I’ve created a chart to help you work out what size you need. To use it, simply follow through the flow chart to find out what type of rider you are, then read your size from the relevant table based on your height and weight. To find out why you need a board that length, read on further down (or click here). Click the graphic to make it bigger.
They probably gave an answer partly based on what was in stock, partly based on the size of board you liked the look of, and partly based on some vague idea that it should come up to your chin. Or the top of your chest. Or your nose. Or something.
So how can you go in to the shop armed with the knowledge of the size of board you need?
It all depends on ability, riding style, your weight & height, and camber. Unfortunately, there’s no simple formula that links the three, but with some knowledge you can get something that will work for your particular build, skill and style.
Height & Weight
The one that everyone usually bases board size on is your height. Without getting too technical, this is how it works: Height affects the length of board you buy because of your centre of gravity. If you’re more Peter Crouch than Maradona, your centre of gravity is higher, and therefore it’s easier to topple you over (it’s all to do with levers – a long pole is easier to topple over than a short, squat block). For this reason, a longer board for a taller person makes sense, as you have a wider, more stable platform.
Weight plays a large part in board height too. In powder, there’s the simple ‘float or sink’ thing going on – basically if you’re a fatty you need to spread the weight with a longer board. There’s another, better reason that heavier people should have longer boards though, since you could argue “I never ride powder anyway, and I’m hardly gonna sink while on piste!”. As you turn, your edge is in contact with the snow. If you’re heavy, that same area of edge has to take more weight and is liable to ‘wash out’ from under you. It works the other way too: if you weigh very little but ride a 167 board, you’ll struggle to initiate turns. This is because your weight won’t be enough to flex the board into a carve.
When you’re first starting out, a shorter snowboard is easier to control. There’s less weight, so it requires less strength to turn. Less edge in contact with the snow means you’re less likely to catch an edge. Often, from lack of confidence, beginners often have trouble getting their weight forward – a shorter board means that any weight they do get forward makes more of a difference, so they’ll notice the techniques the instructor is telling them are actually working!
Obviously, the better at riding you get doesn’t mean longer and longer boards. Once you have a base level of ability and you’re looking to specialise in the type of riding you enjoy, you then need to look at the ‘Riding Style’ section to determine your board length.
Snowboarding is such a diverse sport – one person’s idea of it is going as fast as possible down a 50º slope in powder up to your chest; whereas someone else’s is to be spinning, sliding, and jumping over everything down a run that’s more plastic and metal than snow. Because of this, you’ll need an entirely different tool for the job depending on what you’re into.
The basic and well-known rule is: Park board = shorter than normal, freeride board = longer than normal, powder board = even longer still, all mountain board = normal. This is pretty much true, and can be applied even if you ‘do a bit of everything, but mainly like park’, in which case you’ll go just a couple of centimetres less than usual.
Why is this the case then? A shorter board is easier to spin, easier to butter and generally better for throwing around. A freeride board is there to carve and go really, really fast. A longer effective edge is partly what allows it to do this – more edge contact means more stability when carving. The extra surface area of the board helps with floating on powder too.
So nowadays, snowboards can come with a traditional camber, reverse camber (or rocker), dual camber, and flat base. There are advantages and disadvantages of all of them (which we’re not going to go into here), but these newer types of boards do affect what length you should (or can get away with) buying.
The area that this effects most is if you’re buying a rocker pow board. It doesn’t mean you should buy shorter, just that if you want something that’s equally good in powder but want to be able to throw it around more, you can get a shorter board for the same amount of float-ability.
For reverse camber park boards, going shorter is not really necessary (you’re probably going pretty short anyway for a park board, the reverse camber shouldn’t affect this over other styles of park board). For rocker all mountain boards, your effective edge is already reduced, so you should not go any shorter (unless your version of ‘all mountain’ is mostly powder – you probably live in Alaska).
The manufacturers will usually give a weight range or height range for a particular size of board. This is useful, but the sizes all overlap – to the point that you can be of average height and weight, and fit in all the categories from a 154 to a 162. So how do you decide which to buy? A handy rule of thumb is:
Size Up If:
You’re above average height for your weight
You’re buying a board specifically for pow
Size down If:
You’re below average height for your weight
You want a park/freestyle snowboard that is easier to spin and generally throw about.
Nothing beats trying out a board. If you can find a place to test the board you want out, (often manufacturers do test days in different resorts, or at some of the better rental shops, you can rent various ‘high end’ boards) you’ll soon figure out whether that size is right for you.