Snowboarding is a winter sport where rider – snowboarder is standing on snowboard and is descending a snow covered slope. The snowboard is attached to a rider’s feet – boots to be more precise. This sport was inspired by skateboarding, surfing, sledging and skiing.
Modern snowboarding has its roots in United States in 1960s and it became a Winter Olympic Sport at Nagano in 1998. It began in 1965 when Sherman Poppen has invented a toy for his daughters. He put two skis together and attached the rope to one end to have some control when they will be gliding downhill.
Snowboarding has developed many different styles, each depending on its own terrain, technique and equipment. The are three most common styles nowadays: freeride, freestyle and freecarve also known as a alpine snowboarding. Each of this styles is used in a different kind of competitions.
Freeride is an all-round style which gives the rider the freedom to ride, carve and jump on any terrain. It is known as all mountain Snowboarding and it’s perfect for beginners to learn, cause it focused on enjoyment of the ride rather than technique (don’t get that wrong, technique is very important as well). It can take place almost everywhere, skis slopes or glades with some trees on the side of a ski slope for example.
More experienced snowboarders who looks for more adrenaline, are often riding outside the resort’s boundaries, they are choosing backcountry or big mountain snowboarding. There are terrains where they can hike using snowshoes. To get access to higher wild terrains snowboarders need to use snowmobiles or hire a helicopters. Freeride on a backcountry or big mountain can be very dangerous due to avalanches and often crevasses.
The best snowboard freeriders are taking part in a Freeride World Tour competition, it is an annually toured series of events in various countries. Snowboarders compete for individual event wins, and to become a World Champion in their gender and discipline. Competitions often takes place in powder snow conditions in closed off areas of resort or the backcountry.
Freestyle is the most popular style of snowboarding, although is more suitable for more advanced snowboarders. It has its roots in skateboarding, snowboarder is performing a various kinds of tricks, where the rider is using natural and man made obstacles such as rails, boxes, handrails, halfpipes and many others, that snowboarder can imagine. Many ski resorts have made a dedicated park area just for freestyle snowboarding and skiing. Halfpipe/superpipe, slopestyle and Big Air are one of the most popular competitions in freestyle snowboarding.
Halfpipe and superpipe
Halfpipe is the most famous snowboarding competition where snowboarders rides in a half tube of snow (U-shaped). Halfpipes are approximately 11 to 22 feet high (3.3 – 6.7m), with slopes between 16 and 18 degrees. Larger pipes allows snowboarders to ride faster which lead to a bigger jumps and better tricks. The Olympic standard height is 22 feet (6.7m).
Snowboarders jumps in to upper end of the pipe either left or right side and at high speed are pushed out from the wall into the air where they perform flips, spins and board grabbing tricks before landing back in the pipe. Every run is judged by experts which are giving scores for technical difficulty of the trick, how it was performed, the height of the jump and style. The higher scored rider wins.
The main international halfpipe/superpipe competitions are the Winter Olympics Games and Winter X Games, but the are other important competitions as well for example the FIS World Cup Tour, TTR World Tour and burton U.S. Open.
Slopestyle is a competition where snowboarders are going downhill on a course which includes three or four big jumps and many other jib-style obstacles. Its build specially to show riders creativity and technique. The jumps are designed with matching takeoff and landing angles, to give the rider as long time in the air as possible to perform perfect trick with minimal difficulty in landing. The jib-style obstacles can include handrails, ledges, boxes or stair-sets.
A panel of judges are rating the runs using a point system which includes difficulty, style, technique of execution of the tricks. The higher the score, the better place for the rider.
Next to halfpipe, the main international competitions for slopestyle are Winter Olympic Games and Winter X Games. You can see slopestyle on the FIS World Cup Tour, the TTR World Tour and the Burton U.S. Open as well.
Big Air is a competition where snowboarders are performing combined tricks or a one complex trick with flips in the air, launching off a man made big jump designed specifically for the event. Each snowboarder can have five to six jumps during the competition, and every jump is rate by the judges for its height, technique, style and secure clean landing.
The Air and Style competitions are the most prestigious Big Air events in the world. The original Air and Style competition is held in Innsbruck, Austria. The other most common known competitions are FIS World Cup Big Air Tour and the X Games Big Air.
Alpine snowboarding also known as a freecarve its about speed and the perfect carving turns without jumps (much like surfing or longboarding), when going downhill the slope on the hard packed snow. It was the most popular style of snowboarding in the mid-1980s.
More skilled alpine snowboarders can make many turns in to a run placing the body close to the ground on each turn (like in Motogp), either slowly or fast, depending on stiffens, turning radius and rider skills.
Freecarve shares many characteristics with skiing, for example in slalom racing (snowboard racing).
In snowboard racing, riders must complete a downhill run constructed of series of turning gates placed in the snow. The distance between the gates is relatively close 25 to 50 feet (8-15m), forcing snowboarders to make quick, tight turns. There is also a giant slalom with 80 to 105 feet (24-32m) distance between the gates, less frequent turns but much more speed. Super-G, where riders can reach speeds of 60 miles (97km) per hour, have even more distance between the gates: 100 to 130 feet (30-40m). The fastest time without penalties wins the competition.
Snowboard racing includes single person, parallel curses or multiple riders on the course at the same time (SBX).
SBX that is Snowboard cross or Boardercross, also known as Boarder X and Snowboard X, is a very popular winter competition, which shows up in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin.
In this competition multiple riders, four in the Olympic games, race at the same time down the course placed on the slope with many turns, jumps, drops and sometimes man made obstacles, to test the skills of the competitors at their maximum speed. Riders use the same course, which occur in many collisions between them. The first rider at the finish is the winner.
Most snowboards are made of hardwood placed between multiple layers of fiberglass, but some of the manufacturers use more exotic materials like carbon fibre, kevlar or aluminium (honeycomb core structure).
The front/nose of the board is upturned to help the board glide over uneven snow. The back/tail of the board is also upturned to enable backwards or switch riding. Those boards are called true twins or twin tips, good for park and pipe riding. There are directional boards, designed to ride forward, downhill, and directional twin boards also, which are good for snowboarders who ride all over the mountain.
- Freestyle snowboards are generally shorter, lighter, and have moderate to soft flexibility (flex), they are design to perform tricks in snow parks and halfpipes and have a limited edge grip, what makes them not stable enough for carving turns and riding fast downhill the slope. Most of freestyle boards are twin tips, what means they are symmetrical in shape both sides with a centered stance, which makes them good for beginners to learn to ride forward and backward;
- Freeride snowboards are longer than freestyle boards and have moderate to stiff flexibility, most of them are directional boards and snowboarders using them for backcountry riding or extreme big mountain descents (which is very dangerous by the way);
- Powder snowboards are proper directional boards with rockered nose (upturned) and tapered shape, snowboarders use them to downhill on a powder snow;
- All-Mountain snowboards are the most popular ones, it’s a mix between freestyle and freeride boards, they have directional or directional twin shape, the tail is generally shorter, flatter and narrower compared to the tip. Cause of their versatility, they can be used in any conditions, from a mountain backcountry to snow parks and halfpipes. They are great for beginners as well;
- Alpine snowboards are long, narrow and rigid, they are designed for riding and carving downhill with high speed. The are not really suitable to perform any tricks. They are generally stiff and have directional shape. Snowboarders use them for slalom and giant slalom races;
- Splitboard is a type of snowboard which splits in half creating a cross country skis. They allow a snowboarder to quickly travel into backcountry, put the two pieces of splitboard together to make a snowboard and descent.
All those different types of snowboards have a different design, they vary in length, width, sidecut, flex, tail and nose width and camber.
Length of the snowboard depends on style, weight and preference of a rider. Is a common sense to stay within recommended manufacturer weight range. The longer the board the more stable it is at the high speeds, but is more difficult to make turns and perform tricks. Most snowboarders ride 55 to 65 inches (140 – 165cm) boards, but some of the alpine (racing) boards can be even 85 inches (215cm) long, or short as 35 inches (90cm), designed for children.
Width of the board is measured at the waist of the board (tail and nose width can vary). Freestyle boards are up to 11 inches (28cm) wide, which gives the rider a very good balance. Most of the snowboarders are choosing 9.4 to 9.8 inches (24 – 25cm) wide boards. As come to alpine boards, they can be as narrow as 5.9 inches (15cm), but typically they are 7.1 to 8.3 inches (18 – 21cm) wide.
Sidecut refers to the edges of the board, when you will look at the board from the top, you will see that the edges are symmetrically curved, the width of the tip (nose) and the tail is bigger than in the centre of the board. The radius of the curve is usually between 26 to 30 feet (8 – 9m) in most of the boards, but it can be small as 16 feet (5m) on a child’s board or large as 56 feet (17m) on a racer’s (alpine) board.
Flex, other words, flexibility of the board is affecting the handling and depends from rider’s weight. Harder flex of the board makes it harder to turn and perform tricks, the softer the flex the easier handling, but less stability in high speeds. So snowboarders who prefer park rides with rails are choosing softer flex, and those who prefer racing and alpine boards, stiffer flex. Soft flexibility of the board is also very good choice for beginners.
Nose and tail width depends from the snowboard type and where you want to use it. Most of the freestyle boards have equal nose and tail width for equal performance either direction. Freeride or alpine boards, which have a directional shape, have wider and longer nose.
Camber refers to the shape of the base of the board. It can significantly affects handling and carving. There are different types of camber such as traditional camber which provides stable ride and much responsiveness of the board for experienced riders who likes speed. The board is bend upwards in the centre when nose and tail have the grond touching points. It is the oldest type of camber and it is used in most of the boards.
Reverse or rocker camber is exact opposite of traditional/regular camber. The board is bend up at the nose and the tail, and the middle of the board stays on the ground. This design is perfect for freestyle, park runs on the rails and in powder snow. Boards with that kind of a camber are generally softer.
Flat camber snowboard, which provides quick turns and maximum feel of the board, is better suited for freeride, half pipe or big-air jumps.
You can find boards with mixed or modified camber as well, in many variations depending on riders preference to exact performance features.
To fully experience the magic of snowboarding you will need not only a proper type of board, but proper equipment also. Equipment such as boots, bindings or goggles is essential. You will need a proper gear as well to feel comfortable and warm, of course.
Snowboard boots are normally soft except those which are used in alpine snowboarding, these are much harder, similar to a ski boots, they must be used with a special bindings as well. There are several types of bindings, strap-in, step-in and hybrid bindings. The main function of bindings is to hold rider boots in place and transfer his energy to the board.
Now when you have essential knowledge about snowboarding, you can grab your chosen gear and get to the snow covered mountain slopes, and what is most important, have a good fun from many magical moments with the snowboard!