Guide to Snowboard Equipment

Photo via Liberty Mountain, PA.

Photo via Liberty Mountain, PA.

Your Guide To Snowboard Equipment


Snowboarding rules. You ride down a snow-covered mountain, surfing an endless winter wave. You laugh out loud as you float effortlessly through fresh powder snow, carve a perfect arc on recently groomed snow or spin into the air to do a trick. You reach the bottom of the hill ready to do it again. And again and again.

Newcomers can be a bit overwhelmed by what seems to be complicated equipment options and unfamiliar words. This guide is designed to ease your worries and give you some basic information that will help get you started the right way and down the path to a lot of fun.

Gear Up

Before renting or purchasing equipment, ask yourself a few questions: How much do you think you'll be snowboarding? Will you be snowboarding only on a vacation or also near where you live? Determining your projected commitment level will help you decide whether to rent, lease or buy equipment.

DSC015761_-_snowboards-2Your equipment options include:

  • Renting equipment at your local snowboard shop or at the mountain resort. You can rent equipment by the day or week. This is often recommended for novices. (Note: Some shops will apply the price of rentals toward purchasing new equipment.)
  • Leasing equipment for an entire season. Some shops offer this service and it can especially make sense for children who quickly out-grow gear.
  • Buying used equipment at a local ski shop or snowboard swap. Stay away from garage sales and be careful at ski swaps because you may wind up with gear that is outdated and inappropriate.
  • Buying new equipment. You might want to consider a package deal that offers a discount when you buy the board, boots and bindings together.



In general, snowboards are made of a wooden core wrapped in fiberglass and coated in a fiberglass or plastic cap with metal edges. A number of things influence the performance of a snowboard, including combination of materials, stiffness, length, weight and shape (twin tip, directional or extended edge). There are basically four styles of riding a snowboard, and a board for each:
( Photo via Ski Center, Washington, DC)

  • snowboardsinshopTechnical Freestyle: If you want to spend as much time as you can in the halfpipe or snowboard park, getting big air, jumping and learning complicated spins and tricks, buy a technical freestyle board. These boards have twin tips, meaning there is an identical, blunt tip and tail shape for riding forward and backward.
  • Freestyle: If you want to go anywhere and do anything — forward or fakie (backward), powder or hardpack, in the air or on the snow, get a freestyle board. This type of board usually has a directional shape, with a longer tip for better flotation in chopped-up snow and a stiffer tail for more power.
  • Freeriding: If you want to ride any terrain in any snow condition, and you spend most of your time on the ground, get a freeride board. Sometimes referred to as all-mountain boards, these very versatile models usually have directional shapes and a varying flex. This is a good type of board to learn on, and can be used anywhere on the mountain.
  • Freecarving/Alpine: If you want to go really fast and lay down inch-deep tracks on hardpack or groomed snow, then a freecarving/alpine board is for you. These boards tend to be the stiffest and narrowest. The nose (or front) of an alpine board is curved while the tail (back) is flat. Although they are stable at high speeds, these boards generally aren't for doing tricks or all-around riding.

Make sure that your boots are compatible with your board and bindings, and the style of riding you plan to do.

  • Technical freestyle, freestyle and freeride boots are called "soft boots" because they are usually made of softer materials such as waterproof leather and nylon. The support generally comes from the rigid structure of the bindings that you strap the boots into.
  • Freecarve/alpine boots are called "hard boots" because they resemble ski boots and have more rigid, plastic shells. Hard boots are used with plate bindings.

Unlike ski bindings, snowboard bindings are designed not to release when you fall. Make sure your bindings are compatible with your board and boots and the style of riding you plan to do. Because snowboard bindings do not have brakes as ski bindings do, many resorts require you to have a leash that attaches your board to your front leg to prevent a runaway board.

  • Freestyle riders generally use a high-back binding with two straps across the boot.
  • Freeride snowboarders generally use a high-back binding with two or three straps for added support and control. These riders also use step-in bindings, which eliminate the need for straps across the boot.
  • Freecarve/alpine riders use a plate binding.

Photos provided by Ski Liberty (PA) and Ski Center (Washington, DC)


Measure up
Riding stance: Regular-foot riders stand with their left foot forward on the board. Goofy-foot riders stand with their right foot forward. If you skateboard, surf or wakeboard, you probably already know what your stance is. If not, have someone push you lightly from behind. Whichever foot you put out first to balance yourself is probably the foot you should have in front.

learn_to_rideThe two most important measurements of a snowboard are length and waist width. Snowboards are measured in centimeters (cm). Your board length will depend on your weight, your riding style and the type of conditions you will ride in most often. A shop employee can help you decide on the appropriate length. The waist width will depend on the size of your feet. The toe and heel of your boot should be flush with the edges of the snowboard. This will give you the most leverage and allow you to turn easier.

In general, snowboard boots come in traditional American sizes and also "mondo point," which is simply the length of the boot in centimeters.

Fit tips for boots:

  • When trying on boots, wear one pair of medium-weight or light-weight socks.
  • The fit should be snug. Your heel should remain in place when you bend your knee and ankle forward.
  • Make sure there aren't any pressure points or spots that pinch your feet.

Binding stance angles: All snowboard bindings are adjustable, allowing you to change the position in which you stand on the board. Freestyle snowboarders usually have wider stances (feet farther apart) with their feet pointing more directly across the board, while freecarvers have narrower (feet closer together) stances with their feet pointed more toward the front. Freeriders are somewhere in the middle. Talk with a snowboard shop employee and then experiment to see what works best for you.



Get going
bDSCF021First-time snowboarders should always take a lesson from a qualified instructor.A lesson will help you learn much faster and you probably won't be as sore the next day.


  • Call ahead to the local area or destination resort to find out about beginner lessons and any special deals that might be available.
  • Don't give up. The first day on a board can be challenging, but stick with it for a few days, keep practicing and you'll soon be riding more challenging runs.

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