This is a guide to buying snowboards and is really aimed at those starting out. I have worked from the premise that you will be looking for a first board and not looking to spend big bucks. There is therefore a minimum of techy information. At the end of it you'll buy a board which ticks the most boxes, looks good and is affordable. Hopefully my advice from 20 years of experience helps people make the right choices. But be careful there are some awful bits of kit on ebay for sale, make sure you ask the right questions and check back here to see if it makes sense. If not then don't buy it. I have added a quick binding guide at the end now.
Update 2012. Since I wrote this guide about 6 years ago a number of companies have introduced some new base tech. Triple base and various formats of rocker and camber etc. I have not been involved with snowboards in this time and have no personal knowledge. Some of it might be great but I cannot speak from experience so I will not take what company brochures say as gospel or even truish. What is written is still as true today as when it was penned many years ago. Same is true for bindings and Burton have since introduced a slider type attachment on their boards in yet another attempt to make you buy their bindings if you buy their boards ( or am I being cynical??). Anyways same applies here I have never tried them so don't feel qualified to express an opinion. Best bet is to use your local shop if there is one, ask them for help, then buy it there and keep the shop open!!!!!!!!!
There are essentially 2 types of board, Freeride and Freestyle, in reality most boards will be a compromise of both. Freeride boards tend to be a little stiffer. The thing to look for if you are a beginner is the boards "flex". As boards turn by the rider edging and the board bending or flexing you need to match your input to the boards characteristics. A hesitant, light weight beginner will not input the same forces as a seasoned campaigner so will need a softer flexing board. Recently (2007/08) we have seen boards with Reverse Camber come along. Battaleon were the first but now almosrt every brand has it own version in more than one model. Now a word of warning here most are not all mountain type boards. The idea is that you are less likely to catch an edge and fall, so it makes learning a bit easier. The boards have a sloppier ride style and a good for low speed stuff, so park and pipe and artificial slopes. But they not as good as a regular shaped base on the piste. To be fair Battaleon's tripple base is difefrent form the rest and is ok for the piste. I reckon they must have this patented and everyone elses' technology is a me too but cannot quiet get it. Here's a prediction - this is a passing fad as it does not bring enough new to last.
As snowboards turn by being flexed on an edge the shape of the edge dictates how they turn. Most boards today have some form of multi radius or progressive side cut. Think of it a bit like the starting thread on a screw, the front of the board has less side cut than the middle. Look down the length of a board and you'll see what I mean. Some freestyle boards are called "true twins", this means they have the an axis of symmetry across the middle and the shape of the side cut is the same mid to front as mid to back. Freestyle boards will usually have more inserts( threaded "holes" inot which the bindings are mounted) this allows a wider range and more accurate stance width set up.
There are race boards sold but only few are sold in UK, these tend to be narrower and have a squared off tail and are very stiff. Mostly used with hard boots like ski boots and a type of binding called Plate bindings. Unless you are into one piece suits in Lycra don't go here. Not for the beginner.
Board width is more important than length. If you have bigger than size 10 UK feet you will almost definately need a wide board, most brands have at least one. Check the waist width, you should be seeing something like 260mm plus. For any given length of board the wider version will be around 12mm wider at the waist. If your board is too narrow you will have too much heel and toe overhang and you'll drag in turns.
Length is important, as a rough guide the board tip wants to be somewhere between your chin and nose. Freestylers tend towards shorter boards to keep down swing weight and they don't need the stability of a longer board at speed. Heavier riders should go longer where possible.
Girls boards, well everyone makes them but it really is just a marketing thing. There is, to my mind, no difference between a girl or boy's board needs if they are the same size, weight and ability. So whilst things like girl specific boots or skis are there to allow for physical differences on a board we are all the same.
Kids boards can be nightmare as to save money they are often foam filled and have the flex pattern of an ironing board. Rule of thumb, if it doesn't have the same construction you would want - don't buy it. Your kid will have a horrible time and hate snowboarding for ever.
Snowboards are built by laying up various layers of plastic, wood cores, glass fibre and metal edges then heating them in a mould to bond it all together.The final cost of any board is determined by the quality of these components to some extent but by marketing budgets to a far greater extent. There is some amazing stuff coming from China and you can get a decent beginner board for under £150.00 these days. There are 2 main forms of construction. Sidewall and Cap. Cap became very fashionable around 1995 and these boards have a top sheet which runs over the sides and meets the metal edge. Cap is a slightly cheaper construction and can be more difficult to repair. That said there are plenty of boards out there made this way.
Base materials are usually either "extruded" or "sintered". Extruded is formed by heat and sintered by pressure. Sintered is better by extruded comes in various levels 1000, 2000, 3000 etc. The higher the number the better it is in terms of holding wax etc. They add in all sorts of stuff the help the surface glide and hold wax. This knocks the cost up a notch and is mostly found on sintered bases.
Inserts. These are the threaded things you'll mount the bindings into. Now be careful here as some brands do not have the industry standard 4 x 4 pattern. Biggest amongst these is Burton which uses a 3 pattern.If you buy one of these boards you will either have to buy their binding or try to get an adaptor plate.
New or second hand? Always new if you can. If something looks good secondhand ask about repairs, how many base grinds and how old the board is. Note boards get dead as they are used more. Avoid ex rental or stuff which has done a few seasons. Once the pop has gone from a board it's like that ironing board again.
Bindings. A really quick guide this. 95% of people will buy 2 strap bindings with a high back. The straps hold you in and the high back gives support, especially for heel side turns. If you are starting out a basic binding will do fine. Make sure your boot fits into it. Most bindings have at least an adjustable heel cup - tis moves front to back on the binding and allows for bigger boots. I don't know of any binding (yet) which adjusts side to side so if you have a wide boot you have to make sure the binding will accomadate it. Bindings are usually sized as XS, Small Med, Med large. Check to see what the manufacturer recommends so far as binding size and boot sizes go. Fitting bindings is easy. In the centre of the binding is a disc with ( usually) 4 bolts which screw into threaded inserts on the board. The big exception is Burton who use a unique 3 pin pattern on their boards ( I wouldn't suggest for a minute that they were trying to restrict your binding options), lots of binding manufacturers can supply a 3 pin disc to suit their binding and allow it to be fitted to a Burton board. When you fit your bindings make sure the quick releases( see below) are on the outside, i.e. towards the front and back of the board. This makes them easier to operate. The discs allow the body of the binding to rotate to provide variations in stance angles.Watch out for over long screws - if you spin them in they can pop through the base of the board or at least make little lumps in thebase. Check the length first. Also make sure the threads are not crossed, yes schoolboy stuff but show me someone who says they have never done it and I will show you someone with selective memory.
As with most things the more money you spend the more features you will get, some are really handy, some less so. Straps which are adjustable from both sides are good as they allow you center the cushioning over your boot. Strap pain should be a thing of the past. Look for lots of padding on the straps. The straps tighten up with ratchets, the best have a function which tightens 3 increments in one action ( Actually now Sapient make one with 4 steps and probably other brands too. You should look for quick realeases on the ratchets. You simply push in the right direction and the ratchet release all the way in one go. Highbacks should always have at least a forward lean adjustment. This allows you to vary the position of the high back to suit your riding style and for begineers helps with correct body position over the board. More sophisticated bindings will have a Rotational Adjustment on the high back. This allows you to turn the high back so it is always in line with the edge of the board, whatever stance angles you have the base plate set at. The idea of this is you are putting your heel turn force into the heel edge in the most effcient way possible. Some say this is really important, but they all go quiet when you ask " what about toe side turns then?". So a nice option but far from essential. Tooless adjustment is common but also not essential, afterall it is not as if you will be changing the position all the time.Highback height is a consideration too. Out and out freestyle bindings are generally lower in height as you don't need the leverage for big turns and when you compress a jump there is less chance of a painfull bum injury or worse ( G , if you ever read this you know exactly what I am talking about). Step in bindings are not so common these days. K2 used to market a Shimano system called Clicker ( I think Nitro still do). These needs a system specific boot to work. Died out as a retail item as it was never seen as cool and the pro riders generally refused to use them but it worked really well. Lots of rental shops used them. There are other hybrid systems out there but I would give em all a miss except - Flow. This is a binding where the high back drops backwards to allow entry then locks up. I have used them and they are fine. Best thing is the big surf style strap which spreads loads across a larger area and this makes them very comfy. Only time I had an issue was falling in deep powder with limited movement possible - getting out was a pig as I could not get snow cleared enough to allow the highback to drop back.. K2 use a similar principle with the Cinch binding introduced a couple of years ago, this looks like a regular binding when done up (so they learned the Clicker Lesson), I have not tried them but know a lot of people love em. Prices, You can get decent entry level bindings around 60- 70 quid and spend nearer £200.00 for something flash, but you don't need to. If buying second hand make sure the ladders ( the knotched part of the strap the ratchets work on) are not worn away. Some manufacturers seem to use cheese and they soon wear, you can get replacements but compatability with the ratchet may be an issue. Make sure all screws and fasteners are there and are tight ( not a bad thing to check before riding each time anyway).
So Far ( Feb 07) over 3100 people have checked this guide out but less than 200 have made a comment. It took me a while to write , and even longer to get the knowledge, so please let me know what you think and help me to help others by improving the guide. Thanks. Snowboarding Saves Lives.