Gearing Up: Extra Sidecut, Hold the Stiffness

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, December 1995

Gearing Up: Extra Sidecut, Hold the Stiffness

Equipment for the entry-level rider
By Susanna Levin

To warp an old axiom, good snowboards come to those who wait. If you've held out until this season to take up the sport in earnest, you'll benefit from the fact that snowboard manufacturers have learned a lot in the last few years. They've added basic ski design elements, such as sidecut and camber, as well as innovations in core and cap construction. The result is lightweight, balanced boards that are flexible enough to turn easily yet rigid enough to hold an edge on ice. Since these boards go from heel-side to toe-side edge with less effort than their predecessors, they reduce the shame of first-day flailing.

When shopping for a stick, novice to intermediate riders should make ease of turning at moderate speeds their top priority. Look for a narrower waist and a healthy amount of give in the board. The flexibility range goes from super stiff boards, which are hard to maneuver unless you're an expert, to noodles that are designed for pipes and won't hold an edge on more plebeian terrain. Your first board should be somewhere in between, erring on the soft side. Experimentation with demo boards is worthwhile, if not a necessity. Here are several flexible setups to grow on--or at least to start borrowing from the shop.

Even the newest boarder can carve impressive turns on the Avalanche DP ($539-$549), which, with its ample sidecut and relatively soft wood core, turns as sharply and cleanly as anything on the market. But this smooth-handling, symmetrical board also leaves plenty of room for growth--it should continue to please even after you become an advanced all-mountain master. From Avalanche, 800-222-8820.

Burton's A.Deck ($250-$300) is a sweet all-mountain vehicle for beginning to upper-intermediate riders. Its balance is ideal for learning, since it goes toeside and heel-side with equal ease, and it also shines for making quick, short-radius turns in the bumps and trees. The A.Deck is soft, but not flaccid: It still holds an edge with the best of them. From Burton, 800-881-3138.

Downhill skiing speed freaks who think turning is overrated can cross over to snowboarding and still live on the edge, literally, with Rossignol's Accelerator ($392). It has the skinny waist and cold heart of a racing board, but its cap construction and softer flex make it well-suited to all-terrain free-riding--and a good choice for novices who intend to be up to speed from the get-go. From Rossignol, 802-863-2511.

To top off your board, you now have three choices in boot-binding interfaces. Which means, for better or worse, that you'll need to make some assumptions about your riding style before you shell out. Soft boots and buckle bindings are quite forgiving to learn in and are good for leisurely free-riding and doing aerial maneuvers on the half-pipe, though they don't offer much in the way of turning responsiveness. Hard boots and step-in or plate bindings are best for precision carving, particularly at higher speeds, but are no more foot- and ankle-friendly than the average pair of alpine racing boots. Finally, somewhere in between lie the new soft-boot step-in systems, which offer freestyle riders the convenience and high performance of alpine ski bindings without the rigid discomfort of alpine ski boots. Keep in mind, though, that while hard bindings will hold any hard boot and buckle bindings are compatible with any soft boot, step-ins generally require boots built on the same system.

Among buckle systems, Burton's Freestyle ($130) shines for the ease with which it mounts and adjusts. Various foot angles are marked right on the binding, plain enough for anyone with a screwdriver to figure out. Rossignol's 4x4 Plate ($142) binding is a simple but effective hard-boot model. It's easily adjustable for any stance and width, and the plates can also be canted in two-degree increments to change the angle of your feet to the board.

Soft-boot step-in bindings are clearly the way of the future: no more sitting on your butt wrestling with ratchets, no more knuckle-dragging on traverses. Device Manufacturing accomplished this with a stainless-steel bar under the toe and a locking mechanism on the back of the heel. The bindings ($179) feel solid and are easy to get into and out of, but they are the new system on the block, so only time will tell whether the performance will hold through the 500th click-in at 50 below. From Device, 800-713-1860.

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