Last Updated December 2018 for winter 2019: We’ve updated our guide of the best snowboards with the 10 best picks for winter 2019. Prices and links have also been updated.
Like a lot of American technological innovations, a tinkerer created the modern snowboard in a garage. An engineer from Michigan, Sherman Poppen, fabricated the first modern board in 1965 by bolting two 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.” Almost as soon as the “snurfer” was born, its success snowballed.
A big hit in Poppen’s small town of Muskegon, word of the Snurfer spread quickly to some folks at a company that’s now called Brunswick. They heard about it, licensed it and sold more than 500,000 Snurfers in 1966 — a single year after Poppen built the first prototype — and about one million Snurfers in the next decade.
Like skateboards from that era, the Snurfer was an inexpensive toy built for kids. But the success of the Snurfer spawned regional and eventually national competitions that attracted folks that would usher in modern snowboarding. Early competitors include Tom Sims and Jake Burton, who would go on to start incredibly successful companies bearing their surnames. Two other competitors, Dimitrije Milovich and Mike Olson, would start Winterstick and GNU.
These pioneers built their businesses during the 80s. In the mid-80s, only a handful of resorts permitted snowboard use. But by the early 90s, snowboarders were welcomed at most resorts.
During the 90s, snowboard design was similar to ski designs: all boards had traditional camber and straight edges.
In the early aughts, Mervin Manufacturing, the brand that builds Lib Tech and GNU boards, made two revolutionary changes. In 2004 they introduced MagneTraction. These serrated edges increased edge control on ice. In 2006, Mervin introduced reverse camber in a big way under the name Banana Tech. A major departure from the traditional camber of skis and snowboards, this was arguably the biggest change in board design to date. Reverse camber boards rode loose and reduced the chances of catching an edge.
A year later, hybrid camber was born. Most of these boards include reverse camber between the feet and camber at the tip and tail.
Fast forward a decade, and surf-inspired shapes start rolling. Initially marketed for riding powder, designs evolved and many riders chose to use these boards with minimal tails for daily use.
And now for winter 2019, choices abound. “It’s the most exciting time ever in snowboard design,” says industry veteran, big mountain competitor and General Manager of Wave Rave in Mammoth Lakes, Tim Gallagher.
So do your homework and choose well. The right choice will reap daily dividends on the mountain, helping make each turn a little better and allowing you to enjoy your time on the mountain even more.
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 left foot in front of your right.
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.
The 10 Best Snowboards of 2019
Editor’s Choice: Lib Tech T.Rice Orca
The movement of short and fat snowboards is a few years old. Big companies like K2 did a great job kicking off the “volume shift” movement that lopped off a few centimeters from board length and added it to the width. The new Orca brings the volume shift movement home. Available in three sizes (147, 153, and 159), the waist of the Orca is thick. 26.7cm for the two longer models and 25.7cm for the 147. This 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 six T.Rice pro models, the Orca is great for short, slashy turns, and is also fun in tight trees, whether they’re filled with fresh snow or skied out.
Serious MagneTraction is one way this board is different than similar decks. Each side of the board has seven serrations, so when you’re scraping on hardpack, the board has a little more edge to help it bite into the trail. And the swallow tail makes it easy to keep the front-end up.
The board is made by Lib Tech, a company with a sense of humor, punk rock edge and DIY ethos. It jokes that its boards are “built by snowboarders with jobs.” Behind the joke is a company that builds all its boards domestically, utilizing innovative techniques for “green building” and using non-toxic substances as well.
Best Budget Snowboard: K2 Broadcast
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 at $400-$450 and max out around $600. Sure, there are boards that cost $1K and more, but unless it’s custom — hello, Franco Snowshapes — the qualitative upgrades once you head north of the $600 neighborhood are incremental at best.
The Broadcast is a new freeride shape from the folks at K2, a company that’s been making skis for decades and was one of the first to embrace the fat ski movement for powder skis. The Broadcast is one of our favorite freeride boards for 2019. The fact that it’s about $200 less than some similar boards is just gravy.
The directional hybrid shape leans more on camber than reverse camber, making the Broadcast incredibly responsive. Best for riders who are intermediate and above, the Broadcast loves being ridden fast, and that camber ensures that the deck has plenty of pop. Get this board if you have a taste for craft beer, but a PBR budget.
Best Powder Board: Jones Storm Chaser
In the past, snowboarding had an outlaw reputation. But for many years, riders wouldn’t rock a pow board on a non-pow day because even the “outlaws” would poke fun. Those days are done, partially because riders are unabashedly riding what they love. And partially because some pow boards are very capable of being daily drivers. That’s the case with the Storm Chaser.
The board was built for one of the best freeriders on the planet — Jeremy Jones — by veteran surfboard shaper Chris Christenson, who’s been shaping boards for 26 years.
Christenson is a passionate snowboarder as well, splitting his time between Cardiff-by-the-Sea in SoCal and Swall Meadow just south of Mammoth Lakes. His understanding of shaping snow shapes is evident in the Storm Chaser. It loves getting on a rail for deep carves and has just as much love for a deep powder day.
On groomers, Jones’ version of serrated edge technology does a good job of holding a rail when terrain gets slick. And in powder, the swallowtail adds to the insane amount of float of the deck. And for 2019, this board that was great to begin with, gets even better with a lighter core built from bamboo and carbon stringers to add a touch more stiffness to the Storm Chaser.
Best Park Board: GNU Head Space
Although pro models are few and far between these days, the Head Space is one of two pro models for Forest Bailey. Like fellow Mervin athlete Jamie Lynn, Bailey is an artist and his handiwork adorns his freestyle deck.
Available in four sizes, the Head Space is asymmetrical, a design approach that GNU has been pursuing for years. The thought behind it? Since snowboarders stand sideways, heelside and toeside turns are different biomechanically, so each side of the board is designed differently to optimize each type of turn: a deeper sidecut on the heelside and more shallow 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.
It’s also a great deal — $450 — and almost won our best budget board contest. You’ll have a few more bucks left over for $12 beers at the mountain.
Best All-Mountain: Ride MTN Pig
Don’t click on the link, because the branding on this deck is gross. But, the board (even with its poor advertising) is a great all mountain machine.
Few boards look like the MTN Pig thanks to a half-moon tail, blunt nose and an aesthetic that’s mostly monochromatic with a hit of natural wood. The hybrid camber board is one of the stiffest we tested. Built for riding fast and taking chances, there’s some rocker at the nose that keeps the front end above the snow on powder days. Camber on the tail section of the board helps you keep an edge when the snow is less than ideal.
The bigger brother to Ride’s park board, the WARPIG, the MTN Pig’s urethane edges knock down chatter when riding through rough snow — known as chunder. All that’s to say this is not a deck for lazy and mellow intermediate runs. The MTN Pig is built for riding hard and fast. If you that’s not your get-down, this ain’t the board for you. But if you like riding each run like it might be your last, give this board a shot.
Best Splitboard: Venture Storm
Built by a small crew of snowboarders in Silverton, Colorado, Venture’s snowboards just feel boutique. Strap in and you get a sense that you’re riding a board that was built with love in the mountains. That may sound woo-woo, but we’ll bet you a nice, life-affirming crystal that if you test ride one, you’ll feel the same.
Silverton is home to Silverton Mountain, which offers some of the gnarliest lift-accessed terrain in the world. Named for an iconic peak in the San Juan Mountains with a 13,487-foot summit, the Storm is the tool for ascending and descending mountains like this.
Also available as a solid board, the Storm has a new core for this winter. Like its Colorado brethren Never Summer, Venture boards are typically overbuilt. Those extra grams add durability in spades, but the new core shaves some weight.
It’s not Venture’s stiffest split (that would be the Odin), but the Storm is stiff without beating you up. Like most boards in the test, the Storm features hybrid camber, with a bit of a twist. Instead of camber between the feet, the Storm is flat. This is great for powder, but can be a little squirrely during run-outs when snow often gets variable.
The soft nose provides insane amounts of float when it gets deep, and the moderate sidecut will put a smile on your face. And for folks who care about carbon footprint, the Venture workshop is 100-percent solar powered.
Best Intermediate: Burton Custom
When it comes to legendary snowboards, the Burton Custom is always at the top of the list. It’s been in the Burton line-up for decades, back when the most famous company in snowboarding still built all its boards in Vermont.
The first Custom was released in 1996. The consistently great freeride board — along with its stiffer cousin the Custom X — is available in two models for 2019.
The Flying V version contains a mix of camber and rocker, and is a great board for intermediate riders. It’s designed for all-mountain use and is a happy compromise between stiff and soft. With a medium stiffness, you can ride it all day.
Camber-wise, the Custom also rocks a happy compromise with a mix of camber and rocker. It’s plenty responsive, but not so responsive that you’ll be catching a bunch of edges at the end of a long day, when your tired mind and body gives way to sloppy technique. And that’s one of the many reasons snowboarding is a bit easier than it was in the camber-only era when hyper-responsive boards reigned supreme. That was great for expert riders. For less experienced riders, that responsiveness was too much, like giving a teenager who just learned how to drive a car with too much horsepower.
Best Snowboard for Carving: Bataleon Carver
Full disclosure: we were sad to see the asymmetrical and stance-specific GNU Zoid dropped from the lineup this year. The Zoid is one of the best carving boards ever made, but the Bataleon Carver is also on that very short list.
As you may have guessed, the Carver is for advanced riders because if you’re still figuring out how to make turns, you’ve got some work ahead of you before you’re ready for a carving board.
With a wide waist, toe drag isn’t an issue for this board that lives on its rails. But what makes the Carver unique is the profile of the board. While it’s traditional camber from tip to tail, it has raised edges from left to right. So, you get all the pop and responsiveness of a cambered design without the drawback of easily catching edges. This board also claims to provide prodigious float in powder. Sadly, we can’t report back on that because we didn’t ride it in fresh snow.
Medium stiff, carbon stringers that run the length of the deck help you power through turns. And since Bataleon is still a surprisingly small company, it’s unlikely you’ll see other Carvers on the hill.
Best Snowboard for Advanced Riders: Arbor Bryan Iguchi Pro Model Camber
Bryan Iguchi is a legend. Before it was a cool thing to do, the young ‘Guch moved to Jackson Hole to ride some of the steepest lines in the world. He was one of the first well-known professional snowboarders, and some believed that the talented athlete was committing professional suicide by leaving the competition circuit. Eventually, the industry caught up with him. And if you’re looking to ride steeps, one of his two boards should be on your radar.
His two models include a camber as well as a rocker version. Both are on the stiff side of the spectrum and the camber version is one of the most responsive boards on the planet. Before you strap in, one of the first things you’ll notice is the weight. It’s a bit heavier than most. Some folks ding it for how it tips the scales. Others appreciate the added meat on the proverbial bones, especially those who put in a lot of time in the Rocky Mountain backcountry, where obstacles just happen.
Strapping in, one of the first things you realize is the minimal rise of the tip and tail. This is great in the fresh snow because it helps the board stay on top of it while also making it slightly more forgiving.
TLDR? This is a lot of board. If you watch Iguchi and aspire to ride like him, it just might be the perfect board for you.
Best Alternative Shape: Spring Break Twin
Like the mountain biking industry, snowboarding has a small collection of boutique brands that add a whole lot of fun. One of these is Spring Break, a company founded by former pro snowboarder and contemporary artist, Corey Smith, in 2010. And as the good folks at Field Mag alluded to, Spring Break is a nice and weird mix of two Burtons: Jake (the man behind Burton snowboards) and Tim (the guy behind films like “Nightmare Before Christmas”).
Built by Capita at its factory in Austria, the Twin is an asymmetrical twin board with a lopped off tail and nose and is great for the park.
The hybrid camber includes traditional camber until just after the binding inserts, before going flat, and ending/starting with a touch of hybrid camber at the nose and tail. Translation: plenty of pop thanks to the camber and a nose and tail that don’t catch when you don’t want them to. And new for this model year are stringers made from basalt that settle down the board in variable snow — and also add a little more spring to your ollies.
With a right-down-the-middle medium flex, the Twin has serious snap and rebound. Load up the tail and it’s ready to go skyward.
The sidecut is longer on the heelside than toeside to maximize the body dynamics of standing sideways and making turns. And like a properly executed asym board, it loves being on its side, laying deep trenches as you make deep turns.
If you spend a lot of time in the park, but like getting your all-mountain on, this is a solid option. Demo this deck, and if you want to compare it to a similar deck, check out the GNU Head Space as well.