We would like to present the inner workings of what makes a snowboard a snowboard. There are plenty of companies that would like to make you believe they have some secret ingredient that makes their board better than all other boards but in reality they will all slide down a hill with a person attached. Some just work better than others and often those top boards aren't going to work for everyone. Our job as a shop is to help you as the customer find the board that will best suit you. If the patterns of snowboarding history teach us anything, any secret ingredient that actually works is instantly copied and replicated by other snowboard companies without any regard to patents or licensing. For a great example in this just look at how every company now uses toe-caps, wavy edges like Magne-Traction, and Reverse Camber!
There is no secret formula to snowboard design, just three basic parts, base, core and glue. Pretty much everything else is extra. Understanding company catalogs can be a nightmare as none seem to do a very good job at breaking down the tech. Here is our attempt.
Base material is made from p-tex and generally comes in two types. Sintered or extruded. Extruded bases are popular because they are so much cheaper to make. They don’t absorb much wax and are harder to repair. This is because they are created by an ‘extrusion’ process much like pushing a chunk of play-doh through a square hole. The result is a block of p-tex which can then be cut to the necessary width. Sintered bases are made up of tiny ground up balls of p-tex and then are partially melted back together. This process creates pores which absorb wax and will bond better to new p-tex for repairs. The size of the tiny balls will also have an impact on the speed of the base and is often noted by a rating of umh 4000 or umh 8000. The p-tex in both extruded and sintered forms can be combined with flourocarbines (stuff in toothpaste that make ski-racers go really fast) or graphite (Graphite sintered is the fastest type of base and is always black).
The art that goes onto a base can come from three different methods:
- Take a clear base and put a graphic underneath.
- Use a sublimation printing process, a heat transfer process, which can only be done on a sintered base.
- Die-cut process which involves cutting multiple shapes out and placing them back together like a puzzle. Companies use this method is because the colours look way better with a die-cut base than a sublimated base.
Snowboard cores are mostly made of wood laminated together either vertically or horizontally. Different types of wood and combinations of wood can be used to change the flex and feel of boards. Pine, Birch, Bamboo, Maple and Aspen are quite popular. Usually 2X4 pieces of wood are glued together and stacked up into what will eventually become the width of a core. They are then cut down the stack into multiple cores giving the cores a striped pattern which also helps keep the boards more torsionally rigid while leaving some longitudinal flex. Some cheaper boards are pieced together using a fingering process to save the excess pieces of wood. The glue from this process is often stiffer than the wood itself and while avoids waste can cause odd flex patterns.
The thicker the wood the stiffer the board. The core can be planed down to varying thicknesses for different flexes. Burton takes advantage of this technology in their squeezebox boards which have a wavy accordion like thickness across the cores. Burton also does some crazy things where they switch the direction of the wood under the feet. Some companies cut air channels into the core to reduce weight and add flex. Another very popular way to reduce weight is to substitute a thicker core with sheets of fiberglass. Most companies will add a sheet of fiberglass to the bottom and top of the core so they can keep the cores as thinand light as possible without breaking. There are varying strengths of fiberglass which are controlled by the weave pattern in the sheets. Without getting into too much detail there is biaxial (soft), triaxial, and quadaxial (stiff). Carbon fiber can also be added (usually in narrow strips). Bamboo gives a similar feel to a board. Recently with the popularity of environmental thinking, snowboard companies like Niche and Lib-Tech have started using Basalt sheets instead of fiberglass. While more expensive this is a much better alternative because of one huge issue in snowboarding which is chatter. This is caused by riding over ice or any crappy hard conditions and the energy of the packed snow reverberates through the board and up your legs. Fiberglass tends to be quite chattery whereas natural products like basalt dampen the chatter and give a much smoother ride. If you are really curious about this phenomenon then go out and demo Travis Rice’s board in horse power and regular (same board but horsepower uses the eco-friendly basalt). The Horsepower board will ride way smoother.
Boards will also add damping along the edges. This material is much like long thin rubber band and is designed to absorb chatter. These bands of damping are laid on the edges of the board. Damping is quite expensive and inexpensive beginner boards will lack it. Ride uses urethane sidewalls called slimewalls which help dampen the boards.
Also in the core are your inserts to screw bindings into. Inserts cost money and cheap beginner boards will have limited stance width options. Burton uses a Channel system which gives riders unlimited choice in where their bindings sit.
Plastic P-tex sidewalls are the most common because of its high strength to weight ratio. Some companies use other types of plastic and wooden sidewalls have recently started making a comeback. The sidewalls are attached to the core via a stapling, sewing or gluing process.
Edges are all pretty universal. The edges are usually bent into the shape of the corresponding snowboard and then glued to the base. There are different strengths in the metal of the edges but as far as I know no snowboarding company has made an effort to measure this info. There is some controversy about whether or not edges should be used on just the sides of the board where it is actually ridden or along the tips and tails. Most snowboard companies have wrapped edges meaning they go continuously along the edge of the snowboard and tips and tails. Lib-Tech and Gnu (both made in the same factory) lack edges on the tip and tails. The argument for edges on the top is for added strength. The argument against, is it is lighter and easier to repair.
The glue itself is all pretty universal. All snowboards need a high-end two part epoxy and resin combination that will stand up to extremely cold temperatures. As far as I know the choices in glue are endless but when a company chooses crappy glue they get endless warranties.
Top sheets are unnecessary. They are simply a place to add a picture. If you have ever ridden a board without a top sheet you will be surprised to find just how light it is. A few companies do use a wooden veneer topsheet that acts like an extra piece of fiberglass stiffening up the board while also absorbing chatter.
And that’s about it. Take the layers, glue them up, throw it in a heated press and there is your snowboard. In a real snowboard factory the process is far from done. When the board comes out of the press it has glue spilled all over and the top sheet and core need to be cut into a snowboard shape (the bases and edgings are already in the correct shape). Then the base, edges and tips and tails need to be ground down and polished to get rid of all the excess glue and make it look presentable. The inserts are normally covered by the top-sheet and need to be drilled out. Then the board gets waxed, stickered, bagged and shipped out to whoever ordered them. Depending on which factory the board comes from most of this finishing process can either be completed by machines or by hand.
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