Snowboarding, on a most basic level, is about turning. Whether you are cruising down a groomer, riding through trees, spinning off a jump, jibbing onto park features or just skating over to the chair lift you are using your snowboard’s sidecut to some degree to control what you are doing. A snowboard sidecut is the concave middle section that allows your board to turn. It is measured by using the radius of the arc in the sidecut. A deeper sidecut will have a smaller radius and a shallower sidecut will have a longer radius- more on this later. You can find the measurements of a board’s sidecut on the spec sheet that came with it, or on the company’s website.
The shape, size, and profile of a sidecut plays a large role in how any given board turns and performs on the snow. Of course, it’s not all about sidecut- effective edge, width of the board, flex, camber/rocker profile and snow conditions also plays a role in how a board rides. The days of there being two or three styles of sidecut to choose from are long gone. Advanced computer programs have allowed snowboard companies to come up with a wide array of sidecut designs that incorporate every variation of radius you can think of. The following examples are a few of the most common and fundamental sidecut designs.
Small Radial Sidecut
A radial sidecut remains constant through its entire arc allowing the snowboard to turn smoothly and predictably while riding both forward or switch. Progressive sidecuts gradually change the degree of radius throughout the arc. Most often, progressive sidecuts will begin with a larger radius and then progressively become smaller towards the back end of the arc closest to the tail.
A sidecut with a smaller radius (aka tighter) will travel deeper into the board. This gives the board the ability to make sharper and more abrupt turns than a board with a larger radius. Freestyle, park and tree riders might benefit from a tighter radius because they are normally using their sidecut more aggressively to initiate spins, jibbing tricks and zipping between trees.
Large Radial Sidecut
A sidecut with a larger radius won’t cut as deep into the side of the board and it will reach farther towards the tip and tail. This allows the board to make big and smooth arcing turns, as well as offering more stability at higher speeds. Large radius snowboards may benefit riders that enjoy cruising down big, open groomed runs, powder riders and big mountain free-riding.
Progressive sidecuts have two or more degrees of radii within the sidecut arc. They are often found on snowboards with directional shapes where the sidecut is set back closer to the tail. This type of board benefits aggressive riders who need the stability of a shallow sidecut but also the responsiveness of a deeper sidecut. The deeper section of a progressive sidecut will also allow the rider to quickly exit his/her turn and get set up for the next. They are great for riders who like riding steep lines and natural terrain where the landscape is often unpredictable and challenging.
Multi-Contact Point Sidecuts
Over the last ten years companies have introduced their own version of what could be referred to as multi-contact point sidecuts. The earliest design was Magne-Traction from Mervin Industries, which consists of seven “bumps” along the edges of the board that serve as additional contact points. Contact points are areas of the board’s edge that first engage the snow and allow the board to maintain constant arc through each turn without slipping sideways. Magne-Traction was created to give the rider extra edge hold especially in hard pack conditions.
A newer variation of Magne-Traction is Griptech. Griptech uses two additional contact points per side- one at the toes and one at the heels. These are the primary areas that pressure is applied to when turning. This is an “only where needed” approach that also works well for maintaining edge hold with a rockered snowboard where the outer contact points tend to be lifted slightly off the snow.
Asymmetrical (Asym) Sidecuts
Asym sidecuts have a deeper heel side arc and a shallower toe side arc. This design compensates for the lack of heel side pressure and control that the rider can achieve based on ankle, knee, and hip anatomy. If aggressive heel side turns and spins is your thing then Asym sidecut boards may be for you.
Sidecuts are one piece of the puzzle when considering what board will work best for you. As with other aspects of snowboard design, the one you choose should have assets that accommodate what type of riding you see yourself doing. Check out the boards in your local shop and ask the folks there what they have that would suit your style.