As snowboarding season kicks off, it’s time to get stoked and take stock of all the new gear that can help make your winter that much better. Our picks for the best snowboards of 2016 below span all the major categories including all-mountain boards, stiff freeride models for big mountain terrain, and freestyle options for testing out your skills in the park. Many boards straddle two categories allowing you to get even more bang for your buck. For background information on the various categories and pros and cons of choosing one board type over another, see our snowboard buying advice below the picks. Otherwise, dive right on it.
Type: All-Mountain, Freestyle
What we like: The CamRock shape coupled with Mellow Magne-Traction.
What we don’t: Sizing: this all-mountain deck maxes out at 160 in non-wide sizes.
Jones makes a variety of board shapes for different types of terrain, but the award-winning Mountain Twin is our favorite all-mountain option. This board has a progressive flex called CamRock: camber between the feet and rocker on the tip and tail for power and snap. The rocker also makes riding pow switch or regular a dream without effecting your ride on hard snow. Magne-Traction edges are great for those icy traverses and hardpack days (if you haven’t tried it, Magne-Traction is a great solution for hard snow and we especially like this Mellow version as we’ve found it particularly secure). Jones also increased the nose size of the Mountain Twin to add to its freeride capacity along with a slightly pulled back stance from center, offering a powder-friendly ride. For 2016, Jones has added a sibling board, the Ultra Mountain Twin, that’s been tuned for the expert freerider by trimming weight while upping top-end stability with carbon fiber.
See the Jones Mountain Twin
What we like: An all-mountain board that is freestyle/jib focused.
What we don’t: The 160 max out.
Salomon crossed their most powerful freeride and freestyle boards to produce the all-mountain Assassin, and impressively it comes in at a reasonable price point. This is a playful board that is great for butters, ollies, slashes, switch landings and take offs; pretty much your good old fashioned jib-around-the-mountain true twin. The feel comes from a soft flex in their Rockout Camber, which is flat between the bindings, camber under foot, and a bit of rocker under the tip and tail. The Assassin has a great shape as the camber gives the grunt and the rocker allows for good pow and park play. It’s a true all-mountain board, and one that should help progressing intermediate riders take it to the next level.
See the Salomon Assassin
Type: All-Mountain, Freeride
What we like: Price point, freestyle design and Channel binding set up.
What we don’t: Stiffness is rated only 6 out of 10, so it may be too soft for hard-charging steeps.
The Flight Attendant is one of the latest assets in Burton’s backcountry lineup, or Family Tree. As is becoming the norm from the folks in Burlington, Vermont, this board already has a full shelf of trophies to its name. The Flight Attendant was designed for Nicolas Muller, the runner up in Travis Rice’s Ultra Natural, the most progressive freeride contest in snowboarding history. The S Camber offers superb directional float, allowing your legs to stay strong all day, and the freestyle shape ensures switch takeoffs and landings are covered. Edge hold is aided by a creative core design that places the wood grain perpendicular to the toe and heel edges, which gives next level stiffness and responsiveness. The big nose and setback stance also will help you stay upright on those deep powder days. And Burton provides one of the best warranties in the business, so your $500 investment is pretty safe here.
See the Burton Flight Attendant
Flex: Very Stiff
What we like: For expert riders who like the feel of traditional camber, you can’t go wrong with this board.
What we don’t: This board is ultra stiff and not everyone’s cup of tea.
Burton’s Custom X has thrived for over ten years for good reason. This high-end all-mountain snowboard delivers huge power underfoot and its lightweight camber design is made for carving in just about every type of terrain from groomers to pow. Due to the camber and new High Squeezebox, it has very impressive snap too (for solid proof, nearly half of the Olympic half-pipe riders shred with it). Keep in mind that the Custom X is ultra stiff and Burton describes it as the most aggressive model in their lineup, so if you’re thinking about buying this thing, better start doing your squats (not to mention setting aside the money to afford it). The Custom X really does rip down the mountain but at the same time, it can be a challenge to ride.
See the Burton Custom X
Type: All-Mountain, Freeride
What we like: The price for what you get.
What we don’t: Best suited for regular pow but doesn’t ride as well in consistently icy conditions.
How could we not include Gigi’s board, which was picked as a Transworld Good Wood Winner? The Slash Straight definitely is more of a pow board than a park board but it can hang all over the mountain. The flex pattern is a Backseat CamRock combined with a stiff tail and a setback stance. This is pretty much a surfboard for the snow, yet it can handle drops and loaded carves well. On the inside, the Straight features a mix of lightweight woods with carbon and kevlar inserts, and Ultimate Traction in the center of the sidecut delivers good edge hold on ice. If you chase pow more than hardpack, prefer a surfy feel, and want a great value, the Straight is your board.
See the Slash Straight
Flex: Very Stiff
What we like: A hard-charging freeride board at a reasonable price.
What we don’t: Setback stance can make freestyle riding difficult.
There is good reason why Xavier de la Rue rides heavier lines than most would even dream of. First, he's got serious cahones, but on a more material level, he’s worked with Rossignol to develop a big mountain machine in the XV Magtek. With a directional shape, great traction, Amptek All-Mountain Rocker, and a stiff dish nose, this board floats in the deep and can rip in the icy steeps. A slightly softer flex under the back foot also makes it easier to flick around in the trees. The XV Magtek is a staple board on the Freeride World Tour, and with a price tag of $500, should be a serious contender for anyone in the market. And all you explorers out there should check out the XV Magtek Split.
See the Rossignol Magtek XV
Flex: Very Stiff
What we like: Carbon everything coupled with a three-year warranty!
What we don’t: The price.
The Carbon Flagship continues to evolve at the helm of Jeremy Jones’ quiver. With a carbon topsheet, carbon inserts, and some of the finest materials on the market, this board provides a lightweight, ultra-stiff all-mountain shred with progressive rocker technologies. Jeremy Jones states, “My experience is that most falls in freeriding start from the nose of the board - you either go over the bars in powder, the nose gets caught under a weird crust and tosses you, or you hit a hard tranny at the contact point of the tip and get bucked. Directional Rocker eliminates most of these falls.” The Jones team represents this board all over the world and it has been seen on many Freeride World Tour podiums. Keep in mind that this board is only for high-end progressive freeriders—if you can’t tame this beast, you’ll be happy with the classic and less expensive Jones Flagship (non-Carbon).
See the Jones Carbon Flagship
What we like: Treats beginners to experts well.
What we don’t: Not great for railing on groomers.
Skate Banana has become a staple of Lib Tech’s line, with a reputation of being a quality board to learn and progress on. Granted, it’s not the cheapest way to expand your repertoire of tricks and skills, but it has the right build to take you there. Reverse camber between the feet raises the contact points for less edge catch on turns, and minimal camber on the tip and tail adds stability for cornering at higher speeds. We also like the Magne-Traction edges that increase hold on hard packed snow, awesome for shredding groomers on the East Coast or cruising through surprise ice patches out West. The board also comes in a wide range of sizes and widths, meaning that there’s something for just about everyone.
See the Lib Tech Skate Banana BTX
Type: Freestyle, All-Mountain
What we like: Versatile enough to go from the park to the groomers.
What we don’t: Not for long powder days.
Racking up awards year after year, the Capita Defenders of Awesome is a medium-stiff board at a great price. Coming in at a little over $400, you get freestyle capabilities with excellent pop, as well as an aggressive ride that advanced and expert riders will really appreciate. Despite having a hybrid camber construction that goes camber between the bindings, flat underfoot and rocker on the tips, the board has a ride that favors a traditional camber. And as a result, it makes you work harder to stay afloat in powder compared with more rocker-heavy designs. More, the unique graphics may be hit or miss depending on your style. But the power for the price is nearly unmatched on the market.
See the Capita Defenders of Awesome
Type: Freestyle, All-Mountain (beginner)
What we like: Quality boards don’t get much cheaper.
What we don’t: More of a park-style design.
The softest flexing board on our list, the Ride Agenda is a whole bag of fun all over the mountain. A basic flat shape underfoot with rocker right before the contact points keeps them lifted out of the snow, which is great for beginners to work on their turning and gives the Agenda a playful feel that anyone can appreciate. It’s a supremely forgiving setup that should help first-timers start connecting turns in short order, and the true twin shape allows you to practice riding and landing switch. The board is built with a little bit more of a park style in mind, but with Ride’s biaxial glass laminates and a full-length aspen wood core, is still poppy and responsive for those learning to ride on groomers.
See the Ride Agenda
What we like: Wide range of sizes and an all-around quality build.
What we don’t: Not much to dislike for the right rider.
The Velvet Gnuru offers eco-conscious riders a phenomenal board that can rip the entire mountain. This Transworld Good Wood winner features domestically sourced Aspen and Poplar for the core materials and is manufactured in the U.S.A. The design is a reverse camber between the feet to keep your nose up in the pow and your tips from catching, as well as elliptical camber out to the contact points for responsiveness and drive. The Gnuru also has Mellow Magne-Traction, a great feature for carving in firm conditions, despite its medium flex and freestyle leanings. As long as you’re not looking for all-out straight-line performance (we recommend the Never Summer Raven below for that), the Velvet Gnuru is smooth all-mountain machine. And for the price, you simply can’t go wrong.
See the GNU Velvet Gnuru EC2 BTX
Type: All-Mountain, Freeride
What we like: Women’s-specific design from Jones.
What we don’t: Jones had some delam factory issues in the past, although there aren’t any current problems we’re aware of.
Not only does Jones make some of the best all-mountain boards for the guys, they deliver with their female-specific designs for smaller and lighter riders. Stepping up in stiffness from the GNU above, the Twin Sister is made for women who enjoy shredding the pow, dropping cliffs, and popping their 1’s and 3’s. This is a stable, high performance board that can be comfortably ridden all over the mountain. The CamRock Directional Twin profile makes the Twin Sister great for pow riding and Mellow Magne-Traction provides good hold on the firm stuff. Jones even added a new Film Topsheet to increase responsiveness and decrease weight. All in all, this is a great all-mountain board for women who like to mix freestyle and freeride.
See the Jones Twin Sister
What we like: An award winning board ten years running.
What we don’t: Can be a little too much for lightweight boarders.
Lib Tech continues to dominate with this award winning board. The latest version of the TRS Narrows technically is gender neutral, offering both normal and narrow widths from 148 to 165. In the smaller sizes (the Narrows is 148 and 151), it’s a great solution for women wanting to step up their all-mountain game. The XC2 BTX was the favorite a few years back, featuring a Power Banana/Camber blend that makes the TRS a great powder board that can still rip in hard conditions. Magne-Traction supports this by offering edge control and the Power Transfer Sidewall adds responsiveness. This is a medium stiff all-mountain board for women who can really ride. The board does jump to the mid $500s, so make sure your ambitions are enough to justify the bump in cost.
See the Lib Tech TRS XC2 BTX Narrows
What we like: Aggressive design for experts.
What we don’t: Unforgiving for the novice.
The Never Summer from Raven is the most aggressive board on the list and is built for serious big mountain charging. The dampening effect provided by this board allows for straight-lining through crud with very little chatter, its extended nose has great float in powder, and the shorter tail keeps you nimble while negotiating tight trees. Camber underneath both feet gives added pop and snap in and out of turns. If this weren’t enough, the Raven is offered in the same specs as a splitboard, so it’s guaranteed to be a hit for all-mountain riders who love the deep pow. And we love the carbonium topsheet and graphics on the Raven, which will give you something to admire on the lift ride up.
See the Never Summer Raven
Type: All-mountain, Freeride
What we like: Built to rip and comes with a 3-year warranty.
What we don’t: Pricey.
The 2016 Flagship by Jones is a rare serious freeride snowboard for women—its directional shape is for technical riders seeking steep lines, deep pow, and hairy situations. The Flagship features “Mellow” Magne-Traction, allowing for impressive grip on ice and hard pack, and the blunt nose gives it a shovel to get through pow and crud. The wooden top sheet gives the Jones a unique and fresh look, but don’t be fooled—this board is a weapon for those who want to ride the biggest lines on the hill. Amber Schuecker, who rides on the Freeride World Tour, recently tested the Flagship and praises its set-back stance and ability to stomp landings that wouldn't be possible with other boards. She also says that it rides impressively well on-piste, which isn't a given with Freeride boards.
See the Jones Women’s Flagship
Type: All-Mountain, Freestyle
What we like: Freestyle/backcountry design.
What we don’t: Sizing: it maxes out at 152, meaning the big line chargers may not find their size.
Built for true all-mountain fun, the Lo-Fi from Rome combines freestyle antics with enough flex and edge hold for a secure feel in mixed conditions. The board features a flat camber underfoot with rocker outside both feet. Coupled with a stiffer flex in the middle (Hotrod Tech) and softer flex around the tip and tail, you’ve got an all-mountain freestyle popper. This board maintains stability at high and low speeds due to its flat and rocker combo and offers superb carving ability. The Lo-Fi is tailored more for the freestyle rider seeking a board that can handle the park as well as the entire mountain. This kind of personality also makes it a great board for the intermediate that wants to test their skills no matter the terrain.
See the Rome Lo-Fi Rocker
Type: All-Mountain, Freestyle
What we like: Two different graphics to choose from in all sizes.
What we don’t: Won’t progress in the park as well as some other choices.
Coming from the Mervin family of board builders, the B-Nice is similar to Lib Tech’s Skate Banana above, but built specifically for women rather than just sizing down a men’s board (unfortunately this is what some companies do). The board utilizes BTX reverse camber at the tip and tail for added stability while keeping contact points lifted. The medium-soft flex is just soft enough to be simple for lighter women to turn with, but not so soft that you’ll be uncomfortable cruising on faster runs. More ambitious riders will want to move up to the Lo-Fi Rocker above, but the B-Nice can still hold its own in rough patches thanks to Magne-Traction. It all adds up to a board that’s easy to ride but isn’t so noodly that a progressing beginner would get frustrated by it.
See the GNU B-Nice BTX
What we like: An economical all-mountain board for beginners.
What we don’t: You’ll likely grow out of it in a few seasons.
For beginning riders, there is a lot to like about the Burton Feather. First, the soft flex is great the cruising groomers and learning your turns, and the board is symmetrical for riding regular or switch. A standard rocker profile helps prevent edge catching and works for anything from fresh snow to the park. We also like the reasonable price of the Feather, but those who progress will want a stiffer flex and something that can take on more speed. If you’re planning on only getting a handful of weekends this season to learn, this board is a solid choice from one of the most well respected brands in the industry. But if you’re serious about stepping it up soon, you may want to start with a stiffer board.
See the Burton Feather
The all-mountain category has big ambitions: a one-board quiver that will get you from the top to the bottom of the hill no matter the terrain or conditions. They most often have a resort focus, but are aimed to be capable of anything you could find on groomers, side country or in the park. Expect a medium flex and shape that’s equally comfortable on hardpack or powder, like what you get with the Salomon Assassin. Expert riders will want to specialize in either a freeride, powder or park board, but for the rest of us, an all-mountain board hits that perfect middle ground.
A growing category that’s generating a lot of excitement is freeride. In terms of technical specifications, freeride snowboards are stiffer than their all-mountain and park counterparts to handle steeper conditions, and they have a softer nose for turn initiation and cutting through powder and crud. Although these boards are geared toward big mountain terrain, most offer a decent ride inbounds as well.
In many ways, a freeride board is an all-mountain board that has seen a number of tweaks to turn it into a backcountry wonder. And importantly, not every manufacturer or retailer calls out the freeride category specifically, so look for those common traits of an increased stiffness, directional shape and big mountain ambitions—along with a higher price tag—as indicators that you’re checking out a freeride board.
Freestyle (Park and Pipe)
Snowboarding at its core is all about having a good time on the mountain and no better category is a better representative than freestyle. These boards are soft, flexy and just plain fun. They’re best in the park and aren’t made for railing down groomers, but they’re still plenty capable of cruising all-mountain terrain. There is some crossover among some of these boards, as beginner and intermediate freestyle models work really well for true beginners, including the Lib Tech Skate Banana. The easy and smooth flex and catch-free turn initiation aligns well with those just putting together the basics.
How easily a board bends or flexes is one of the clearest gauges of the intended style and also corresponds with ability level. Softer boards are easier to flick around and are very forgiving for beginners, while stiffer boards need an aggressive rider at the helm. Flex ratings are sometimes numbered 1 to 10 with the softest being a 1. The other common listing is what we use below, moving from soft to medium to stiff. The flex will correspond with the snowboard categories listed above and work out as follows:
All-Mountain (Intermediate to Advanced): Medium to Stiff
Park and Pipe/Freestyle: Soft to Medium
The traditional snowboard profile is camber, which has a half-moon shape underfoot that presses flat to the ground under your body weight. The benefit of this design is an excellent edge hold and satisfying pop as you shift your weight between turns. It’s for the purist carver, and despite advances in technology and shifts in preferences, a full camber board is still popular for advanced boarders. It doesn’t turn in as easily as one with rocker or a hybrid profile, but for powerful skiers that can really hammer down, a camber board like the Burton Custom X is in a league of its own.
Rocker, which is also occasionally referred to as reverse camber, flips the camber equation, and has a banana-like shape. A rocker board helps bring out some of the strengths of a snowboard design—playfulness in the deep stuff and in the park. And turn initiation is improved across the board, from groomers to powder as the raised edges are less prone to catching and they consistently plow through crud. A full camber board won’t be associated with charging lines in hardpack, so those that like to do it all may want to look to the hybrid category below.
You’ll occasionally see a board that is primarily flat (also referred to as flat camber). This type is just as you’d expect: flat underfoot. The shape gives it a surfy and fun feel and can be easy to maneuver, but the board won’t be as precise in the corners as one that has a traditional camber. It’s common to find these boards with a rockered tip and tail combined with a softer flex for fun in the park.
Bringing together the benefits of camber and rocker (and even flat camber) is the mixed camber or hybrid board. Just as you’d expect, the combination highlights the good of each design while mitigating some of the weaknesses. Manufacturers have a wide variety of hybrid designs that will reflect the intended use of the boards, but these boards are typically the best choice for the average, intermediate rider. As a result, they’re a popular choice in the ever-growing all-mountain category.
Another common snowboard spec to be clued into is the listed shape of the snowboard. The shape dictates the board’s character and what it’ll feel most comfortable doing, so make sure to align your riding style with the right shape. It’s a spec that not only describes the physical shape of the snowboard but also its flex characteristics. These include directional, directional twin, and twin tip, which we describe below:
A directional board is designed for riding in your regular stance, and is great for an aggressive style and those that rarely ride switch. With added stiffness towards the tail and a softer front-end, these boards will feel most stable at high speeds. They’re common on freeride boards as well as some of the more serious all-mountain varieties.
Twin boards logically have a symmetrical build in both shape and flex (the nomenclature is thankfully quite clear for these specs). If you plan to consistently ride switch or like to hit features in the park or jumps all over the mountain, a twin tip board is a good match.
Drawing on concepts from both shapes above, twin directional is a good compromise board. With a symmetrical shape but a flex that favors riding regular, it’s the preferred option for all-mountain freestyle riders that mix in a few carving sessions.
Sidecut radius is a helpful indicator of the board’s willingness to turn. The measurement is given in meters and is taken from the side profile of the snowboard. A board with more shape (the waist of the board is significantly narrower than the tip and tail) will have a lower number. These are your nimble steeds, and are great for carvers or for those that like to spend time dodging trees in the sidecountry. A higher sidecut radius means the board is relatively straight, which gives excellent stability at speed as well as the added benefit of additional float in powder. We highly suggest matching the sidecut radius to your riding style. Shorter versions of the same board will have a lower sidecut radius, so if you’re on the fence between sizes, this can help determine which way to go.
This number is a measurement of the length of the snowboard that actually makes contact with the snow, thus, the “effective” edge. A longer effective edge puts more of the board in contact with the snow, thus a theoretical bump in stability and edge hold. Shorter effective edges are more willing to turn in (just like a shorter board) and are a little easier to handle. It’s another piece of the equation that’s good to check out when parsing out differences between similar looking boards.
The length of a snowboard doesn’t vary dramatically (remember, we’re talking the difference of 5-10 centimeters within a whole line oftentimes). As a result, recommendations are most often focused on your total weight (with your gear on) and riding style. Aggressive and fast downhill riders will want a longer board, and beginners or those who need a board that’s easy to flick around will want a lighter and shorter option. We’ve found the size chart and corresponding video from snowsport retailer Evo to be a good reference point, and keep in mind, each snowboard also will have a corresponding size chart.
Wide boards are important if you have larger feet and are at risk of dragging your toes while in a turn. You’ll see them listed in the size options with a “W” after the length (ex: 154W). Check for the manufacturer’s recommended boot size for when to size up to a wide board; often, it’ll be around an 11 to 12 in men’s and 9 for women’s. More, for women potentially needing a wider board, we recommend checking out a men’s option.
It’s important to think of your setup as a true system: boot, binding and board all working towards the same goal. As such, make sure to match flex and intended use when putting together your snowboarding gear. Manufacturers and retailers do make this pretty easy, so just look for matching descriptions and flex and ability level specs.
In addition, boards are drilled from the factory in a few ways. You’ll see listings of 4x4, 2x4, channel and a few others. And while there are a growing number of adapters to make sure most bindings will work with most board designs, we recommend avoiding having to modify to make it work. A binding and board that are made to work together will have the closest connection and highest performance potential.