Snowboard Design & Construction Part 1: Shapes, Profile & Sidecuts
Welcome to our four-part snowboard design and construction series. The first episode concentrates on the board basics looking at shapes, profiles and sidecuts, and in parts 2, 3 and 4, we'll shift to looking at snowboard construction.
Over the past few years, snowboard design and technology has progressed at such a rate; it's been almost impossible to keep abreast of some of the innovations. Much of that tech is masked by fancy marketing names which don't help when trying to get your head around what it does and how it works.
Hopefully, in these videos and blogs, we'll break through that marketing jargon and show you how this tech works and how it improves your riding experience.
The shape of the snowboard determines a lot of the boards riding characteristics. The shape can affect the boards' balance, how it reacts to different snow conditions and how it feels under your feet. Understanding the riding characteristics of each board shape helps to ensure that you choose a board for the type of snowboarding you want to do.
Twin Tip boards are as their name implies; true twins. They are identical at both the tip and tail, meaning that if you fold the board from the centre of the sidecut, you'll get a perfect overlap.
With a centred stance, these boards are balanced front to rear, ensuring that the board performs identically when riding both forwards and backwards. Additionally, the balanced weight gives the board more rotational control as it has less of inertia. This inertia is also further reduced by removing any excess material from the tips. Blunting off the tip and tail reduces swing weight, but increases control of your spins and reduces the board's desire to carry on rotating when spinning off jumps.
The downside of reducing nose volume is that you remove the surface area from the front of the board. This reduction can affect how the board performs in deeper snow as it can reduce lift and float. We most commonly see twin tip boards used by park and freestyle riders who prioritise balance and control over other characteristics.
Directional Twins features the same shape as the true twin board. However, they differ from the true twin by setting both the stance and flex towards the tail of the board. This shift makes the board more versatile for those riders who want to ride all types of terrain. It compromises out and out freestyle performance, but to such a minimal degree, whereas the benefits on and off-piste are pronounced. Directional twins are now the no1 selling board shape because they are the most versatile for recreational riders.
As the name implies, Directional boards are designed to travel in one direction primarily (forwards). The shape of a fully directional board differs from front to rear, as does the flex and the stance, which all gravitate to the rear of the board.
By increasing the length at the board's nose, you increase the surface area at the front, giving increased lift and float in deep snow. It also helps the board ride through chop and uneven terrain. Setting back the stance helps the nose come up in deeper snow.
The set back stance also works in harmony with the set back flex pattern to help power up the stiffer flex at the rear of the board. This helps the shape power through the turn and pop into the next turn. Directional boards are generally favoured by freeriders who are looking for increased performance on and off-piste.
An evolution of the directional board, the Directional Powder shape is optimised to work in deep snow. The main difference between the standard directional shape and the powder one is an increase in the nose's width compared to the tail width. By increasing the volume in the nose, you get an effortless float and quick and easy lift. By having a narrower tail, the back of the board is prone to sinking and again bringing up the nose for effortless planing.
Over the past few years, we've seen a new snowboard design trend coming to the fore, which is volume shift. Traditional thinking is that to get float in deep snow; you need length. Volume shift turns that theory on its head and says that it's the general surface area rather than the length that gives the board lift and float.
By increasing width and reducing length, you get a board that still floats effortlessly, but it's more manoeuvrable. The downside of volume shift boards is that because of that extra width, they can be a little slower edge to edge for riders with regular-sized boots. To offset that, you usually find that volume shifted boards tend to run tighter sidecuts to give a more responsive feel when on edge. Volume shift works on all board shapes.
What we mean when we talk about profiles is the shape of the board when you look at it sideways on. Of all the technologies used in snowboards, this is the one that has undergone the most change over the past 10 to 15 years. The reason we've seen so much progress in profile shape is because it's one of the key elements in defining the performance of the board. It determines so much of how the snowboard rides, from how it floats in the pow, through to how it carves on piste, and even down to how much pop it gets off kickers.
We're going to run through the most common and most popular board profiles, look at how each one delivers different levels of performance and, hopefully, show you which one will work best for you.
If we were writing this section 15 years ago, camber would be the only bit here as every snowboard used a traditional camber shape. In the mid 2000s we started to see a shift towards rocker boards but more recently camber has started to gain in popularity. Camber refers to a curved contact area of the base at the tip and tail of the board - imagine a subtle rainbow shape, that is what the board looks like when lying flat.
When you are riding the board, you compress the camber into the turn. This engages both the contact points and powers up the whole length of the sidecut giving a secure and stable feel on the edge as well as giving the board more pop when transitioning from toe edge to heel edge. Because the board reacts precisely to any rider movement and the contact points are engaged with the snow, traditional camber boards take more effort to ride and are easier to hook up if you're not concentrating.
CamRock takes the concept of camber but adds rocker zones at the contact points. By lifting the contact points clear of the snow, you reduce the likelihood of the edges hooking up and give the board a more playful and reassuring ride. However, because you've still got camber running pretty much the full length of the sidecut, you still get good energy into the sidecut, so you retain that dynamic on edge feel of the traditional camber, albeit with a slight reduction in engagement speed.
Whereas the CamRock utilises mainly camber, the Hybrid Camber mainly features rocker. This profile uses rocker in the middle of the board and camber under the feet, before changing back to rocker at the tip and tail. This gives the board a looser more playful feel but, thanks to those camber zones under the feet, you're still adding power into the sidecut. You get a fair amount of edge grip under load, unlike a traditional rocker which tends to wash out.
Triple Base (3BT)
Triple Base technology is used exclusively on Bataleon and Lobster boards. It features 3D side base upturns at the tip and tail, combined with a flat centre base. Triple Base is designed to counteract the torsional twist of the board. This torsional twist is constantly trying to disengage the contact points when turning. Keeping these points engaged is the reason you move your body weight. By adding upturn on the base at a very specific point and angle, 3BT cancels the effect of the torsional twist. So, instead of constantly wanting to let go, the contact points now want to stay engaged. This means you get the same performance and response but for less effort.
Now to be honest, Sidecuts are something that most people seem to ignore, but alongside camber profiles they're one of the most important aspects of a boards performance. Basically, the sidecut is the waist shape of the board looked at from above. The waist shape on the base is tracked with a metal edge that runs between the base and the sidewall of the board. This metal edge engages with the snow and allows the board to follow the arc of the waist shape, letting the board carve a turn.
The reason why the sidecuts follow the profile section, is because that interaction is also effected by the shape of a board's profile. The more aggressive the profile of the board, the more energy you're going to drive into that edge, the lower the profile the less energy. So, it's a great way to determine the overall riding characteristics of a snowboard.
Sidecut technology can get really technical, so in this section we're just going to look at the most commonly used shapes as these are going to cover 95% of boards out there.
The radial sidecut is the most popular of all the sidecuts and equates to a high percentage of boards on the market. It's also the easiest sidecut to describe as it's simply a section of a circle.
When compressed into the snow, the metal edges will engage and the board will follow an arc that mimics the circle. So, if you want a board that turns quickly and tightly, you'll form the sidecut from a smaller circle, anything between a 5-7m radius. For a more balanced turn you'll use a medium radius between 7m and 9m and for a long flowing turn a sidecut between 9m and 11m.
Radial sidecuts give a predictable turn helping inspire confidence.
The Multi-radial sidecut is an evolution of the radial sidecut. This, as the name implies, is formed by blending multiple radiuses to form a single sidecut. The big advantage of the multi-radius sidecut is that it allows the designer to create a board that has precise performance through the turn. Instead of following a regular arc through the carve, the multi-radal sidecut delivers different performance in different areas of the turn. So, for example, if you want a more progressive arc, you'll blend larger circles at the front and back of the board with a smaller circle in the middle.
This combination creates a sidecut that has a more relaxed and predictable turn entry and exit, but still gives a dynamic response through the middle of the turn.
Alternatively, if you blend two smaller circles at the tip and tail with a larger circle through the middle, this is going to give you a board that has quick turn initiation, but a more predictable feel through the middle of the turn.
By combining these sidecut profiles with the machined flex profiles of the core, it allows the designers to create very specific riding characteristics in different areas of the turn.
Let's now take a quick look at how manufacturers use different technology to enhance the performance of that sidecut. So, the majority of sidecut profiles basically follow the arc of either the standard radius profile all the multi-radius profile; however, some brands modify the profile of that radius to increase performance. Now the brands that use this tech generally give it a marketing term, but it usually falls into one of three categories. For the sake of convenience, we'll call these categories Traction Enhancement and Pressure Manipulation.
Traction Enhancement is a technology that really came to the fore with Lib-Tech's Magne-Traction. The simplest way to describe this tech is that it follows the same principles a bread knife. Basically, that means it adds disruptions along the edges, which create additional traction or bite points along the length of the cycle. These allow the edges to bite into harder snow, in much the same way as the serrations on the bread knife cut through the crust.
Traction enhancement comes in many different forms, but all of them pretty much work on the same principle. If we take a look at Magne-Traction, which is the best known of all the traction enhanced sidecuts, you can see the serrations run the full-length the sidecut.
If we then look at Jones interpretation, you'll notice that the bumps are far less defined compared with the Magne-Traction and that they only place them at three different points along the sidecut.
Burton use similar tech with their Frostbite edges adding additional bite points the toes and heels. In fact, most brands that have traction enhancement in ther range generally add it into two or three zones along the edge of the cycle as opposed to the full-length as per the Magne-Traction.
So, what is the difference? Well to put it simply and not withstanding patents, the full-length Magne-Traction delivers amazing performance at high speed and when cruising on the piste, however, at slower speeds it's less predictable and can sometimes catch you out being easier to hook up. By reducing the severity and quantity of the serrations the board becomes more predictable reducing that chance of hooking up, whilst still enhancing performance on the edge and in harder conditions, albeit not by as much as with the full-length serrations. So which is best? To be honest, it's horses for courses.
Next up we're going to look at what we're going to call pressure manipulation. Now this is easy to explain what it does, but is more difficult to explain how it does it. So, basically the concept of pressure manipulation edges is that by manipulating the profile of the sidecut radius you can control how and where the energy flows along its length. This either directs power to specific areas of the sidecut or moves power more efficiently along the full length of the sidecut, therefore improving the performance of the edges.
Salomon's Equalizer is probably the most complex of the Pressure Manipulation sidecuts. As per the traditional sidecut, you start with a regular radius, the smaller the radius, the tighter the turn, the longer the radius, the longer the turn. Then by series of mathematical equations, this arc is then converted into a series of straight lines. (As you can see below on the very basic diagram) As these straight lines are compressed into the turn by the camber, they still form an engaged arc, but, because the energy is running straight rather than through the curve it runs more efficiently along the length, enhancing pressure along the full length of the sidecut.
That's a very basic description of the Equalizer. Again as a technology, Equalizer has been refined over the years and now comes in multiple variations. These are tuned to the riding characteristics of the type of board it's used on ensuring that it delivers the optimum riding characteristics for each style of board.
The next technology we're going to look at is Yes's Underbite. This technology works in a completely different way to Equalizer as its main function is to control energy flow to specific areas of the sidecut rather than give a more efficient energy flow along the full length of the edge. By channelling energy to certain parts of the sidecut, the designers manage to enhance the turning performance of the board without having to stiffen up the overall flex. As you can see from the image below, Yes place dents in the sidecut under both the toe and heel on both feet. These dents disrupt the arc of the sidecut, taking energy flow away from under the toes and heels and redirecting it out to both the contact points and the centre of the sidecut. By powering up the contact points, the board will engage and finish the turn more dynamically, whilst the centre of the sidecut will feel more energised giving a more stable feel through the turn.
In terms of sidecut disruption, Underbite is one of a series of sidecut disrupted boards from Yes, it's worth taking a look at the Yes website to check some of these out as they've got some ingineous solutions to enhancing the performance of boards.
That's the end of part 1 in our Snowboard Design & Construction series. In part 2 we're going to take a look at what's inside your snowboard and why manufacturers use certain materials in the design and construction of the board. All parts are also available on your YouTube channel.