Depending on where you snowboard you may get to ride deep powder (a foot +) every week or maybe only a couple of times a season. But that does not take away from the amazing sensation of riding in those conditions on a true powder snowboard. Powder snowboards were one of the original snowboard designs to appear back in seventies. That is because snowboarders had only one place they could ride- and that was not at ski areas where trails are groomed flat- it was anywhere they could hike up to. Since these places where often covered in deep snow, the boards they rode needed to “float” on top of the snow and not pearl under it. If they did dive under, the rider would go flying head over heels down the hill. To get snowboards to float, designers created them with long, wide noses and short stubby tails. The tails would often have “V” cut into them, called a swallow tail, which allowed the board to sink into the snow thereby lifting the nose up higher. This time-tested design is still used on many powder snowboards.
Riding powder is sort of like surfing a longboard. The rider is positioned toward the back end of the board and turns the board by rotating his/her head and shoulders and pressuring the rails with the feet. Riding in powder can feel like you are travelling through zero gravity- effortless. Of course, it takes practice to keep your balance centered over the tail and read the fall-line so you have enough speed to power through your turns. But it comes quickly and it is a lot more fun to fall in deep snow than hard pack or ice.
Today, powder boards incorporate a number of different features and shapes to improve their performance. They are also made with lighter materials like carbon fiber, kevlar and basalt. Here are some common features you will probably find on a powder board.
- Directional and Directional Twin Shape: Directional shapes have a longer nose than tail positioning the rider towards the tail of the board making it is easier to float the board through deeper snow. Directional twin snowboards also have a longer nose than tail but the flex of the board is centered. To compensate in deep snow the rider can mount his bindings farther back than he normally would.
- Nose profile: Snowboard designers have been messing around with the shape of the noses a lot over the years. One of the main developments in this area has been the blunt nose. This is where the nose is chopped off, or squared, at the tip. Blunt noses cut down on the surface area exposed to the snow allowing the backwash to move up and over the tip. This means the rider can pick up and maintain speed in deep snow without plowing through it. Plowing piles the snow up in front of the board thereby slowing you down and keeping you from riding high on the snowpack. Arbor has incorporated a new nose design that removes the corners of the nose allowing the board to ride fast in powder.
- Rocker: While some serious riders prefer camber even in powder, most will agree there is nothing like the ease and simplicity of riding a rocker board through deep snow. Camber has a downward shape that makes the board want to dive under the snow. A lot of back leg pressure needs to be applied to counteract that, especially if the powder is wet and heavy. Rocker snowboards float naturally and make riding powder that much easier- and more pleasurable. One of the primary reasons for the development of rocker in snowboards was to make a board that rides easily in deep snow.
- Camber to rocker: Some powder boards have camber under foot but quickly transition to rocker through the entire nose. These float perfectly fine and they afford the rider the turning precision, power and pop inherent in camber boards.
- Taper: Taper is the difference in width from the nose of the board to the tail. A tapered board has a narrower tail than nose and this allows the tail to sink in the deep snow when weighted and that raises the nose and floats the board.
There are lots of variations in camber, rocker, shape, taper and nose profile that make up the wide array of powder snowboards on the market. Generally, larger boards have been thought to be the best for riding deep snow because the extra length and width assist in float. But boards like the Jones Hovercraft are designed to be ridden smaller or the same size as your regular board and excel at floating in powder because of thier huge noses and swallow tails. This makes it an exceptionally fun ride because it is easy to handle in deep snow and it has a much lighter weight than larger boards.
Riding powder is fun no matter what board you are on- but riding it on powder snowboards is even more fun. The ease of float coupled with smooth, long, surf-like turns is pure elation. You just have to get out there and try it!