The history of the snowboarding industry is brief but the equipment evolution has been explosive. The boards, boots and binding styles sold in 85-86 aren’t even available today. Gone are the split tails, center fins, bolt-on metal edges, wide short bullet-shaped boards and non-supportive boots. Today there are no less than 65 snowboard equipment manufacturers (boards, boots, and bindings). The cost of snowboard equipment is very comparable to ski equipment with a wide range of costs and types.
Boards: Boards or decks are categorized into one of four groups: race, alpine, all-around/free-riding and half-pipe/free-style. They range in lengths from under 100 cm to over 200 cm. Their construction is nearly identical to skis; a board has metal edges, side-cut and camber. All of the same materials are used. The real differences are in the shapes and flex patterns. The term symmetry is used extensively in any discussion of boards. Because a board is ridden with one foot forward the turn dynamics are obviously different from a ski. A board can be symmetrical front to back and/or symmetrical side to side. Normally a ski is asymmetrical front to back and symmetrical side to side. Most boards have symmetry like skis. Reasons for different symmetry configurations include:
Front to back symmetry: Usually found in free-style and half-pipe designs, also called twintips. A board like this can be ridden in either direction with equal control and often has a centered stance. Asymmetrical and/or shifted side-cuts: Refers to asymmetry about the longitudinal centerline of the board. The side-cut shift is on the order of a few inches. The toe edge is shifted forward relative to the heel edge and accounts for the fact that the rider’s toes are nearer to the nose of the board than his/her heels. Because the toes are nearer the nose, the center of pressure (C.P.) applied to the edge is farther forward than the heel side C.P.. Additionally the side-cuts can be of different radii and the flex pattern can be asymmetrical. Boards with these characteristics are predominantly found in the race and alpine categories. An asymmetrical board is made to be ridden either goofy footed or regular footed therefore any board of this type comes in two shapes, one the mirror image of the other.
Race: These boards are used for downhill, GS and slalom racing. They tend to be stiff, narrow and long. They are designed for high speed use with long effective edges for carving turns. Alpine: These boards tend to target crossover skiers. The design of these boards reflects that of a ski with many of the same characteristics and many even look like fat skis.
All-around/Free-riding: This type of board is sometimes called all-terrain or all-mountain. They are designed for use in all snow conditions and most can even be ridden in the half-pipe very successfully. Maybe half of all boards sold in the U.S. are of this type.
Half-pipe/Free-style: These are boards designed for use in the half-pipe and for jibbing, bonking, and general freestyle moves. They tend to be more flexible with wider foot stances more centered on the board. The board probably has more nose and tail area and less effective edge than a board from the other categories. Boards in this category generally do not have good all-around utility because of their inability to hold an edge on hard snow and steep slopes. The board is generally more difficult to control due to the stance configuration.
Bindings: Three types of bindings are used in snowboarding: the high-back, plate, and the soft-boot step-in. The high-back is characterized by a vertical plastic back piece which is used to apply pressure to the heel-side of the board and with two straps which go over the foot. One strap holds the heel down and the other the toe. Some high-backs also have a third strap on the vertical back piece called a shin strap which gives additional support and aids in toe side turns. The plate or hard-boot binding is used with a hard shell boot much like a ski binding except it is non-releasable. The third type of binding is the soft-boot step-in. It is kind of a combination of the first two types listed. A soft-looking boot, which has significantly added support and a retention mechanism built into it. This retention mechanism engages with some type of latching device attached to the board.
Boots: Boots are categorized into 3 groups: soft, hard and hybrid. Soft boots evolved from Sorel and Sno-pac type boots and generally have lace up bladders and shells. The more flexible a boot the easier it is to perform contorted free-style maneuvers but ankle support and edge hold are compromised. The shells are made of rubber, leather and/or plastic and the bladders are similar to ski bladders except normally lace-up. Hard boots are like, but designed distinctly from, ski boots. They are used predominantly with race and alpine type boards and afford support and edge hold at the expense of flexibility. Ski boots don’t work well as snowboard boots because boarding puts drastically different pressures on the feet and hence the boots than skiing; lateral flex is desirable in snowboarding but to be avoided at all costs with skiing. Hybrids are those boots between the two extremes. They may have an all plastic shell where the plastic is thinner than on the hard boot and may be lace up vice buckles.
Clothes: There is a lot of clothing designed just for snowboarding. It tends to be reinforced in the knees, butt, shoulders, elbows, palms and fingers. Some clothing is even padded in the stress areas with foam or plastic. Considerations here should include these facts: a beginner spends a lot of time on his/her knees and butt, snowboarding will wear out a cheap pair of gloves in a few days due to the abuse, because of the bending down/sitting/falling, the clothes should not be binding, and the pants should be waterproof.