is the Burton Speed Zone system. Speed Zone uses and upper and lower lace, which gives you the kind of tweakability you get from laces with the speed of a Boa system. Again it all comes down to personal preference all the different lacing systems have their fans.
Most people don’t think that socks are important but getting a good fitting pair of socks can be just as important as getting fitting pair of boots. Get your self a proper pair of snowboard socks these are designed specifically for snowboarding. They won’t bunch up around the ankles like tube socks and have extra padding in all the right places. Check out Thirtytwo and Smartwool snowboard socks.
Footbeds don’t always work for everyone when it comes to snowboard boots. Some stores will tell you that it’s a must have thing and will introduce it into the sale before you’ve even set eyes on a snowboard boot. This method is right for ski boots but not board boots. Most snowboarders have no problem and get a great fit with the Footbed that comes with the boot but if you find your getting to the bottom of your first run and you boots are making you cry then nine times out of ten a custom foot bed will get you smiling again. Check out Vans and Thirtytwo.
Snowboards come in all shapes and sizes, which can sometimes make choosing the right board a bit of a brain melting challenge if your not 100% sure what your looking for. The main things you need consider is what your ability level is, what kind of snowboarder you are.
- What kind of rider are you?
The beginner/intermediate rider needs some thing to get them on their feet, you’ll probably have had a couple of lessons or just booked some. This will probably be your first board and you’ll want it to take you right through the learning curve and beyond.
Beginner boards are very forgiving with softer flexes, which means the board won’t bite you if haven’t fully mastered edge control yet. They are easy to control at low speed and tend to have a directional shape, which is good for learning to ride powder as well as piste. Beginner bards also tend not to have as many tech features so they don’t damage your wallet as much. Try checking out the Burton Clash or the K2 Format and the ladies should check out the Burton Feather or the K2 Moment.
Your not just stuck with the beginner boards in the shops rack some jib/park boards will also be great for the newbee snowboarder because they have softer flexes and are also quite forgiving. Check out the Ride Agenda or the Burton Dominant.
Jibbers normally spend most of their days in the park hitting boxes, rails and kickers
If you’re lucky enough to live in a country that actually gets a winter you might be into street riding and having the odd urban rail sesh or if you live in the UK you will be a regular at your local dry or indoor slope.
Jib boards tend to be very tough cookies. They have to be able to withstand sliding down wood, metal, plastic and sometimes even concrete. They are twin tips with centred stances, wider waist widths and have a soft forgiving flex. You can ride them switch as easily as the ride normally (providing you can ride switch) and the shallower sidecuts means they aren’t as aggressive as All Mountain/Freeride boards which is what you need for those nice stable taking off and landing those kickers. Check out the Lib-Tech Skate Banana, the Burton Fix, andthe Arbor Westmark. Ladies should have a look at the Ride Rapture.
Just because you ride a jib/park board doesn’t mean you’re confined to the park and streets some of the more top end jib/park boards are great fun to use as an all mountain stick. If you’re not fussy at riding every where at mach 10 and like to make the whole mountain your park by cruising down the runs hitting every little obstacle and jump in sight then you might want to consider a Jib/Park board. Check out the Ride DH and the Nitro Swindle.
All Mountain Freestyle
All Mountain Freestyle is the most popular style of riding and the most popular choice of board for pro and non-pro riders simply you can take them anywhere on the hill or even street. They have a mid/soft directional or twin flex, directional or directional twin in shape. These boards work best for experienced riders who like to ride all kinds of different terrain including rails, park, backcountry and piste also in variable weather and snow conditions.
All Mountain Freestyle snowboards vary in price, shape and size so picking you board can be a bit snowy minefield, and with All Mountain freestyle being the most popular style of riding you spoilt for choice. Every snowboard manufacturer will make a variety of All Mountain Freestyle boards, which will all vary slightly from each other. The chances are if you looking for this kind of board you’ll already have a good idea of what your after, you’ll have been on a couple of trips away and probably owned one or two boards. Good All Mountain Freestyle boards to look at are the Burton Custom and Custom X, Lib-Tech Jamie Lynn, Arbor Wasteland, K2 Darkstar, and Nitro Eero Ettala. Good women’s All Mountain Freestyle boards to look out for are the Burton Troop, K2 Duchess, and the Nitro Fate.
Freeriding is probably the category that most of us Brits fall into. If your on holiday with your family the chances are that you won’t be hitting the 50ft step-up in the park or doing a 5’o down a double kinked rail. You’ll more than likely be the kind of rider that like to spend his/her time gunning it down the piste, hitting the little jumps at the side of a run or in the park and venturing slightly out of bounds to find a nice powder field.
Freeride boards have stiffer flexes, narrower waists and are directional in shape; they handle really well at speed and are built for carving. They have a set back stance with a longer nose, which makes them ideal for powder and charging through that end of season crud. You can ride any terrain on a Freeride board but don’t expect them to handle well on rails and jibs. Check out the Arbor A-Frame, Ride Concept UL, Lib-Tech TRS, and a good one for the ladies is the Arbor Push.
- What size board do I go for?
Getting the right size board can be as important as buying the right size boots. Too small and you’ll get that sinking feeling if you’re lucky to have a big holiday dump and too big and it will be like trying to turn the QE2 round in a Manchester canal. You want to choose the right size board for what style and what terrain you plan on riding. The most important factor you need to consider is your weight. Most boards will have a weight range on the info sticker you find on the base of new boards. Ideally you want to be some where around the middle of the range if you’re looking for an All Mountain type board. What you need to forget is the rental shop method of selection, which is to choose a board length that is between your nose and chin.
We have a snowboarder who is 6ft 4” and weighs 73kg (approx 11½ stone), if we go off the old classic nose and chin method of selecting your winter stick he would be riding a board some where between a 168 and a 172. Now the weight range for our 168 snowboard is roughly 75kg – 95kg+. Now if we sold our rider our 168 board he wouldn’t have the weight and power to make the board respond and turn correctly the boards edge wouldn’t fully engage and it would feel sketchy underfoot.
Our second snowboarder is only 5ft 5” but he weighs 88kg (approx 14 stone), again we use the good old nose and chin technique a 155 comes up to his nose but the weight range of the board is roughly 55kg – 77kg now when he takes his board out for a spin the force of his weight will be too much for the boards flex this will also make the board feel sketchy and he will probably find that the back end of his board slides round too much when he initiates a turn and he will spend more time on his bum than on his feet.
The way to combat the problem if you’re heavy is to look for a stiffer board. A heavy learner can get away with buying a more advanced board because the stiffer flex will take their weight better and make learning all the more fun.
Taller riders can either buy a longer board with a softer flex or a shorter board with a stiffer flex and if you’re Average Joe you get the most choice.
The main thing to remember is ideally you want to be in the middle of the manufacturers weight range.
A lot of snowboarders just see their binding as some thing that attaches them to their board; their main focus when buying them is the colour and whether or not it matches their board and boots. While there is nothing wrong with having a blinged out all matching set up you still need to think about you ability and style of riding when picking out any of your bindings.
There are probably as many different brands/styles of bindings as there are boards but when you break it down they all are made up of the same three basic components of highback, straps and baseplate.
The baseplate is the building block of all bindings. It is he main part that attaches your bindings to your board. Baseplates are made of aluminium, reinforced plastic or glass-fibre.
The highback is the part of the binding that lets you engage your heel edge. Stiffer highbacks give you more response.
Your straps are what keep your foot in your binding. Binding straps have changed quite a bit in recent years they have become a lot more comfortable than they were back in the day. Check out Burton and Ride bindings.
Step in bindings are like the Marmite of the snowboard world you either love them or hate them, but I wouldn’t knock them till you’ve tried them. A lot of beginners some times find themselves having to sit down to do up traditional bindings and they find that straps and ratchets can be a little awkward and clumsy till they get the hang of them. While experienced riders find they don’t get the same level of control and response from a step-in that you get from a traditional binding but there are a couple of brands that have overcome this little problem. Over the years many different methods have come and gone but the one that has stuck firm is the rear entry step-in they’re not an entirely true step-in but they have out lasted other step-in methods and are the step in of choice for non-pros and pros alike. Check out K2 Cinch and Flow Bindings.
What you need to think about when buying bindings is where and what you’re riding.
Typically beginners and jibbers need bindings that have a nice bit flex the same as their board. If your trying to perfect your turns or trying to dial a kinked rail that last thing you want to do is catch an edge or hang up, it’ll only end in tears. These kind of riders should look at the Burton Custom, Ride Beta, K2 Cinch CTC (step-in), and the ladies should have a look at the Burton Stiletto, Ride LXH, and the K2 Cinch Tryst (step-in).
All Mountain Freestyle riders tend to go for something a little stiffer that has a bit more response but still with enough give to hit the odd rail or tree jib. Good All Mountain bindings are the Burton P1, Burton Mission, Burton Triad/Triad EST, K2 Auto and K2 Cinch CTS (step-in), and the ones for the ladies are the Ride VXN, Burton Lexa, and the K2 Cinch Vette (step-in).
Freeriders who want to have precise response for carving up the piste and backcountry at high speed need to look at stiffer bindings. You’ll find that these bindings have stiffer base plates, highbacks and sometimes have slightly higher highbacks. If you looking for ultimate control have a look at the Burton CO2, Burton Cartel/Cartel EST, and the K2 Auto Ever (step-in.)
More experienced riders might mix and mach boards and bindings you can also achieve a great all round set-up by mixing boards and bindings. You don’t have to ride flexible bindings on a flexible board and vice versa. For example you could ride a Burton Fix snowboard (which is quite soft) with a Burton Cartel binding (which is quite stiff), this would give you a really fun All Mountain Freestyle set-up. The same goes for your boots. At the end of the day it all comes down to the individual rider.
Outdoor sports are potentially dangerous. This guide is offered for guidance only and you should seek advice from a qualified person if you are unsure about any aspect of your equipment or outdoor skills.