So you've begged, borrowed or rented your equipment up until now, but it's time to bite the bullet and buy some gear of your own. We know that choosing a new pair of boots, bindings and a board from the plethora of choice can be quite a complex and daunting task. Here's our guide to help you cross the Rubicon.
The first modern snowboard was created in the 1960s when an engineer in Michigan, USA, fastened two skis together with a rope at one end for control. Dubbed the 'snurfer', when licensed to a manufacturer it sold about a million boards over the next decade. Other early pioneers were skateboarders and kids using their local and dry ski slopes throughout the seventies, and one such 'snurfer' was Jake Burton Carpenter from Vermont. He had designed bindings to secure his feet to his snurfer, and in 1977 founded Burton Snowboards, making 'snowboards' out of flexible wooden planks. Burton's early designs for boards with bindings became the dominant features in snowboarding and his company would go on to become the biggest snowboarding company in the business.
As it grew throughout the seventies and eighties, the sport we know today was born, with its core equipment consisting of a board with specialised bindings and boots. In the nineties snowboarding became mainstream, being recognised as an official international sport with it's own federation, high-profile competitions were held worldwide and it became an Olympic event in 1998.
The basic construction of a snowboard is very similar to that of skis. A core, usually made of wood, is shaped to create a profile that gives the board its shape, stiffness and camber. The core is coated in fiberglass to add torsional flex and more stiffness. The outer layer is made of porous polyethylene for the base and top sheet of fiberglass. The outer edge of the snowboard is a metal strip that forms the contact point for the board.
That is a very simplified outline of snowboard construction and, as snowboarding has evolved as a sport, the methods and materials used as well as the design of snowboards have changed. Now there is a huge amount of choice on offer when it comes to buying a snowboard from short, soft, detuned street rail boards to split boards for touring.
One of the best things about snowboarding, compared to skiing, is the boots. Snowboard boots are softer, easier to walk in and immediately comfortable compared to their plastic shelled brothers. We wold always recommend new boots as opposed to second-hand boots - once used a couple of times they tend to mould to the previous users' feet, can lack padding and therefore warmth and comfort.
It is better to buy in the resort and the type of boot you choose will be dictated to, by some extent, by the type of bindings you choose, or vice-versa. Step in bindings and alpine bindings will require different boots. If you have opted for conventional ratchet bindings almost any boot from any manufacturer will fit, which leaves you with a huge amount of choice. There are some great snowboard shops in Chamonix, and any problems can be addressed during your stay at no extra cost. A professional boot fitter should select the correct boot to suit your level and foot shape, and if you're really splashing out heat-moulding and a professionally made foot bed are recommended to stabilise your foot and ankle within the boot, avoid heel lift, and enhance the transmission of your energy through the binding into the board for optimum control and carving.
Stiffer boots will offer more control, softer ones will give more flex and allow you to move around more freely. As you can expect, it is all down to comfort and personal choice. Towards the end of March/early April, a number of local shops will have a good selection of boots in their end of season sales.
There are many boots and binding combinations on the market today, so it is important to know your riding style before you purchase. There are basically two types of bindings available: step-ins or ratchet/strap. Each has their own benefits and drawbacks.
Strap or ratchet bindings are the original and most popular of the bindings available on the market. There are two straps, one across the toe and one which secures at the ankle. A high plate rides up the back of your heel and lower calf and assists in forcing the heel into the binding, bringing the toe side of the board up. Strap or ratchet bindings offer good control and comfort as the foot feels secure.
Step-in bindings are increasingly less and less popular as they do not offer the same control of the snowboard, and the boots/binding system is far heavier than lighter strap bindings. The various step-in systems available limit the amount of time you spend doing up your bindings and reduce the need to bend down as the connection to the board is made by clipping the boot to the board using a spring loaded mechanism.
The choice of binding is individual and depends on your riding style, although we would always recommend strap bindings rather than step-ins. As it is so personal it is worth trying all the systems and styles at a board test. Before you make a decision on bindings, check that they will fit your boots and snowboard. Different snowboard manufacturers have different fixing mounts for their bindings and not all bindings fit on all boards.
Companies like Rome have been putting asymmetrical high backs on their bindings for a couple of years. This left-or-right specific shaping has filtered down to heel straps too. The theory is that by making the strap wider and more padded on the inside of your foot, it reduces the biting pressure point so often found when you've got your bindings really cranked.
Likewise, Burton has reintroduced the winged high back for maximum tweakability. Found on the Infidel model, the top of the high back curves outwards, around the boot, for greater lateral board control on the ground and in the air.
For split-board bindings, a company that's been bubbling below the radar for a season or two is Spark R&D. Now general acceptance of their product, plus a huge quality increase, has resulted in Spark being the binding of choice for split-board enthusiasts. The lightweight stiff base plates slide directly onto the Voilé mounting pucks, for a seamless and disc-free set up that's far less likely to come loose.
The local shops will offer a wide range of gear, with different boards to choose from depending on your ability, plus a couple of other factors such as gender, height, weight and age. The equipment on offer is hugely diverse, catering to an assortment of terrains and personal preference. Most shops will stock a selection of all mountain, freeride or freestyle boards as well as specialist models.
|All Mountain / Freeride snowboards||
These boards are shaped for both park and powder and will be fine on the pistes, in the park and in the back country. A true "go anywhere do anything" weapon that will make a perfect first board, it has a thinner middle which makes carving easier and the camber has been modified to create a short snowboard with a raised nose. The result is short manoeuvrable boards that float well in the deep stuff.
For those that live for the back country, these boards are designed just for use in the deep stuff. Long and stiff and truly directional with a pointed nose and sometimes a V-shaped "swallow tail". The bindings on the board will be set near the tail increasing the length of the nose.
A split-board allows the user to turn his snowboard into skis for touring up and back into a snowboard for riding powder. These boards are very specialist pieces of equipment and will only be used a few days a year. Quite an outlay, as they are not cheap, but they may be the best days of your winter.
The most obvious place to see freestyle snowboarding is in the park, but freestyle can be practiced anywhere on the hill. In general, they are shorter and softer than most other boards making them more forgiving in landings and easier to manoeuvre. They are also usually "twin-tipped", meaning it can be ridden backwards as easily as forwards.
Usually short, very soft, with de-tuned edges, and often flat or reverse camber helping them slide on obstacles reducing the chances of the edges biting into the rail or box. They are very specific and not ideal for any other discipline as the lack of an effective edge makes them difficult to control on normal snow. Perfect if all you want is jibbing but not ideal for the all rounder.
Should reach between the bottom of your neck and your chin, designed to be ridden in the park and half-pipe. They are nearly always "twin" and tend to be short. In general, they are good for riding all over the hill, but will not be as fast or responsive as an all-mountain board and are too short for riding in powder, but they are great fun.
Tend to be stiffer than other boards, meaning more "pop" and power in take off, but it requires more effort and precision. If you are new to freestyle then go for something softer and when it's time for a new board you can try something stiffer.
Also known as carving or racing boards, they are long, narrow, stiff constructions focused on speed and producing the ultimate deep turn, with swift superior edge-holding power on hard snow, and good stability at high speed. They are very specific pieces of equipment and are not ideal for the majority of snowboarders. In most cases these boards are set up with boots similar to ski boots and use a basic hard boot binding. They are popular with boarder cross riders and slalom competitors.
Testing your new gear
The reasons for buying in resort are two-fold. You can return for little tweaks once you've had a few hours in your new boots or on your new board, plus some shops have dedicated Test Centres, offering test days for equipment which means you can try before you buy.
Once you've found a reputable Test Centre shop, set aside a whole day, choosing a good weather day with good visibility, ideally at the beginning of your holiday, and try out some models back-to-back on the same slopes. Be honest with the shop about your snowboarding level and budget, and try to narrow your choice to three models - any more would be quite confusing.
The price of the test is usually deducted from the final price of your purchase.
Once you own your own equipment you will need to take care of it to ensure it lasts, and a good service can make all the difference between a good and bad day's riding.
Regular servicing usually includes a deep clean of the snowboard, edge sharpening/tuning and base waxing, repair of any holes and scratches on the base - all helping keep it like new for longer. Sharp edges and a structured, waxed base improves turns, speed and control. Waxing helps prevent water from getting into the core.
Although you can maintain your snowboard at home, it takes quite a bit of gear and know how to get it right. The simplest way is to drop it into a good repair shop. Many of the local shops in resort will be able to do an overnight service before you hit the slopes, giving you professional advice on what needs doing. Some snowboarders advocate a thick coat of 'storage' wax after each holiday to protect the base from drying out, but it's not essential, as long as your board gets a fresh wax before your next snowboarding holiday.
If you can't make up your mind, hire your board and find out which one suits your style. You will also be able to check out the latest innovations in snowboarding gear.
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