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Snowboards are boards, which resemble a wide ski, with the ability to glide on snow. Users of such equipment may be referred to as snowboarders. Commercial snowboards generally require extra equipment such as bindings and special boots which help secure both feet of a snowboarder, who generally rides in an upright position. These type of boards are commonly used by people at ski hills or resorts for leisure, entertainment and competitive purposes in the activity called snowboarding. A size and shape variance in the boards accommodates different people, skill levels, snow types, and riding styles. The average length varies between 140-165 cm and the average width is between 24-27 cm. Shorter boards are typically considered youth size, designed for use by children, though some varieties of short boards are specifically designed for a special purpose, such as the performance of snowboarding tricks. Such tricks may take place in a snowpark along side freestyle skiers. The development of commercial snowboards has seen the use of a laminated wood core sandwiched between multiple layers of fiberglass. The bottom or 'base' of the snowboard is generally made of various constructions of plastic, and is surrounded by a thin strip of steel, known as the 'edge'. The top layer, where a printed graphic may reside, can be made of Acrylic. The first snowboard was invented and manufactured in Utah beginning in the early 1970s, and was commemorated in 2007 by the United States mint among the three semi-final designs of the Utah state quarter.

History

State quarter design commemorating the first snowboard being invented in Washington

In 2008, selling snowboarding equipment was a $487 million industry. In 2008, average equipment ran about $540 including board, boots, and bindings.

Board Types

Snowbird ski resort to allow snowboards

Snowboards come in several different styles, depending on the type of riding intended:

  • Racing/Alpine: long, narrow, rigid, and directional shape. Best during machine groomed slopes. Most often ridden with a "hard" boot, but also ridden recreationally with soft boots, particularly by riders in Europe.
  • Freeride: longer in length, and semi-directional. Moderate to stiff in flex. Used for long, fast turns in various types of snow from groomed hard-pack to soft powder.
  • Freestyle: Generally shorter in length with a Semi-directional or twin-tip shape. Moderate to soft in flex. Incorporates a deep sidecut for quick/tight turning. Used in the pipe and in the park on various jumps and terrain features including boxes, rails, and tables.
  • Park/Jib (rails): flexible and short, twin shaped with a twin flex to allow easy switch riding, wider stance, with the edges filed dull. Used for skateboard-park like snowboard parks.
  • All-Mountain: A hybrid between freeride and freestyle boards. The 'jack of all trades, master of none.' Normally directional in shape with either a twin or directional flex. Moderate in flex for various types of terrain.
  • Split: Not to be confused with the swallow-tail, the split board consists of a stable powder board that can be broken down into two touring skis, used when hiking in deep backcountry conditions.

Snowboards are generally constructed of a hardwood core which is sandwiched between multiple layers or fibreglass. Some snowboards incorporate the use of more exotic materials such as Carbon Fibre, Kevlar, Aluminium (as a honeycomb core structure), and have even incorporated Piezo dampers. The front (or "nose,") of the board is upturned to help the board glide over uneven snow. The back (or "tail") of the board is also upturned to enable backwards (or "switch") riding. The base (the side of the board which contacts the ground) is made of Polyethylene plastic. The two major types of base construction are Extruded and Sintered. An extruded base is a basic, low-maintenance design which basically consists of the plastic base material melted into its form. A sintered base uses the same material as an Extruded base, but first grinds the material into a powder, then, using heat and pressure, molds the material into its desired form. A sintered base is generally softer than its extruded counterpart, but has a porous structure which enables it to absorb wax. This wax absorption (along with a properly done 'hot wax'), greatly reduces surface friction between the base and the snow. Snowboards with sintered bases are much faster, but require semi-regular maintenance and are easier to damage. The bottom-edges of the snowboard are fitted with a thin strip of steel, just a couple of millimeters wide. This steel edge allows the board to grab or 'dig in' to hard snow and ice (like the blade of an ice skate), and also protects the boards internal structure. The top of the board is typically a layer of acrylic with some form of graphic designed to attract attention, showcase artwork, or serve the purpose similar to that of any other form of printed media. Flite Snowboards, an early and often underquoted designer, pressed the first closed-molded boards from a garage in Newport, RI in the mid 1980's. Snowboard topsheet graphics can be a highly personal statement and many riders spend many hours customizing the look of their boards. The top of some boards may even include thin inlays with other materials, and some are made entirely of epoxy-impregnated wood. The base of the board may also feature graphics, often designed in a manner to make the board's manufacturer recognizable in photos.

Snowboard designs differ primarily in:
  • Length - Boards for children are as short as 90 centimetres; boards for racers, or "alpine" riders, are as long as 215 cm. Most people ride boards in the 140-165 cm range. It is a myth that the height of the rider solely dictates the length of the snowboard. Rather, the length of a snowboard corresponds mainly to the style, weight, and preference of the rider. A good rule of thumb is to stay within the recommended manufacturer weight range. The longer the board, the more stable it is at high speed, but it is also a bit tougher to manoeuvre. Another factor riders consider when selecting a snowboard is the type of riding it will be used for, freestyle boards being shorter than all-mountain boards.
  • Width - The width is typically measured at the waist of the board, since the nose and tail width varies with the sidecut and taper. Freestyle boards are up to 28 cm wide, to assist with balance. Alpine boards are typically 18-21 cm wide, although they can be as narrow as 15 cm. Most folks ride boards in the 24-25 cm range. Riders with larger feet (US size 10+) may have problems with narrower boards, as the rider's toes and/or heels may extend over the edge of the board, and interfere with the board's ability to make turns once it is set on edge, or 'get hung up on the snow.' This is called toe/heel-drag, and can be cured by either choosing a wider board (26 cm or more), adjusting the stance angle, or a combination of the two.
  • Sidecut - The edges of the board are symmetrically curved concavely, so that the width at the tip and tail is greater than the centre. This curve aids turning and affects the board's handling. The curve has a radius that might be a short as 5 meters on a child's board or as large as 17 meters on a racer's board. Most boards use a sidecut radius between 8-9 meters. Shorter sidecut radii (tighter turns) are generally used for halfpipe riding while longer sidecut radii (wider turns) are used for freeride/alpine/racing riding. One new development in sidecuts was the introduction of Magne-Traction by Mervin, which owns: Lib Tech, GNU, and Roxy. Magne-Traction incorporates seven bumps on each side of the board which LibTech speculates will improve edge holding.
  • Flex - The flexibility of a snowboard affects its handling and typically varies with the rider's weight. Usually a harder flex makes turning harder while a softer flex makes the board less stable at high speed. There is no standard way to quantify snowboard stiffness, but novices and boarders who mostly do rails tend to prefer softer flex, racers stiffer flex, and everyone else something in between.
  • Tail/nose width - Many freestyle boards have equal nose/tail specs for equal performance either direction. Freeride and alpine boards, however, have a directional shape with a wider and longer nose. Boards designed for powder conditions exaggerate the differences even more for more flotation on the powder.
  • Camber* - The curvature of the base of the snowboard effects handling and carving. Typical modern snowboards have an upward curvature of a few degrees along the effective edges. Experimentation has led to boards with rocker, or upward curvature. First developed by K2 Snowboarding[3], the rocker makes for a more buttery board and can improve float in deep powder.

Established Snowboard Brands include: Burton, Atomic, Salomon, Rossignol, K2, Rome, GNU/Lib Tech, Ride, and Stepchild.

Younger or smaller brands include Capita Super, Automaton Snowboards, Trilogy Arts, Millennium Three, Nitro Snowboards, technine, academy, Clyde Snowboards, F2, and Harlot Snowboards.

Board construction

Snowboard with step-in bindings and boots

The various components of a snowboard are:

  • Core: The core is the interior construction of the snowboard. It is typically comprised of laminated fiberglass around wood. Beech and poplar are the most common woods, though other woods are used such as bamboo and birch. There have been continued experiments with aluminum, composite honeycomb, foam and resin to change, or substitute, the standard wood core. Desired properties of the core include damping, rebound, strength, flex and reduced weight.
  • Base: The bottom of the board that is in contact with the snow surface. It is generally made of a porous, plastic (polyethylene) material, that is saturated with a wax to create a very quick and smooth, hydrophobic surface. P-Tex is a brand name that has become synonymous with base material. It is important that the base be "slippery", with respect to the snow surface and board interaction. Bases are made to have amorphous areas that are porous to wax. Wax is an important finishing product for all base materials. Not only does it allow the snowboard to have a smoother glide, but it also allows the rider to change the characteristics of the base and adjust the board to the snow conditions. Different base waxes are available for different temperatures. The base, when maintained, will have a designed base structure that not only channels snow, air and water, but leaves it open enough for wax to penetrate deep inside it. This pattern is created with a stonegrind machine at the factory or a local ski shop. If the base is damaged, it is common to have it repaired in order to protect the core from exposure as well as reducing friction.
  • Extruded: The P-Tex is cut from a large sheet, or squeezed out of a machine much like "Play-Doh". A low maintenance base, it is the least expensive and easy to repair. Extruded bases are smoother and less porous than other bases. They do not saturate with wax well, and tend to slide slower than other bases. But left unwaxed they do not lose much overall performance. Extruded P-Tex is also cheaper than sintered P-Tex
  • Sintered: P-Tex base material is ground to powder then reformed with pressure and heat, and cut to shape. A sintered base is very porous and absorbs wax well. Sintered bases slide faster than extruded bases when waxed, but will be slower if unwaxed for a period. They are more expensive, and harder to repair.
  • Sintered Hybrid: Sintered bases may have graphite, gallium,indium or other materials added. These materials are used increase glide, strength, "wax hold" and other desired characteristics.
  • Edge: A strip of metal, tuned normally to just less than 90-degrees, that runs the length of either side of the board. This sharp edge is necessary to be able to produce enough friction to ride on ice, and the radius of the edge directly affects the radius of carving turns, and in turn the responsiveness of the board. Kinking, rusting, or general dulling of the edge will significantly hinder the ability for the edge to grip the snow, so it is important that this feature is maintained. However, many riders who spend a fair amount of their time grinding park rails, and especially handrails, will actually use a detuning stone or another method to intentionally dull their edges, either entirely or only in certain areas. This helps to avoid "catching" on any tiny burrs or other obstructions that may exist or be formed on rails, boxes, and other types of grind. Catching on a rail can, more than likely, result in a potentially serious crash, particularly should it occur on a handrail or more advanced rail set-up. In addition, it's relatively common for freestyle riders to "detune" the edges around the board's contact points. This practice can help to reduce the chances of the rider catching an edge in a choppy or rutted-out jump landing or similar situation. It is important to keep in mind that drastic edge detuning can be near-impossible to fully reverse and will significantly impede board control & the ability to hold an edge in harder-packed snow. One area where this can be quite detrimental is in a half-pipe, where well-sharpened edges are often crucially important for cutting through the hard, sometimes icy, walls.
  • Laminate: The snowboard's core is also sandwiched on the top and bottom by at least two layers of fiberglass. The fiberglass adds stiffness and torsional strength to the board. The fiberglass laminate may be either biaxial (fibers running the length of the board and more fibers 90 degrees perpendicular to it), triax (fibers running the length of the board with 45 degree fibers running across it), or quadax (a hybrid of the biax and triax). Some snowboards also add carbon and aramid (also known as Twaron or Kevlar) stringers for additional elasticity and strength.
  • Production: There are some manufactures that perform the entire process of snowboard construction and they manufacture over 500 per day with at least 30 different models. There is a great amount of manual work that goes into it as opposed to all of it being performed by machines and robots.

Boots

Snowboard boots are mostly considered soft boots, though alpine snowboarding uses a harder boot similar to a ski boot. A boot's primary function is to transfer the rider's energy into the board, protect the rider with support, and keep the rider's feet warm. A snowboarder shopping for boots is usually looking for a good fit, flex, and looks. Boots can have different features such as lacing styles, heat molding liners, and gel padding that the snowboarder also might be looking for. Tradeoffs include rigidity versus comfort, and built in forward lean, versus comfort.

There are three incompatible types:

  • Standard (soft) boots fit "flow" and "strap" bindings and are by far the most common. No part of the boot specifically attaches to the board. Instead, the binding applies pressure in several places to achieve firm contact.
  • "Step in" boots have a metal clasp on the bottom to attach to "step in" bindings. The boot must match the binding.
  • Hard boots are used with special bindings.

Bindings

Bindings are separate components from the snowboard deck and are very important parts of the total snowboard interface. The bindings main function are to hold the riders boot in place tightly so the rider can transfer their energy to the board. Most bindings are attached to the board with four screws that are placed in the center of the binding. Although a rather new technology from Burton called Infinite channel system uses two screws, both on the outsides of the binding.

There are several types of bindings. Strap-in, step-in, and hybrid bindings are used by most recreational riders and all freestyle riders.

Strap-in

These are the most popular yet technically deficient concept in snowboarding. Strap-in bindings were conceived before snowboard specific boots existed. With the lack of proper footwear, snowboarders used any means necessary to attach their feet to their snowboards and gain the leverage needed for turning. Typical boots used in these early days of snowboarding were "sorels" or "snowmobile" boots. These boots were not designed for snowboarding and did not provide the support desired for doing turns on the heel edge of a snowboard. As a result, early innovators such as Louis Fournier conceived the "high-back" binding design which was later commercialized and patented by Jeff Grell. The Highback binding is the technology produced by most binding equipment manufacturers in the snowboard industry. The leverage provided by Highbacks, greatly improved board control but produced large amounts of strain on the riders feet. Snowboarder's such as Craig Kelly adapted by using plastic "tongues" to protect their feet from strap-pressure. In response, companies such as Burton and Gnu began to offer "tongues" to relieve the pressure caused by strap-bindings on the top of the riders feet.

As the snowboard market grew bigger companies began to produce boots specifically for snowboarding which helped to absorb the forces and pressure caused from Highback bindings with Straps. With modern strap-bindings, the rider wears a boot which has a thick but flexible sole, and padded uppers. The foot is held onto the board with two buckle straps - one strapped across the top of the toe area, and one across the ankle area. They can be tightly ratcheted closed for a tight fit and good rider control of the board. The downside for this is that the straps direct forces through isolated points on the top of the riders feet which can cause pain and permanent damage to the foots bone structure. Straps are typically padded to relieve the pain cause from these pressure points.

The other downside is that strap-in bindings take longer to put on, usually requiring the rider to sit in the snow and bend over to adjust the straps. Also, because there are two points of pressure, the strap locations must be adjusted for each individual rider, making it more cumbersome for rental operations. Cap Strap bindings are a recent modification that provide a very tight fit to the toe cup which makes excellent edge control. The drawback to Cap Straps is that they compress the riders feet from toe-to-heel, requiring stiff-soled boots to keep the Cap Straps from mechanically "scrunching" the riders toes when cap straps are over-tightened. Stiff soled boots can reduce the pain and resulting loss of performance caused by over-tightened cap straps . Such companies as Salomon, Rossignol, K2 Sports, Rome, Tech Nine, Ride, Flux, Burton, Union, Drake, and Forum have created different models of cap straps.

Step-in

In response to the lack of innovation in snowboard binding and boot technology, snowboarders began to experiment and develop step-in binding and boot technology. Independent innovators within the sport recognized the justifiable need for better snowboard boot and bindings to reduce damage and pain caused to snowboarders feet from Strap-in bindings.

Innovators of Step-In systems produced prototypes and designed proprietary Step-In boot and binding systems with the goal of improving the performance of snowboard boots and bindings.

As a result, the mid-90's saw an explosion of Step-in binding and boot development. New companies, Switch and Device, were built on new Step-In binding technology. Existing companies Shimano, K2 and Emery were also quick to market with new step-in technology. Meanwhile early market leaders Burton and Sims were noticeably absent from the step-in market. Sims was the first established industry leader to market with a step-in binding. Sims licensed a step-in system called DNR which was produced by the established ski-binding company Marker. Marker never improved the product which was eventually discontinued. Sims never re-entered the Step-In market.

The risk of commercial failure from a poorly performing Step-in binding presented serious risk to established market leaders. This was evidenced by Airwalk who enjoyed 30% market share in snowboard boot sales when they began development of their step-in binding system. The Airwalk step-in System experienced serious product failure at the first dealer demonstrations, seriously damaging the company's credibility and heralded a decline in the company's former position as the market leader in Snowboard boots. Established snowboarding brands seeking to gain market share while reducing risk, purchased proven Step-In innovators. For example snowboard boot company Vans purchased the Switch Step-In company, while Device Step-In company was purchased by Ride Snowboards.

Other Strap-In binding and boot companies such as Tech-Nine, Northwave eschewed Step-In technology altogether, choosing instead to focus on improving Strap-In technology to the best of their ability. Rather than expose themselves to the risk and expense associated with bringing a superior Step-In system to market, established market leaders such as Burton also chose to focus primarily on improvements to existing Strap-In technology. However, Burton eventually released 2 models of Step-In systems, the SI and the PSI, Burton's SI system enjoyed moderate success, yet never matched the performance of the company's Strap-In products and was never improved upon. Burton never marketed any improvements to either of their Step-In binding systems and eventually discontinued the products.

However, popular opinion, led largely by consumer advertising, focused simply on the inconvenience of strap-in bindings, suggesting that step-ins were created to make entry easier for beginners, allow for fast ski-lift to slope transition, and appeal to the rental market. Step-In systems still present an opportunity to improve the sport by allowing the riders feet to maintain structural integrity and offer increase performance along with improved comfort and convenience. Convenience is arguably the least important concern to most snowboarders although many of the aging snowboard population may find this trait appealing.

Popular misconceptions persist that relative to strap-in bindings, step-in bindings use a stiffer shoe sole and boot to maintain responsiveness in compensation for the lack of over the foot restraining straps and (sometimes) lack of binding highback. However, modern snowboard boots feature stiff soles and rigid tongues to alleviate foot pain caused by over the foot restraining straps, whereas Step-In systems allow for softer flexing boots which allow the riders feet room to function properly.

Most Popular (and incompatible) step-in systems used unique and proprietary mechanisms, such as the Step-Ins produced by Burton, Rossignol and Switch. Shimano and K2 used a technology similar to clipless bicycle pedals. Burton and K2 Clicker step-in binding systems are no longer in production as both companies have opted to focus on the strap-in binding system. Rossignol remains as the sole provider of Step-In binding systems and offers them primarily to the rental market as most consumers and retailers alike have been discouraged by the lack of adequate development and industry support for Step-In technology.

Rear Entry

There are also proprietary binding systems that seek to combine the convenience of step-in systems with the control levels attainable with strap-ins. An example is the Flow binding system which is similar to a strap-in binding, except that the foot enters the binding through the back (which then clips into place) rather than the top. The rider's boot is held down by an adjustable webbing that covers most of the foot. Newer Flow models have connected straps in place of the webbing found on older models; these straps are also micro adjustable. In 2004, K2 released the Cinch series, a similar rear entry binding; riders slip their foot in as they would a Flow binding, however rather than webbing, the foot is held down by straps.

Highback

A stiff moulded support behind the heel and up the calf area. The HyBak was originally designed by inventor Jeff Grell and built by Flite Snowboards. This allows the rider to apply pressure and effect a "heelside" turn.

Plate

Plate bindings are used with hardboots on Alpine or racing snowboards. Extreme carvers and some Boarder Cross racers also use plate bindings. The stiff bindings and boots give much more control over the board and allow the board to be carved much more easily than with softer bindings. Alpine snowboards tend to be longer and thinner with a much stiffer flex for greater edge hold and better carving performance.

Snowboard bindings, unlike ski bindings, do not automatically release upon impact or after falling over. With skis, this mechanism is designed to protect from injuries (particularly to the knee) caused by skis torn in different directions. Automatic release is not required in snowboarding, as the rider's legs are fixed in a static position and twisting of the knee joint cannot occur to the same extent. Furthermore it reduces the dangerous prospect of a board hurtling downhill riderless, and the rider slipping downhill on his back with no means to maintain grip on a steep slope. Nevertheless, some ski areas require the use of a "leash" that connects the snowboard to the rider's leg or boot, in case the snowboard manages to get away from its rider. This is most likely to happen when the rider removes the board at the top or the bottom of a run (or while on a chairlift, which could be dangerous).

Stomp pad

Placed between the bindings, but closer to the rear binding the Stomp pads only purpose is to allow the rider to better control the board with only one boot strapped in, such as when manoeuvering onto a chair lift or riding a ski tow. Whereas the upper surface of the board is smooth, the stomp pad has a textured pattern which provides grip to the underside of the boot.

Recently, a new product called "Strap Pad®" has entered the market. The Strap Pad is a stomp pad with a built in adjustable VELCRO strap to ease your ride up and off the chairlift. After entering the chairlift, the rider slides the back foot under the strap and the awkward, heavy pulling sensation on the front foot is greatly reduced. The Strap Pad® also gives the rider more control while exiting the chairlift by acting as a temporary binding.

For a regular rider (whose stance has the left foot leading), the stomp pad or Strap Pad® is placed on the inside of the right foot. The opposite applies for a goofy rider.

Stances

Goofy stance

There are two types of stance-direction used by snowboarders. A "regular" stance is when the rider's left foot is at the front of the snowboard. "Goofy", the opposite stance direction, is when the right foot is at the front of the snowboard, as in skateboarding. Although one is called "regular", it does not imply that one stance is more common or normal than the other. There are different ways to determine whether a rider is "regular" or "goofy". One method used for first time riders is to observe the first step forward when walking or climbing up stairs. The first foot forward would be the foot set up at the front of the snowboard. Another method used for first time riders is to use the same foot that you kick a soccer ball with as your back foot. This is a good method for setting up the snowboard stance for a new snowboarder. However most people who have a surfing or skateboarding background which will help determine the stance. However, not all riders will have the same stance skateboarding and snowboarding.

Most experienced riders are able to ride in the opposite direction to their usual stance (i.e. a "regular" rider would lead with their right foot instead of their left foot). This is called riding "fakie" or "switch".

Stance width

Stance width helps determine the riders balance on the board. The size of the rider is an important factor as well as the style of their riding when determining a proper stance width. A common measurement used for new riders is to position the bindings so that the feet are placed a little wider than shoulder width apart. Another, less orthodox form of measurement may be taken by putting your feet together and place your hands, palm down, on the ground in a straight line with your body by squatting down. This generally gives a good natural measurement for how wide of a base your body uses to properly balance itself when knees are bent. However, personal preference and comfort are important and most experienced riders will adjust the stance width to personal preference. Skateboarders should find that their snowboarding and skateboarding stance widths are relatively similar.

A wider stance, common for freestyle riders, gives more stability when landing a jump or jibbing a rail. Control in a wider stance is reduced when turning on the piste. Conversely a narrow stance will give the rider more control when turning on the piste but less stability when freestyling. A narrow stance is more common for riders looking for quicker turn edge-hold (i.e. small radius turns). The narrow stance will give the rider a concentrated stability between the bindings allowing the board to dig into the snow quicker than a wider stance so the rider is less prone to wash out. Most riders choose a stance in between a wide and narrow stance.

Binding angle

The question of how much the bindings are angled depends on the rider's purpose and preference.

  • Forward stance: Suitable for most purposes, the leading foot is angled roughly 15° to 21° and the trailing foot at 0° to 10°. This is the stance normally recommended by instructors, and is also a stance noted for stability in several martial arts. A downside is that a rider's balance is notably different when riding in reverse compared to their forward stance. This can be compensated for by learning how to ride backwards with this stance, or by choosing another stance such as Duck, or Flat stance.
  • Alpine stance: Used primarily for alpine racing, the leading foot may be from 50° up to around 70° and the trailing foot generally a little less.
  • Duck stance: Useful for tricks by removing the forward bias altogether, the feet are angled outwards in opposite directions. This stance is becoming increasingly popular, and is the most resilient of the three. The feet do not actually have to be angled equally outwards to be considered duck stance. The back foot simply has to be angled less than zero degrees. These angles give the rider a dominant front foot angle at all times which makes it easier to for a rider to change the board direction mid-run. This change in board direction mid-run is called riding "Switch" or "Fakie".
  • Flat stance: Also popular with riders who wish to have a consistent stance riding forward or backward, a flat stance is simply one in which both feet are at a zero angle, or perpendicular to the length of the board. This may result in "toe drag" on narrower boards or if the rider has larger feet, in which the rider's toes overhang the edge of the board and may contact the snow during sharp turns on the toe side of the board.
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