Choosing Your Snowboard: Which profile and why?
Since camber is without question the dominant profile in the history of our sport it seems fitting to start our guide here.
Generally speaking, snowboards have four contact points to the snow, two on each edge just a short distance from the board tips. The camber profile is effectively a dome shape tip to tail and leaves the centre of the snowboard raised from the snow between your bindings. In doing so extra pressure is placed on the contact points, forcing the edge into the snow. Think of it as being more weight over your car wheels, with grip and traction improved. For a snowboarder this means more edge hold and precision in the turn. In addition, ollies are more explosive as the board is effectively pre tensioned. In a balanced review of board profiles we also need to look at the potential downsides of each and in the case of Camber having the contact points driven into the snow does mean this is by no means the most user friendly profile for beginner riders. Camber boards are prone to catching edges and their natural dome shape means they will never offer the same powder float as a rockered board. In order to address these downsides some brands, including Burton and Capita, have modified these boards to include a small flat or rocker section at the contact points. In doing so edge hold is reduced a little but the board is much more friendly. However, while many snowboarders have moved away from the pure camber profile in the interest of improved powder float or a forgiving feel, experienced riders and those looking for absolute performance will typically stick with the original and still arguably superior profile that is camber.
The rocker profile has been played with by various brands since the inception of snowboarding. It can be seen as the exact opposite of the camber profile and essentially reverses the pros and cons as such. In the case of a rockered board the profile is a U shape from tip to tail, meaning between the bindings your board will touch the snow but be raised at the contact points. While a camber board is adding pressure to the edge (i.e. the wheels) the rockered board requires rider weight and input to hold the edge into the snow. You therefore create an extremely forgiving board that will release the edge on demand and is thus very friendly. Given the board is only really in contact with the snow between the bindings it is also incredibly easy to turn, a little like a spinning top. While this is excellent for beginner riders looking to progress quickly it could be argued that for advanced hard charging riders the board has insufficient edge hold and can feel a little concerning as it squirms and looks to turn at high speed when you prefer to hold a subtle edge. It’s not all bad news though because as well as being fantastic for first timers the natural U shape profile makes these boards absolutely unbeatable in powder, with little to no back foot pressure required to keep on top of the snow. This is a direct contrast to camber models that require heavy back pressure, generally resulting in that leg burn we all know after a good powder day! As such, think of rocker as great for off piste riding, beginners and freestyle riding where absolute forgiveness is key.
As a results of the pros and cons of the pure profiles of camber and rocker snowboard design has seen the development of several alternatives that aim to bring the positives of both. K2 were the first mainstream brand to attempt a flat board with their legendary Slayblade series and this was well received by riders of all abilities. These boards are flat right until the raise of tip and tail. Freestyle orientated flat boards will see the raise occur earlier to reduce contact point pressure, while freeride flat boards will not see curvature until right at the tips. The concept is to maintain consistent edge pressure along the board rail, aiming to provide the grip of camber but with a more forging feel. Flat boards are very smooth to ride and broadly achieve their design brief. However, as there is no inherent tension in the board, as would be the case in rocker or camber, they can feel a little lifeless.
As with flat boards those with hybrid profiles aim to give the edge hold, precision and pop of camber boards but with the improved powder float and forgiving feel of rocker. Hybrid boards use elements of each of these pure profiles, generally having an overall rocker but with two humps of camber under the bindings. Certain brands will refer to this as gull-wing, which is a surprisingly accurate description of the shape. For most riders heading to the mountains with potential to find a variety of snow conditions these hybrid boards offer a fantastic versatile option to ensure you’ll have a great time. More timid riders might prefer a hybrid that uses more rocker, or a softer flex to add forgiveness. In contrast, an experienced snowboarder who was brought up on pure camber might prefer less rocker element and increased stiffness to aid edge hold. However, in this category there really is something for everyone, whatever your ability, preferred riding style and future aspirations.
We hope you have found this guide useful in determining the main types of snowboard profile. In doing so you will be able to apply this knowledge whatever the brand. Remember, changing one design trait to improve performance in a single area (i.e. edge hold, powder float etc) will always hinder another area and it would be untrue to say there is a single board that does everything the best. As such, consider what you enjoy about time on the mountain and refine your selection around this. We are here to help and welcome any comments or questions. After all, who doesn’t love to talk snowboarding!