Lib Tech T. Rice Orca ($600)
Lib Tech tested the waters last year by launching a single size (153 centimeters) of the Travis Rice Orca. In response to resounding demand, Lib didn’t revise the ripper’s recipe, but it did drop two additional lengths for 2020: 147 and 159. And with multiple sizes in play at our annual snowboard test in Crested Butte, Colorado, the Orca emerged with Gear of the Year honors locked up. No surprise there: the genre-defying directional deck is as fat, fast, and feisty as its namesake whale, epitomizing the short, wide, experimental shapes that snowboarders crave today. Traction-enhancing serrated edges, a predictable mid-stiff flex pattern, and a compact rocker zone between the feet sandwiched by sections of camber give the Orca stability, pop, and “grip for days,” according to one tester. “I felt like Moses parting the Red Sea when I stomped landings,” another said. Between the portly yet aggressive shape, buoyant nose, and snappy tail, the Orca is a versatile all-mountain board and a beast in powder. One witty freestyler channeled David Attenborough in declaring it “a graceful killing machine.”
Signal Tailgunner ($695)
Best for Steep and Deep Days
Born at Baldface Lodge (a Canadian cat-skiing operation that’s high on every powder hound’s bucket list), with input from its guide team, Signal’s Tailgunner is locked and loaded for bottomless days. This year the company revamped its carbon-infused fiberglass construction, making it stiffer and more responsive. That build, combined with a compact, rigid tail and new camber-heavy profile, prompted one rider to laud the board’s ability to hold an edge. While a couple of freestyle-oriented testers deemed the broad-nosed Tailgunner strictly a powder tool, our freeride contingent considered it an adaptable all-mountain shape they’d be stoked to use anytime, anywhere. A big-mountain rider with a penchant for stiffer decks poetically summed up the design’s versatility: “Body of a pow board, mind of an aggressive charger, impish soul of a jib stick.”
Rossignol XV Sushi LF ($499)
Best for Low-Angle Powder
The Sushi was spawned by French freerider Xavier de Le Rue’s journeys through the powder-blanketed dreamland that is Japan. The wide, unsinkable nose is remarkably maneuverable, thanks to flex that centers stiffness under the front foot. Testers were awed by the speedy edge-to-edge action and unexpected carving chops, which come courtesy of varied sidecut angles, chatter-absorbing urethane strips laid into the core, and a grippy camber section between the inserts. One all-mountain rider judged the fishy shape best for “riders looking to surf white waves.” Another tester marveled, “How Rossi made such a small tail have so much pop and support is beyond me.” The menu expands this year with a new 144 and the 144 Light: the former is slimmer and more agile, for riders with boots smaller than a men’s 10.5, while the latter has a more pliable core suited to riders under 130 pounds.
Capita Equalizer ($500)
Pro snowboarders are often specialists—they find their niche and stick to it—but not Jess Kimura. A British Columbia legend who began shredding the backcountry after building her cred as an urban rider, her transcendent skill set inspired Capita’s new women-specific all-mountain crusher the Equalizer. This do-it-all stick has a poppy, confidence-inspiring ash core that led one smitten big-mountain rider to offer up her highest compliments: “I hucked farther than I’ve ever hucked before.” A hybrid camber profile—level tail, cambered midsection, and rockered nose—isn’t outgunned in deep powder, and testers agreed that the Equalizer rallies through chunder with the best of ’em. “Fast, responsive, reliable, energetic, and all-around fantastic—a unicorn,” raved another rider.
Pallas Epiphany ($549)
Best Boutique Board
Small brands need to throw big punches to stand out among test heavyweights, and that’s exactly what Salt Lake City’s Pallas did with the Epiphany. A tapered speedster with a squared nose and crescent-moon tail, this beauty had one tester gushing, “I’ve never had prettier, more laid-out carves.” She did warn that the Epiphany’s carbon- and fiberglass-reinforced poplar core tolerated no nonsense. “Commit to the turns, then drive the board. Otherwise the board will drive you.” The Epiphany’s “pop, snap, and energy” had a park rat buttering until she was dizzy, while a freerider said she’d call on the floaty, set-back deck primarily for pow duty, since the board felt “bouncy” and “a bit flat for bigger landings.” One Crested Butte local summed it up: “This board rips, and I wasn’t held back at all.”