This page covers the basics of snowboarding gear.
One reason to prefer snowboarding
Are you interested in snowboarding, but intimidated? Take comfort, Grays on Trays: Snowboarding equipment is easier to deal with than skiing. Much like its cousin, snowboarding requires boots, and bindings, which secure the boots to long sheets of wood encased in slippery plastic.
But gear is one area where snowboarding has its advantages over skiing: snowboarders need less equipment than skiers. Less to keep track of, less to carry.
A snowboard typically weighs less than a pair of skis. That means less fatigue while walking about the ski town, parking lot, or other places where you may need to carry your gear.
Furthermore, snowboards are easier to carry than skis. Even if you have moved over to the shorter shaped skis, your skis will probably be longer than your skis. With its more compact form, one board will be easier to carry than one, let alone two, skis.
Next, you can actually walk in your snowboard boots. Oh, it’s a bit ungainly, but with their lighter weight and greater flexibility, snowboard boots are much more walking-friendly than ski boots. (This assumes that you use soft-sided snowboard boots. A subdiscipline of snowboarding, alpine carving, requires hard boots much like ski boots.)
Finally, boot pain is a thing of the past with snowboarding. Have you ever said, or heard someone else say, “the best part of the day when skiing is taking off your boots?” That’s not true for riding. Even well-fitting ski boots will sting in comparison with a good pair of snowboarding boots.
A very brief history
At the least, you’ll need the “3 b’s” — boot, board, and binding.
Snowboarding gear has evolved over time, and so has its gear. The sport traces its roots to skateboarding and surfing,which use no bindings, and it’s related to skiing, which does. The “bindings” of a Snurfer (a very primative snowboard) consisted of raised bumps that you stood on, and a rope, tied at the front of the board, that you held with one hand. there were no specialized boots. (Take a look at the second photo on this page if you’re not familiar with the Snurfer.) A lot has changed since then.
You could wear a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt snowboarding. But don’t–unless you want to end up very cold at the end of the day.
Keepin’ it Warm
Keeping warm on the slopes involves dressing in layers rather than putting on a heavy sweatshirt and heading out the door. The most important consideration may be to get a good “base layer,” or what is generically known as “long underwear.” It comes in a variety of (expensive) fabrics, and can having it or not can make the difference between a good day on the slopes and a miserable one. Look for something that has “wicking” ability. A variety of synthetic materials, or silk, will do the job. Thanks to the magic of modern fabrics, you can find something that will keep air in, and expel sweat. Look at your sporting goods stores for this, in the department that sells skis and snowboards. A specialty ski/snowboard shop is a good place to look, too.
You can try wearing cotton socks, but something with wicking ability is much better. Double-bagging socks–wearing two on each foot–may be appealing, but it’s not recommended. In fact, don’t be afraid to try thin rather than thick socks. When it comes to keeping your feet warm, a good boot should do most of the work, and if you are really cold, there are heat-generating packets you can stick inside your boots. Thin socks, in have the advantage of giving you a better feel for the boot and board.
Most any old shirt on top of your base layer will do. A turtleneck can help on especially warm days, but it’s not required. So can a fleece sweater or vest.
When it comes to pants, jeans are good for a lot of outdoor activity, but they’re not good for skiing. That’s because jeans are made of cotton, and cotton retains moisture, which in the case of snowboarding can come from sweat or snow. If your pants become cold and wet, they will freeze and become stiff, making you miserable. Buy a pair of ski or snowboard pants for the most comfortable experience.
Any durable winter coat can do, though it shouldn’t be so long as to restrict your movement. In time, you may find that a specialized jacket ski or snowboard, with lots of bells and whistles, or at least water repellent treatments, multiple pockets, and sealed zippers, will be useful. As for “ski” versus “snowboard” when it comes to coats, the distinction is largely one of marketing and image.
Your cold-weather gloves might suffice. Or you could always buy ski- or snowboarding-specific gloves. They are more expensive but they tend to be more durable.
Remember what your mom said about wearing a hat? It’s still a good idea to cover your head. At the least, wear a hat to keep your head warm. Better yet, protect your head by wearing a helmet. It will serve double duty, giving you protection from hypothermia and concussions (or worse). Again, a sporting goods story or (better yet) store that specializes in skiing and snowboarding is your best bet. Be sure to get the help of an informed member of the sales staff, and try on several models.
The most under-appreciated piece of apparel on the slopes may be the neck gaiter. This oversized fabric, which resembles doughnut, can protect not only your neck, but also your face. It’s a very useful thing to have while on the chair lift.
Should a beginner buy snowboarding gear?
If snowboarding equipment is so great, should you go out and buy your own boots, bindings, and board? Eventually. But take a while before you do it.
Why wait? Start with the financial cost. If you go with high-end equipment, you may be looking at $800 or so. At the very least, you may end up spending $75 for boots, $150 for a board, and $75 for bindings, or $300. And that’s for the cheap stuff that you may not like. Do you know that you will want to keep at it? Perhaps you should test your perseverance first.
Your needs and interests may change. While many board are good “all-around” boards, you may find that you prefer some kinds of riding over others. That may influence the kind of board that you buy. The board you buy now may not serve you well later. You may, for example, be well-served by a very flexible board when you are starting out. But over time, you may want a stiffer board.
Flexible boards are good for learning (it is easier to turn them) and for use in the halfpipe (where you need to make quick turns). But stiffer boards are better for the big mountain. Which terrain will you prefer? It may be hard to say right now. And alpine carving, yet another form of riding, requires an entirely different set of gear.
You might benefit from trying experiment with different types of equipment , including bindings and boots, for a while. There are several major styles of bindings, for example. Your decision will be driven by budget and personal preference.
Since you may end up spending more money on your bindings than on your boots (I did), you may wish to rent for a while.
On the other hand, if you know what you want to do, and foresee riding on a frequent basis, buying saves you money in the long run. It may also be that sinking some hard-earned money into gear is just the motivation you need to tackle the learning curve.
A quick word on safety
Finally, consider some safety gear, especially a helmet. Not only will safety gear help you out when you fall, it will help keep you warm. You could, for example, get by without wearing a hat if you have a helmet. Check out SkiHelmets.com for one place to learn about helmet sizes, selecting helmets, and so forth. And while Lids on Kids is geared to persuade parents to buy helmets for their children, adults would benefit from taking some of the information to heart themselves.