Snowboards come in many different sizes, and plenty of snowboarders have had poor experiences with the sport due to picking a board that doesn’t fit them or their needs. Contrary to what some snowboard sizing guides suggest, the topic is more complex than most people think, so we’re hoping to shine some light on precisely why size matters.
Snowboard size matters because boards of different lengths and widths ultimately perform very differently and will affect both your enjoyment and safety. The length and sidecut of a board can greatly affect your ability to turn, whereas the width will affect your ability to ride in deeper snow.
In this article, we’ll explain what snowboard size measurements mean before going into more detail about how they affect performance and safety and why they matter.
Before we look at why the size of a snowboard matters, it’s important to clarify what we mean specifically when we talk about board sizes and measurements.
Generally, we’re referring to the length and width of a snowboard’s base; a board’s thickness may vary and affect its flexibility, but it is not something we normally take into account when discussing size.
Below, we’ll look at the measurements we consider when sizing up a snowboard.
A quick heads up before we jump in – snowboard manufacturers use the metric system for global standardized measurements, so we’ll be using centimeters and millimeters for this article.
When we talk about a snowboard’s length, we’re normally referring to the distance in centimeters from the tip of the tail to the tip of the nose, measured down the center of the base.
We might also measure the length of a snowboard’s “effective edge,” that is, the distance between the widest part of the nose and the widest part of the tail, which we sometimes refer to as the board’s “contact points.”
Lastly, we might measure the length of the nose or tail, which is the distance from the contact point to the respective tip again measured down the center of the base.
In terms of snowboard widths, we can take the measurements in three places: the nose, the tail, and the waist.
The nose width is the distance across the snowboard base between the opposite contact points at the nose end, and the tail width is the same except taken at the tail end.
The waist width is the distance across the base in the very center of the board, and this is the measurement we use most commonly in determining the suitability of a particular board size.
The final measurement we want to mention before looking at why these sizes matter is what’s known as the “sidecut radius.” The sidecut of a snowboard refers to the way the edges of the base arc.
If you were to place your board flat on the ground and trace this arc around into a complete circle, the distance from the center of the circle to the center point of the sidecut is the sidecut radius. Sidecut radiuses vary in length from six to ten meters, and you’ll see why this is important shortly.
Now you know how snowboards are measured, we can dive into why these measurements matter and how board size can impact your riding.
While you’ll soon see that there’s no hard and fast rule regarding picking the “right” snowboard length, almost every manufacturer publishes a sizing guide for basic reference.
Take a look at one of these, and you may be surprised to notice that the recommended snowboard lengths are based on weight and not height.
Why? Because you need to be able to flex the board to turn and carve. If you’re too light to flex a longer board, you won’t be able to control it properly.
Although weight is the most important factor when looking at snowboard length, your height may still be something to consider.
If you’re particularly tall, a board that’s too short will limit the width of your riding stance, which may make it harder for you to engage your edges, and can make keeping your balance trickier.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that longer snowboards will be heavier and more cumbersome, making them less suitable for freestyle boarders attempting to get air and pull off spins in the park.
When it comes to nose and tail length, these aren’t often discussed except when comparing them to each other.
With twin-tipped snowboards, the nose and tail are the same length, making it easier to ride switch down the mountain and execute tricks in the park.
However, directional snowboards will have a longer nose and are tailored for riders who are unlikely to change stance and want their body weight further down the board to make riding in deep snow more forgiving.
The waist width of your snowboard is usually determined by your boot size, which is why although it tends to scale with board length, some manufacturers make wider models of shorter boards.
For reference, a board is considered “wide” rather than “regular” when the waist width is greater than 260mm and is generally recommended for riders who wear a US size 12 boot or bigger.
This is important because your boots should hang slightly over the sides of your board to allow you to engage the heel and toe edges with the snow.
If the boots stick out too much, then they’re likely to catch the snow and cause what’s known as heel or toe drag.
Heel and toe drag will not only make it harder to execute turns effectively but can also cause you to crash out and potentially injure yourself.
Wider snowboards are also much more effective in deep snow because the width helps with flotation.
A narrow board with a smaller surface area is much more likely to sink into the snow and get stuck in powder than a wide one.
We’ve chosen to look at the sidecut separately as it’s a measurement that can technically be affected by the snowboard’s length and width, and it deserves its own section.
Longer, wider boards will have a shallower sidecut and a larger radius, whereas shorter, narrower boards will have a deeper sidecut and smaller radius.
The size of the sidecut affects how a board turns, with a shallower cut and longer effective edge resulting in better stability at high speeds and enabling long, smooth carving.
On the other hand, a deeper cut makes it easier to complete turns quickly. Why does this matter to the rider?
A snowboard that turns more sharply is going to be easier for a beginner who’s getting to grips with carving and isn’t going to be racing down the mountain and might be a better pick for freestyle boarders or those who like runs that involve weaving between the trees.
Conversely, a longer board is better for racing and backcountry riding where space isn’t an issue.
Hopefully, this article has shown exactly why the size of a snowboard can have a big impact on performance and why every measurement impacts the riding experience.
Choosing the right board size will not only make your time on the slopes much more enjoyable but also make the learning experience a lot more forgiving and minimize your risk of injury out on the mountain.