Singling out your next snowboard has never been trickier. Imperceptible design variations, seemingly limitless options, and an avalanche of technical jargon—it’s enough to paralyze the ill-prepared shopper with indecision. To aid you on your quest for the perfect snowboard, Outside calls in the best boards each spring from brands big and small, rallies testers from all rides of life, wades through mediocre models, and hoists a few select winners high above the rest.
This year our testers’ favorite board is the Weston Japow—a surf-inspired, powder-oriented swallowtail. That this board won is especially remarkable since we never scored its performance during the deep, endless storms for which it’s designed. Here’s a deeper look at the Japow and other standouts decks.
Our Favorite Snowboard
Weston Japow ($599)
It’s no secret that snowboarders draw inspiration from surfers. From carving techniques and aerial style to lingo and board shapes, we’re closely related to our salty cousins. And it appears that manufacturers are building more boards than ever that allow for a surfy approach to snowboarding. Case in point is the Weston Japow, with its directional pow shape that chewed up marginal conditions and spat out good times.
Though the Weston is designed for deep fluff—“Japow” is a portmanteau of “Japan” and “powder”—we tested this board during a dry year in the Rockies. Still, testers loved it on groomers, leftover stashes, and spring slush. The board’s camber-dominant profile “railed responsive turns like a Formula One race car,” said a tester, and it made groomers “an art,” according to another. Because of the dramatic swallowtail design (which is the notch in the board’s tail), the Japow doesn’t offer much pop, but we were pleasantly surprised by its ability to let loose, get airborne, and stomp landings. “Given the choice to send or not to send,” said one tester, “I’d send on the Japow.” He went on to complement its “dreamy flex,” quick transitions despite a wide nose, and superglue-like edge hold. Testers agreed that while the Japow is ultimately a board meant for soft snow, it’s capable in variable spring snow on everything but the steepest, most technical lines. A freeride carver with energetic flex and float, this is a powder board worth riding even when conditions don’t cooperate.
Best All-Mountain Snowboard
Jones Mind Expander ($550)
At the crossroads of surf and snow sits the Jones Mind Expander. Crafted in collaboration with celebrated surf shaper Chris Christenson, the Mind Expander’s front half has a Surf Rocker profile that helps keep the nose high in deep snow. Another notable surf-sparked design element is a contour across the board’s horizontal axis, which brings a subtle shape to both the nose and tail, encouraging a fluid, rocking ingress into turns. Testers subsequently loved the edge-to-edge action, and one noted that its short sidecut “snaked quick turns through trees like an agility show dog through weave poles.”
Another tester liked the feel of the medium-stiff deck, although one rider who prefers to ride the fall line at full gas noted that the flex was too soft and the long nose too chattery when straight-lining. The Mind Expander can actually ride switch with surprising ease, and overall it’s a more versatile board than we expected. One tester figured he’d leave it at home on any day with fewer than six inches or of fresh now but ended up loving it in variable snow. “I wouldn’t have called it a quiver killer—until I rode it,” he said.
Best Freeride Snowboard
Gnu Müllair ($600)
A big-mountain charger named after Nicolas Müller, the Swiss pioneer of backcountry freestyle riding, the Müllair is a stiff, directional board. With a C3 hybrid camber profile—aggressive camber at both feet, with a mild rocker bulge in between the bindings—it is best suited for riding sketchy lines.
“Stiff enough to blast through chop, soft enough to butter,” said a heavier tester, who was also impressed by the Müllair’s ability to handle hang time. “So much pop,” he said. “You could boost to the moon with this thing.” A freeride competitor added that the wide 159 version offered a “very stable landing platform—it takes bumps like a champ and absorbs them all.” He went on to call the Müllair his “new favorite big-mountain board,” and hinted that we might be seeing it on his feet at his next big-mountain event.
A couple of lightweight riders, however, found the Müllair tricky to maneuver at lower speeds, noting that it was perhaps too stiff. That stiffness, though, paired with serrated Magne-Traction edges and the camber-dominant profile, helped it lock into icy hardpack. The big-picture consensus was that this board loves high speeds, thrives on air time, and isn’t designed for beginners or intermediates.
Best All-Mountain Freestyle Snowboard
Never Summer Shaper Twin ($530)
Never Summer’s Shaper Series—which includes boards like the Swift, one of our favorite freeride directional decks—has been focused on fun, the art of the carve, and plain old-fashioned style. The new Shaper Twin, while not exactly a divergence from that path, takes a more freestyle approach. Testers noted that the board’s build inspired creative all-mountain riding and should be sized down a couple centimeters due to the Shaper Twin’s wider waist. The tapered twin puts rocker between the feet, camber at each binding, and a flat transition section toward the nose.
The result is poppy: “Much poppier than your average all-mountain board,” said one tester. “The board pairs well with back lips, cork fives, and beers in the parking lot,” said another. The subtle ten-millimeter taper was hardly noticeable riding switch, though one freeride-oriented tester thought it was a little soft between the feet in steep terrain.
We’ve tested plenty of park boards and all-mountain boards throughout the years, and the Shaper Twin doesn’t fit neatly in either box. Rather, it plays its own niche: it’s an all-mountain freestyle assassin, one that testers were stoked to ride in and out of the terrain park. A former freestyle competitor said that the Shaper Twin was ideal for all-mountain riders who want one board, but warned that park riders may want more dampening or oomph.
Best Powder Snowboard
Burton Day Trader ($500)
Built with input from freeride phenom Kimmy Fasani, the Day Trader’s mellow 12-millimeter taper, set-back stance, and gentle flex make it an obvious choice for deep days. The directional deck has an offset sidecut and camber profile to match the 3.75-centimeter set-back stance, meaning the board engages with the snowpack like a twin, despite a lengthy nose that comes in handy on deep days.
“Super fun, easy to ride, and really versatile,” said one hard-carving tester. Let’s dwell on that second compliment for a second: few advanced freeride boards earn the accolade “easy to ride,” but the Day Trader’s early-rise rocker nose and middle-of-the-road flex cater to intermediates and up. “This board cradles the rider. You can get off your line and it’s like, ‘It’s all good. I got you.’ And it carries you through.”
That said, the Day Trader is far from a wet noodle. It was able to pop through slush and variable conditions, and it was energetic from edge to edge. Another tester agreed, but felt the deck would be “a little soft” for technical riders craving a freeride weapon. Yet another recommended the Burton for the “all-around shredder who chases pow but won’t pass up the groomers.” And one rider wrapped it up succinctly: “Burton nailed it with this design.”
Best Women-Specific Snowboard
Rossignol Diva LF ($500)
This was the top-rated women’s all-mountain board of the test. Rossignol’s Lite Frame technology (hence the LF) wraps the perimeter of the snowboard in a urethane strip that aims to dampen vibrations, and Rossignol notches the Diva at a seven out of ten on the flex scale. Given the softness at the waist, we think that rating is an overestimate, and the Diva felt too loose at high speeds. After lapping the steeps and cruising the park a couple times, one tester said that it felt “washy for runouts and big airs,” but noted that the camber-dominant deck “locked onto all the rails.”
On small to midsize jumps and jibs, the Diva’s true twin shape excelled, as it rides and lands switch comfortably. Other testers liked its flex, and everyone said it was playful. Another tester noted that “almost everyone could like this board,” whether you’re pushing yourself to progress in the park or just starting to tap into the secrets of linking turns. In true all-mountain fashion, a critical tester said the Diva is a “great board for someone looking for a one-board quiver that’s pretty good for everything but doesn’t shine in any one place.”
Best Women’s Custom Snowboard
Franco Snowshapes Squashtail Custom ($2,500 as tested)
With a price you’re more likely to find in an art gallery than your local shred shop, the 146-centimeter Franco Snowshapes Squashtail we tested is a functional masterpiece. The maple and fir core is stiff, ideal for ripping big, fast turns. It thrived on edge at high speed and “wanted to go everywhere with a steep angle,” according to one tester. It was even too stiff for playful riding, though, and a bit more longitudinal flex would’ve been nice when hop-turning through sketchy zones. For that reason, we wouldn’t call it an all-mountain board. Another tester felt that while the rigidity hindered the Squashtail from snapping ollies, it also lended the board stability. We thought the Franco was too stiff for the average rider to enjoy, but because Franco is a custom shop—the hand-cut topsheet has a veneer of whitebark pine harvested from Jackson Hole’s Casper Bowl, with the coordinates carved in—you can dial in a more forgiving flex pattern. The torpedo-like shape we tested, however, is primed for going supersonic on the steeps.
How We Pick the Best Snowboards
I’ve been snowboarding for the better part of the past two decades and reviewing snowboard gear professionally for the past five years.
At this year’s test, we had 86 boards in the running, from companies that ranged from corporate behemoths to mom-and-pop shops. We tested a men’s board, a women’s board, and a wildcard from each company.
Once the boards were wrangled, I organized a test team of 30-plus people to ride boards in Crested Butte, Colorado. The testers represented a cross section of the industry, including former professionals, up-and-coming competitors, shop techs, and instructors.
With over 30 testers and 86 boards, no rider tests every single board. For the first couple days of the test, riders put a board through the paces for a few laps, fill out a review form, swap out bindings, and repeat. We input overall scores from each test sheet into a master spreadsheet. After a couple days, we’ve got a pretty good idea of which boards are contenders and which boards are duds. The last day or two, we box up the duds and encourage testers to take longer spins on 20 potential winners.
Once the board test has come to a close, my bedroom floor turns into a mosaic of beer- and coffee-stained board-review forms. I read through stacks and stacks of these, catalog the reviews, contact testers with questions (you’d be amazed at some of their handwriting), and finally choose our top picks.
What to Know Before You Look for Your Next Snowboard
Before you start searching for that magic shred stick, take time to know yourself. The more you can define your intentions, the better buying process will be. These five key considerations will help you get to know just what you want before searching for a new snowboard:
1. How do you envision your dream day of snowboarding?
Are you cruising the bunny slopes? Dropping jaws in the park? Scoring deep powder? Carving fresh corduroy? There are specialized boards for each of these aspects of riding, as well as do-it-all decks that get any job done.
2. Now wake up. What does reality look like?
Not every day of riding is a dreamy one. Do you live on the East Coast and need a board that holds an edge in ice? If there’s a powder shortage, will you wander toward the park? Don’t just shop for the board you want, shop for the board you need.
3. What boards have you enjoyed in the past—and what boards have you hated?
Did you need more float on deeper days? Did you crave more pop? Was the size right but the flex too soft? If you don’t have experience riding different boards, go out and experiment. You can read snowboard reviews all day long, but nothing will reveal your preferences like firsthand experience.
4. What’s your skill level?
If you’re completely new to snowboarding, you need a beginner-friendly board that’s on the soft side, easy to turn, and doesn’t break the bank. We didn’t include beginner boards in our test, but directional twins like the Burton Instigator, Gnu Chromatic, and K2 Standard are solid, affordable options that will be easy to learn on and still allow for progression.
If you’re an intermediate or advanced rider, you should consider the terrain you most enjoy and the style of riding you prefer. An advanced park rider, for instance, has drastically different requirements than those of an equally advanced freerider.
5. What’s your budget?
There’s no magic formula for navigating snowboard costs. Generally, a more expensive deck ($1,000 or more) will use lighter, pricier materials like carbon or employ complex construction techniques. However, a more expensive board won’t necessarily last longer or improve your riding. We’ve fallen in love with cheap, no-frills decks that are heavy, surprisingly durable, and a dream to ride. If you’re board shopping on a budget, aim for something around $500 or less.
How to Pick a Snowboard
Not only is it helpful to know yourself before picking out a new board, but it’s also good practice to know the difference between specialty boards and all-mountain boards, as well as variations in snowboard shapes, profiles, flex, sidecut, and technology.
Specialized Boards Versus All-Mountain Boards
Like shot-putters or hurdle hoppers, specialized snowboards shine in certain areas. Poppy park boards are unbeatable when sliding boxes all day long, but you wouldn’t want to tip into a 60-degree chute with one underfoot. The same goes for a directional powder board: your typical wide, big-nosed swallowtail is at its best in deep snow, but chunky, variable conditions weeks after a storm may have you cursing your purchase.
Because conditions are always changing, we love specialized shapes that are still competent outside their areas of expertise. Testers found that the Never Summer Shaper Twin, for example, crushes the park but still has the stability to whip through moguls, ride groomers at speed, and drop technical cliffs. The Japow, while designed for powder, maintains impeccable edge control when carving groomers.
And then, of course, there are boards built with everything in mind, like the women’s Rossignol Diva LF and the Jones Mind Expander.
Snowboards can be broken down into four main categories: directional, twin, directional twin, and asymmetrical shapes.
Directional shapes tend to have longer noses and shorter tails. They often have a taper, which means the nose is wider than the tail (this bestows better float in powder). These boards are built mainly for all-mountain snowboarding and freeriding, as they are more confidence-inspiring at speed. Some of them ride well switch (though rarely as well as a true twin shape), while others, like the Gear of the Year–winning Weston Japow, would require a death wish to do so.
The twin (a.k.a. a true twin) is the classic symmetrical shape that most folks picture when imagining a snowboard. The nose and tail are mirror images of one another, and these boards are best suited for freestyle or all-mountain riding, as they can be ridden both regular and switch.
The lovechild of twin and directional shapes is the directional twin, a bit of a confusing term as it can refer to two different things: a directionally shaped board with a twin flex pattern, or a twin with a directional flex pattern. These boards are suited to anything from powder to pipe, but are most often designed for all-mountain riding.
As of late, brands have been experimenting with asymmetrical shapes. This trend comes on the heels of an epiphany: unlike skiers, who face forward and turn left or right with exactly the same physical movements, sideways-standing snowboarders have anatomically disparate turns. Essentially, because our toe-side turns differ from our heel-side turns, toe-side construction need not mirror heel-side construction.
Splitboards are snowboards that are cut in half and can be disassembled and divided into a pair of skis for skinning uphill. When it’s time to descend, the splitboarder stows the skins, reassembles the snowboard, and rides downhill. One of our favorite splitboards of 2019 is the Lib Tech Split BRD. (Since splitboarding most often occurs in avalanche terrain beyond the patrolled boundaries of a ski resort, we recommend you reach an advanced level of snowboarding and enroll in an avalanche level-one course.)
Profile refers to the contour of a snowboard when you look at it sideways laid on the ground. This curve determines how a board interacts with the snowpack. The following terms are related to profile.
Camber. Go back in time to snowboarding’s golden days, and camber is all you would see on the mountain. This classic arch-shaped profile is defined by a downward curve, with a gap between the center of the board and the ground, and contact points on either side of the binding inserts. Camber requires downward force to engage the flex and rails of the board, and subsequently supplies pop, power, and grip.
Rocker. Rocker is the opposite of camber. Like an upside-down arch, rockered boards have a single contact point between the bindings, with an upturned tip and tail. Rocker offers less precision in icy and technical terrain, but it’s easy to turn and unrivaled when it comes to float in powder.
Flat. Flat camber has become exceedingly popular over the past few years, so much so that it’s earned its own category. As flat as the name suggests, this shape is often employed in park and all-mountain boards.
Hybrid. These days, hybrid boards, which combine both rocker and camber, are common. The Weston Japow, for example, has a camber section dominating the bulk of the board, allowing for high-speed carves, with a rockered nose that brings the float requisite for deep days. The Gnu Müllair, on the other hand, has a subtle rocker between the feet, sandwiched by two intense camber pockets.
If you’re new to these terms, try not to get caught up in them. Rather, determine what kind of riding you like to do, and work backward from there. If you crave pop and only ride at hell-bent speeds, a camber deck is best for you. If you ride playfully and appreciate buoyancy on storm days, rocker is your friend. If you’re an indiscriminate shredder, as likely to get lost in the white room as you are to throw down in the park, a hybrid will best serve to your needs.
A discussion of snowboard shapes is incomplete without mention of flex. Snowboarders refer to flex two ways: longitudinal flex and torsional flex. Longitudinal flex—the flex that you feel from tip to tail—helps determine ollie power and stability. Torsional flex—the flex you feel from edge to edge—directly influences turning ability and edge hold. All you really need to know is that a softer board is more playful and forgiving but also less stable at speed, while a stiffer board is less playful but more reliable and responsive in steeps.
Beginners will be happier with softer boards, while advanced riders should pick their stick based on personal preference: soft to medium-stiff boards for park, medium-stiff and beyond for all-mountain riders and freeriding.
Sidecut refers to the arc alongside the edges of the snowboard. This arc—measured by its radius—is directly responsible for how a board turns. (A board with a bigger-radius sidecut naturally wants to draw bigger arcs as it carves down a mountain.) When eyeballing a new snowboard, keep in mind that bigger-radius sidecuts are shallower and harder to see, while smaller sidecuts are deeper and more defined.
First, a hot take regarding snowboard technology: much of it is utter nonsense. Brands throw around proprietary technology willy-nilly in their board descriptions—behold the Carbon Bamboo Booster Bumps! Gaze upon the Titanium Uranium Wiggle Rod! There are plenty of technological advancements that we love to geek out over, such as faster and stronger base materials, carbon-reinforced cores, serrated edges, revolutionary tail shapes, improved shock absorption. Generally speaking, though, we take tech talk with a grain of salt and try to avoid bringing up specific spec highlights unless our testers notice it on their own. For example, the Jones Mind Expander’s Surf Rocker is noteworthy because it significantly influences the feel of the Mind Expander.
Binding Hole Patterns
At this point, the snowboard world is pretty much split into two camps: screws and slots. Most common are four-hole screw patterns, and most binding brands craft their products with screw-hole compatibility in mind. Burton is at the forefront of the slot revolution, and all of its boards are built with the Channel system, which allows for an integrated, adjustable fit. Other brands, like Signal, are also utilizing this technology. Where you fall on the slots-versus-screws debate is largely a matter of personal preference, though keep this in mind: if you go with a Burton Channel system, Burton’s EST bindings are preferable, but they’re also incompatible with four-hole screw-pattern boards.
How to Size a Snowboard
There is no calculator that will spit out your precise ideal board size. Board-sizing charts exist, but they vary from brand to brand and board to board.
Old logic says to pick a board that hits between your chin and nose when stood on end. But that solely considers height and fails to account for more important measurements like weight, riding style, and skill level. Experimentation is key when it comes to dialing in your preferences, but you can also use this Evo general sizing chart and size up or down accordingly:
· Go smaller if you’re a newbie.
· Go bigger if you’re heavier than average for your height.
· Go smaller if you’re a featherweight.
· Go bigger if you care more about speed and float than agility and aerial performance.
· Go smaller if you’re more likely to be in the park than chasing pow.
Funky Boards, Funky Sizing
Not every board plays by the same rules. While your classically cambered twin board will line up more with sizing charts, more and more unconventional boards are being built to be ridden shorter or longer than your normal size. Testers who normally ride 158- to 160-centimeter boards, for example, loved the Jones Mind Expander in a 154—it’s a big-nosed, rocker-dominant board with a smaller sidecut, and riders loved the playfulness it showed when sized down.
Boot and Board Sizing
You know what they say about big feet? They make snowboard shopping a pain! If you’ve got gargantuan, Sasquatch-size boots, you’ll need to consider a mid-wide or full-wide board to avoid excessive overhanging boots and toe drag.