Snowboarding is an individual sport in more ways than one. Out there alone on the mountain, you want a snowboard that fits your personal skill level, size, and riding style. Depending on your needs, a cheap snowboard may actually suit you better than a more expensive stick. If you're just starting out and didn't know that "stick" is another word for snowboard, odds are you don't need to shell out $500 or more for a high-end board. The cheapest snowboards are usually made for beginner to intermediate riders and cost between $100 and $300.
Cheap Snowboards Buying Guide
Cheap snowboards tend to be a bit heavier than more expensive boards and fairly simple design-wise, but many still feature strong all-around riding capabilities. Feedback on cheap snowboards is relatively scant online; pricey boards from names like Burton, Lib Tech, and Gnu dominate the conversation among riders. Based on the comments and reviews we did find, as well as the reputations of prominent snowboard brands including Forum, K2, Ride, Rome, and Salomon, we've rounded up some top contenders under $300 for both adults and kids.
The Salomon Pulse (starting at $249) and the K2 Vandal youth board (starting at $200) are two cheap snowboards popular for their strong performance across multiple types of terrain. They are also flexible enough to give riders optimal control without sacrificing much speed or aggression. The Ride Lowride (starting at $170) makes our list as a good youth board that's soft and light enough for smaller riders to handle easily. The Forum Recon (starting at $300) is another popular pick for adult beginners. Women seeking a precise fit and greater control would do well to consider the entry-level Burton Genie (starting at $300) and Salomon Lotus (starting at $200), two top cheap snowboards designed specifically for female riders.
LaMar and LTD are both known for producing cheap snowboards but don't win much respect -- or attention of any kind -- from serious riders. These boards populate mass-market retailers and discount sites such as Overstock.com, yet don't cost much less than the reliable boards mentioned above.
Generally the construction is what separates the cheapest snowboards from expensive ones. Wooden cores are the most common, while materials such as carbon, Kevlar, and aluminum honeycomb add expense. Foam cores have become less common because, although they cost less, they sacrifice performance and durability. Manufacturers of some cheap snowboards, including the Ride Lowride, strategically incorporate foam into low-stress areas of otherwise wooden cores for the sake of making their boards lighter. Ride's new Gummy Core includes a strip of foam through the center, which is intended to make the Lowride youth board more forgiving and easier to handle for beginners and young riders. The other cheap snowboards we've chosen have all-wood cores. The cheapest snowboards, including those on our list, also tend to come with extruded bases, which are slower but easier to repair and maintain than the sintered bases on pricier boards (more on that later).
Other snowboard features vary slightly depending on the skill level of the rider and the board's specialty, whether that be floating on powder, carving in hard-packed snow, or stomping tricks in a terrain park (an area of a mountain set up for special maneuvers, rather than regular riding). It may be tempting to choose a board based on color and graphics, but a flashy design doesn't affect performance. Pick a cheap snowboard that offers a solid combo of comfort, functionality, and visual appeal.
Beginners should rent their first few times out to get an idea of how different board shapes behave and what riding style they enjoy most. That way they'll know what to buy when the time comes.
If possible, don't buy a cheap snowboard without looking at it in person first, especially if you don't have the experience to know the right the size, shape, and other features you need. Search for good deals online, but make sure to examine a physical version of the board and zero in on the correct fit before making a buying decision. Finally, keep in mind that many online retailers discount gear from previous seasons, putting higher-end equipment within the reach of frugal snowboarders not intent on riding the latest models.
Often the easiest and cheapest way to buy a snowboard is in a package. Purchasing the board, boots, and bindings all at once can not only save you money but also ensure you're starting off with compatible gear that fits together well. Whether you purchase your setup individually or in a cheap snowboard package, our guides to cheap snowboard boots and cheap bindings can help you find the right combination.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
How well a snowboard performs depends a lot on how it well it fits your experience level and the type of terrain where you plan to spend the most time. Given that the boards we researched are geared toward beginners and intermediate riders, experts and users posting snowboard reviews tend to be looking for a board that's fairly forgiving and easy to control. Snowboard reviews often note the weight of a board, because beginning riders are likely to prefer lightweight boards that aren't difficult to maneuver.
In a snowboard review of the Salomon Pulse (starting at $249), one of the best cheap snowboards we researched, the team of enthusiasts at SB-RV calls the board a solid choice for someone on a budget who's just starting out. They say the Pulse easily transitions from plowing through powder to tricks in the park to speeding down a groomed run. In a video review of an older Pulse model, an expert at board shop The House notes Salomon's reputation for durability, saying riders scarcely ever bring back the brand's boards to make a claim on the warranty.
The K2 Vandal youth board (starting at $200), another of the best cheap snowboards on our list, receives near-universal praise from a half-dozen users who have posted snowboard reviews on the K2 Snowboarding site. They laud its flexibility, carving ability, stability, and light weight and deem it suitable for many different types of riding. A self-described snowboard addict and competitive athlete who posted a snowboard review of the wide version of the board on the K2 website calls the Vandal ideal for beginner to intermediate riders looking to hit the terrain park. The user reports that this tough K2 snowboard stands up to grinding on everything from rocks to trees. In a snowboard review of an older Vandal on YouTube, an expert at The House testifies to the durability of K2 gear, saying he rarely sees it come back on warranty.
SB-RV calls the Forum Recon (starting at $300) an excellent choice for beginners. In a snowboard review, the site recommends the Recon for snowboarders on a budget who are interested in park riding. This Forum snowboard can also work for beginning riders elsewhere on the mountain, according to a snowboard review by the gear experts at The Good Ride. They point to the Forum Recon's good performance not only on rails and jumps but also on groomed runs and powder, saying it's super-easy to initiate turns on this board.
The Ride Lowride (starting at $170) is a decent youth board that's good for learning, according to a representative from retail site Snowboards.net. That's made it a best-seller at board shop The House, which has a video review of an older version. Judging by a couple of snowboard reviews posted on the Ride website, the Lowride appeals to the "little rippers" it targets.
While Ride is routinely cited on lists of the top snowboard brands, LaMar doesn't enjoy the same prestige. A couple of older threads on the highly active Snowboarding Forum provide some indication of how the brand is perceived among enthusiasts. One rider describes a heavy board that just couldn't seem to pick up speed and didn't deliver much pop. Another quips that even rental shops don't stock the brand. More recently LaMar seems to be striving to revitalize its image, as outlined by popular industry blogger The Angry Snowboarder, whose snowboard reviews include positive assessments of some newer LaMar snowboards. However, a lot of the cheap LaMar snowboards you're likely to see are models from previous years that may not have benefitted from the brand's apparent renewed focus on quality. You many well decide the price of a board is too big a gamble.
LTD Snowboards suffer from a similar perception of low quality, according to online conversations among snowboarders. Snowboard reviews on retail site TruSnow include this one that seems to sum up the general consensus: There are better boards available for the price.
Freestyle Snowboards, All-Mountain Snowboards
Some riders want to soar off jumps, while others prefer to enjoy a leisurely run down the mountainside. Choosing a board designed for your style and where you like to ride can not only provide a better day at the slopes but also help save time and money on tune-ups and repairs.
Our picks are all-mountain and freestyle/park snowboards. An all-mountain snowboard is the most versatile -- a jack of all trades, a master of none. A preferred choice for beginners and casual riders, it can both glide down a mountain and negotiate a terrain park.
Freestyle snowboards are designed for grinding rails, catching air, and jumping barrels in the park. In general they are more flexible, which allows for graceful landings and enhanced mobility on rails. The dull edges on pricey, highly specialized park boards can make it difficult for inexperienced riders to make sharp turns. A wide gap between the bindings also forces riders to use a wider stance, better for tight landings. The cheap freestyle snowboards on our list are more versatile. The Forum Recon can also serve as an entry-level all-mountain snowboard, according to a review at The Good Ride. In a Snowboards.net video, a K2 rep says the Vandal makes a solid all-mountain junior board, although it excels in the park. SB-RV pegs the K2 Vandal as a good board for both park riding and freeriding down the mountain. Freestyle snowboards in general are a solid choice for beginners.
Dedicated freeride boards are intended for more advanced riders who aren't all that into riding jumps or grinding rails. Freeride boards deliver sharp turns and smooth navigation and can hold high speeds with greater stability. Freeride snowboards are typically stiffer and more responsive than freestyle snowboards. They also tend to be made from more expensive materials, such as carbon fiber, so they can be more costly.
Next we'll look at a few features that make these different types of boards particularly good for different types of riding. Remember that there is really no "right" or "wrong" when it comes to snowboard features. Different variations will respond differently to individual riders, so snowboarders are encouraged to look for a combination that fits their preferences, ability level, and goals on the slopes.
Snowboard Shape.Snowboards generally come in three shapes: directional, directional twin, and true twin. Directional boards are wider at the nose or tip of the board and narrower and stiffer toward the back, or the tail. This shape is common in freeride and alpine racing boards built for speed. It helps riders make controlled turns and keep the nose of the board on the surface of the snow. A true twin is symmetrical from tip to tail and lets park riders easily switch stances as they perform tricks. The shape is ideal for any snowboarder who may want to ride both regular (leading with the left foot) and goofy or switch (with the right foot in front), rather than committing to one or the other. The K2 Vandal and Ride Lowride youth boards are true twins. The Salomon Pulse and Forum Recon are directional twins, which also have a symmetrical shape but feature a stiffer tail. This versatile shape befits a freestyle/park or all-mountain snowboard.
Snowboard Camber, Snowboard Base, Snowboard Flex
There are two types of snowboard flex: torsional and longitudinal. In our discussion of snowboard shape, we noted that some boards are stiffer in the tail. That's an example of longitudinal flex. Torsional flex refers to how easily the board twists. A stiffer board can grip the hill on turns even at high speeds. Softer snowboard flex, on the other hand, is less responsive but more forgiving, making it preferable for beginners. Weight also comes into play, as softer boards are easier for smaller, younger riders to control. All of the boards we've chosen tend toward the softer end of the spectrum.
Snowboard flex depends primarily on the construction of the fiberglass that surrounds the core. If manufacturer specs don't rate the flex of a particular snowboard, look for the terms "biax" or "biaxial" and "triax" or "triaxial." Fiberglass woven in a biaxial pattern typically makes for a softer, less expensive board, while a triaxial weave indicates a stiffer board.
Snowboard Camber.Camber is the arch a board makes when it's laid on a flat surface. A high, spring-like snowboard camber allows for more aggressive turns and greater stability and responsiveness at high speeds. Most of the snowboards we recommend feature reverse camber or rocker, with the center of the board against the ground and the ends upturned. This shape floats on top of powder and lets beginners glide a bit more gracefully, with less chance of catching an edge and falling off balance. Snowboards with rocker also perform well in the park. In general, however, they have a tendency to wash out at high speeds. A user who posted a review of the Vandal on the K2 Snowboarding site finds the board's rocker shape less suited to hard-packed snow.The Salomon Pulse has flat or zero camber, which means it lies mostly flush with the ground and comes up only at the very tip and tail. The Good Ride warns that this means it doesn't have as much pop, or springiness. A Salomon rep points out in a Snowboards.net video that the snowboard's flat camber provides more stability and is intended to make this board easier to learn on. In any case, the Pulse represents an alternative to all the reverse camber out there among starter boards. It's ideal for beginners interested in getting comfortable on groomed runs and in the park. (Note that older versions of the Pulse and the Forum Recon feature traditional camber.)
Snowboard Base.The base or bottom of a snowboard is usually made from a polyethylene material called P-Tex using one of two methods. Polyethylene beads or pellets are melted down to create an extruded snowboard base. This solid base doesn't absorb wax very well, which makes it slower than a waxed board but nearly effortless to maintain. An extruded base is also easy to repair.To create a sintered snowboard base, the polyethylene is squeezed together under high pressure, creating a porous surface that can soak up wax. This makes the board faster and more durable -- but only if it's properly maintained. Boards with sintered bases are more expensive to buy and can require costly repairs. All the budget boards we've selected have extruded bases that are simple to maintain and repair, potentially saving riders even more money over the life of the boards.
Cheap Women's Snowboards, Cheap Kids Snowboards
It's important to buy a board that's the right size for your body and the style of snowboarding you prefer. For some riders, that can even mean choosing a cheap women's snowboard or cheap kids snowboard that's specifically designed for ladies or grommets (snowboard speak for young riders).
Snowboard Width.On snowboard size charts, width is a measure of the waist of the board, its narrowest part. For a proper fit, your toes should sit as close to the edge of the snowboard as possible. However, you don't want your toes or heels to drag in the snow when you lean the board forward and backward to steer. This can limit your turning ability or even throw you off balance. Generally, manufacturers produce each model in a variety of widths to accommodate riders with different size feet. Generally wider widths correspond with longer lengths, but you can find wide versions of some boards. For example, the 156 and 158 cm sizes of the Forum Recon come in two different widths. K2 produces both the Vandal and the Vandal Wide.Snowboard width also has performance implications, as narrow boards are more agile and wide boards are more stable and float better on powder. As a review of the Vandal Wide illustrates on the K2 Snowboarding site, users who don't have large feet will find a wide board heavy and unwieldy.
One of the key features of cheap women's snowboards is a narrower width to accommodate smaller feet. Cheap women's snowboards also account for other physiological differences, such as a lower center of gravity and smaller body mass.
The Salomon Lotus (starting at $200) is a versatile, cheap women's snowboard that's easy to handle and offers outstanding value, according to The Good Ride. The site's reviewers approve of the recent change to flat camber, which will help keep beginners from catching an edge. Experts at SB-RV say the Lotus is strictly a starter board, but it excels as such.
The Burton Genie (starting at $300) is a bit pricier, but reviewers seem to agree that it's worth the extra dough. In a video review, an expert from retailer The House praises the design, which features not only reverse camber but also a convex base to lift all the edges off the ground. That makes this relatively cheap Burton snowboard ideal for learning. A user who posted a review on the website of retailer Backcountry.com agrees that it's easy to control and likes the soft flex.