Cheapism: Shredding on the best budget snowboards

Jan. 24, 2012 at 8:11 PM ET

The K2 Vandal youth board is also a cheap option for small adults.

By Kara Reinhardt,

Recent snow in many regions of the country has resorts rejoicing and snowboarders raring to hit the slopes and terrain parks. There’s still time for beginners to take advantage of deals on lessons as part of Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. Many offers include lift tickets and rental equipment. If you’re ready for your own gear, you can find an entry-level snowboard for less than $300 from a brand such as Forum, K2, Ride, Salomon, or even Burton. That’s not to mention the bargains available on snowboards from previous seasons.

Most budget boards are designed for entry-level to intermediate snowboarders, with features that make them more forgiving. They tend to have a softer flex, which means they bend and twist more easily than stiffer boards built for high speeds. That gives even younger, smaller snowboarders more control and helps park riders initiate jumps. Manufacturers often give their boards a flex rating on a 1-to-5 or 1-to-10 scale, with 1 being the softest.

Low-cost boards are typically the same shape at both ends, which makes it easy for snowboarders to ride regular (with the left foot in front) or switch (with the right foot in front). These so-called “twin-tip” boards come in two different varieties. Riders who already know their preferred stance can opt for a directional twin, which is stiffer at the tail or back end of the board, allowing for more controlled turns. A true twin has uniform flex throughout.

Traditionally snowboards have had a bit of an arch in the center, known as camber, that’s forced flat against the ground by the rider’s body weight, resulting in springy, responsive performance. These days, inexpensive boards commonly feature reverse camber, or rocker, where the center of the board curves toward the ground and the ends lift off the snow. This helps keep beginners from catching an edge, making rocker an appealing choice for any rider who prefers smooth landings to face plants. One drawback is the board doesn’t grip the snow as well when you’re speeding downhill trying to make aggressive turns. A snowboard with flat or zero camber has a flat base that sits flush against the snow and combines attributes of both traditional and reverse camber.

Finally, inexpensive snowboards feature extruded bases, which are generally slower but easier to maintain and repair than the sintered bases on pricier boards.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable snowboards.

  • The Salomon Pulse (starting at $249) is a directional twin board that earns kudos for its versatility. The flat camber provides more stability than rocker but still helps new riders avoid catching an edge. (Where to buy)
  • The K2 Vandal youth board (starting at $200) comes in sizes big enough to suit some small adults as well. Experts recommend this true twin board with rocker for riders itching to learn some tricks in the terrain park. (Where to buy)
  • The Forum Recon (starting at $300) transitions easily from the park to powder to groomed runs, according to experts. This is a directional twin board with rocker and a soft to medium flex. (Where to buy)
  • The Ride Lowride (starting at $170) is a smaller junior board that experts favor for learning. It has the softest flex in the line and a true twin shape with rocker. Ride also offers the nearly identical Blush, with more feminine graphics, for girls. (Where to buy)

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