Standing sideways while sliding down a snow-covered slope is a true lifestyle. Some may call snowboarding a sport, others a leisure activity, and the curmudgeons amongst us may call it a waste of time. But for those who call it a passion, it is so much more than what one can describe in words. Born out of a desire to mimic surfing and/or skateboarding in the mountains, snowboarding has matured from a counterculture symbol to its own industry, with a rich history, culture, and heroes who continue to push the limits.
Along with the riders who push the sport, we have brands who have helped shape snowboarding’s direction and provided a vehicle for riders to pursue their dreams to the fullest. With so many options on the market, and new brands cropping up every winter, deciding which brands to trust with your experience in the mountains can be tough. Which ones are in it for the love and want to see the sport progress? Which brands are true to their roots and which ones are simply shelling out marketing fluff? How can one tell which snowboard brands are the best?
As a snowboarder for the past 25 years, as well as a coach, guide, and gear editor, I’ve tried nearly every brand of snowboard gear out there. I have put my equipment to the ultimate test through the decades, and over time, I’ve discovered the cream that has risen to the top.
The following is a subjective list based on my personal experience with the best snowboard brands out there. None of these brands have paid me for my opinion. Anything good that I have to say about them is based on my own experience over the years and decades of loving to shred gear that works well. So let’s get to it:
The Best Snowboard Brands
A True Dynasty: Burton
Legendary Team: LibTech
Sustainable From The Start: Arbor
Rider-Driven Innovation: ThirtyTwo
Doing it for the Love: RIDE
Progression Defined: Jones
Back to (True) Life: Forum
Doing Business Differently: Nitro
Keeping it Close to Home: Never Summer
The Best Brand You’ve Never Heard Of: Dupraz
Most Innovative Bindings: Now
The Inclusive Factory: Nidecker
Editor’s Note: For in-depth reviews of the top snowboard gear in the industry, check out our guides to: The Best Snowboard Jackets, The Best Snowboard Pants, The Best Snowboard Goggles, The Best Snowboard Mittens, The Best Snowboard Boots, The Best Snowboard Socks, and The Best Snowboard Bags. Looking to protect your head? We’ve reviewed Ski and Snowboard Helmets, too.
A True Dynasty
Known For: Jake Burton and his empire.
Signature Products: Burton Custom snowboard, Burton Cartel bindings
Notable Team Riders: Craig Kelly (RIP), Mark McMorris, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, Danny Davis, and many more.
It’s hard to talk about snowboard brands without giving a nod to the late Jake Burton’s dynasty of success as a leader in the sport. Whether being one of the first brands to have a paid team of shredders (including big-mountain pioneer Craig Kelly) to their recent annual gathering of Culture Shifters spearheaded by Zeb Powell, Selema Masekela, and others, Burton continues to be at the forefront of snowboarding culture. Love them or hate them, the company knows how to make a great snowboard and everything that goes along with it.
Still a family business despite Jake’s voyage into the afterlife, the company holds true to its roots of making solid snowboarding products that last. Some may criticize their position of influence but the reality is, they know how to produce equipment that performs at the highest levels. And you’d be hard pressed to find a podium without at least one Burton team rider on it. The brand is integral to snowboarding’s history, and helped it become what it is now through amazing R&D and a talented crew of people who love snowboarding and want to make it better.Browse Burton Boards Browse Burton Boots
Growing up on the slopes of Mount Baker, LibTech was as local as it gets. Hailing from Washington’s Olympic peninsula, the brand started in the early ’90s and Baker was the local haunt to most of the crew there. I realize now how spoiled I really was. People like Matt Cummins and Jamie Lynn were familiar faces that didn’t have the fanfare of today’s shredders – they simply loved to ride and their efforts helped create some of the most standout boards in the industry.
Then, in the early 2000s, a young rider with a bright future joined the LibTech team. That young rider was Travis Rice, a man you’ve probably have heard of if you have any interest in snowboarding. His vision helped shape one of LT’s most standout models – the Orca. But Travis is one rider in a long line of legends who may not have his fame, but their ability to shred is right up there with the greats.
The company still holds true to its roots, manufacturing its boards at home in Washington and has now branched out into skis, surfboards, wake surf boards, and more. The factory, Mervin, is also home to GNU (of which LibTech originally spun off of), and boasts a zero-hazardous waste output – certainly an environmentally responsible vibe. So beyond shredding hard, they care about Mama Earth.Browse LibTech on Evo
Sustainable From The Start
Sustainability is so hot right now. It’s hard to find a company out there that doesn’t at least mention efforts to do positive strides to help improve the health of our planet. But that wasn’t always the case. Thirty years ago, the idea of a sustainable snowboard brand simply didn’t exist. Moreover, it wasn’t on the tip of consumer’s tongues and it didn’t really matter whether or not a company cared about their environmental footprint. But the founders of Arbor did.
Founders Bob Carlson and Chris Jensen started Arbor after their first business selling reclaimed Koa building materials went under. Being locals of Santa Monica and growing up in the heyday of Dogtown’s legendary Z-Boys, the duo saw a gap in the snowboard industry where most of the marketing was geared to the urban scene.
“There was nothing that really matched the vibe of being in the mountains,” Carlson said. And so Arbor snowboards (and later skateboards) began. Over the past 28 years, they have created new ways to produce snowboards using wood veneer as a top sheet, which had unbeknown side effects such as better response and strength compared to plastic. “We never got in the way of anybody else doing it,” he continued. “We never patented anything we created around how we made our snowboards or skateboards. But whenever you see a patent around an environmental solution, you can be sure that that person is not a real environmentalist.”
And it’s not just marketing hype. The brand attracts some of the world’s top riders, namely Brian Iguchi and Marie-France Roy, proud team members who believe in the company’s ethos. But it’s more than the athletes, and the company prides itself on everyone being an integral part of the experience. The new GM, Matt Patti, started in Arbor’s warehouse over 20 years ago and recently returned after a stint with Vans as the brand category manager there. Now, back where he started, he’s leading the crew into developing more awesome boards, more eco-friendly tech, and a team that does incredible work both on and off the snow.Browse Arbor on REI
Known For: Rider-driven innovations, partnerships with companies such as Michelin for Soles and Intuition liners.
Signature Products: MTB Splitboard Boot, Lashed boot
Notable Team Riders: Jeremy Jones, JP Walker, Elena Hight
You can probably count on one hand the number of brands that started out with snowboard boots as a main offering. And you can count on one finger which one of those has lasted nearly 30 years. ThirtyTwo, that’s who.
Snowboard boots have a notoriously short lifespan. Over time, the constant beating that happens when shredding at top speed in sub-zero temps while locked into bindings does a number on soft boots. Yet for the dozen or so pairs of ThirtyTwo boots I’ve ridden, I can anecdotally say that ThirtyTwo boots outlast them all. I even took a pair on an expedition in the Yukon at 19,000 feet where my feet stayed comfortable for nearly a month. And it wasn’t even the brand’s premium model – it was the series ThirtyTwo made for the park staff at Mount Seymour. Call me crazy, but it turned out to be the right call as my feet were warm while others on the trip complained about their feet.
The brand is a branch of Sole Technology where Etnies and other brands are its siblings. This means ThirtyTwo has a much deeper pool to draw on for R&D, and have done so since 1995. But the company always has, and always will-be, rider driven in its innovations. “We were doing a lot of conferences and focus groups,” says Brian Cook, ThirtyTwo’s global brand director. “We would take people on all-expense paid trips to get their honest feedback for 3-5 days. When you take someone on a trip to go snowboarding and you have nothing but a whole line of new boots you get to hear all the pros and cons. And over the last 10, 15, 20 years, we’ve just listened to a lot of buyers, riders, and just snowboard enthusiasts, and we’ve made all the tweaks.”
Tweaking is what they do best, and even big-mountain legend Jeremy Jones took notice and signed onto the roster. Since he’s been on the team the company dove head first into developing the ideal splitboarding boot, with innovations such as a walk mode for faster and easier skinning, a lace guard to keep it from freezing up, and Vibram outsoles to give riders the best in comfort and durability. On the other side of the equation is the Bandito, designed in collaboration with surfboard shaper Chris Christensen, to give riders the feeling of surfing in a boot. I tried these last year and they were some of the most fun days I had all season, especially when tossing up rooster tails in the spring slush.Browse ThirtyTwo Boots Online
Doing it for the Love
RIDE snowboards has been around for 30 years. That’s enough time to witness the massive arc of hype that saw more than a few companies fall by the wayside. Back in the ’90s, the brand was one of the first to really invest in a team of jibbers, giving hope to the flatlanders in the Midwest and eastern regions that you don’t need to crush big-mountain lines to be considered a snowboarder. With team riders Mikey Leblanc, Jason Ford, and a host of other rag-tag, doing-it-for-the-love freestylers, the RIDE team was more about the lifestyle than stacking contest wins. The brand’s main M.O. was to go out, have fun, get good footage, and make a mark on the industry.
And so it did – even becoming the the industry’s first publicly traded stock that some people got quite rich off of. But as fast as the stock rose, it came crashing down – and trouble ensued. RIDE was on life support. While many other brands in the late ’90s faded into oblivion, the RIDE got a chance to reclaim its spot by merging with K2, giving them the much-needed capital to stay above water. In doing so they brought Mikey Leblanc back into the fold, setting the stage for what would be their next era.
As a sibling in the K2 Sports family, the brand has the backing of investors who have a true love of the sport and what it stands for. But like any good younger sibling, RIDE sets themselves apart by being loud and proud about who they are. RIDE stayed true to its roots of what snowboarding originally stood for; a rebellious rejection of the status quo of skiing and the pretentiousness that traditionally came with it. Now with a team of today’s top riders, they continue to push the sport with solid products and a simple ethos: reject norms and go snowboarding – because it’s too much fun not to.Browse Ride on Evo
Known For: Innovative shapes and raising the bar for splitboards.
Signature Products: Jones Flagship Snowboard, Shralpinist Jacket, Hovercraft 2.0 Snowboard
Notable Team Riders: Jeremy Jones (obviously), Robin Van Gyn, Forrest Shearer
Jeremy Jones has arguably done more for backcountry snowboarding than anyone else with the exception of Craig Kelly. But Jeremy comes from a different era altogether, one where snowboarding already had a foothold on the world’s attention and was closing in on its peak popularity. But to say that Jones Snowboards has helped backcountry snowboarders ride better and access some of the world’s burliest lines on a snowboard is minimizing the brand’s impact.
With Jones at the helm, the brand innovates new shapes year after year. The Hovercraft has become many people’s go-to for charging big lines, and has been redesigned from the bottom up for this year. The Mind Expander has helped riders look at familiar lines with a whole new riding style that takes a bit to get used to, but once you do, it’s game on.
The company continues to set standards in environmental responsibility, with its outerwear and snowboards featuring recycled material. They have also promised a new level in longevity of materials and a board’s life cycle, by recycling old boards and implementing into new shapes. Reup Tech will forever change the legacy of snowboards, allowing boards to stay out of landfills and live a new life in Jones’ boards, starting this year with their newly-reinvented Hovercraft 2.0.Browse Jones on Evo
Back to (True) Life
Everyone loves a good comeback story. This particular comeback story has just begun, with a promising future. Those who are old enough to remember the turn of the millennium will have fond memories of FORUM snowboards. Even if you never rode one of their boards, chances are you or one of your friends had worn out one of their classic snowboard flicks by legendary filmer Mike McEntire, AKA Mack Dawg Productions. The hard-hitting, mind-blowing segments now hold legendary status, and are integral to the brand.
Peter Line was one of the team riders and founders of the brand. “We founded the brand in 1996,” he told me. “We had a vision to create a company that was more team focused with riders all pushing different aspects of progressive freestyle. Each rider would stand alone with their unique style and strengths. When brought together, they would drive one another and represent something much greater.” And so the FORUM 8 was born, and legend has it, they were the finest collection of shredders ever amassed on a team.
Were they truly the best? It depends on who you ask, but word around the retail circuit is that they are the number one asked-about brand in shops these days. And that’s after a nearly 10 year hiatus, and nearly 20 years after selling to Burton. Burton didn’t have the bandwidth to nurture the brand and let it die on the vine in 2014. Then, in a grace of good fortune, an offer came through to Peter, Mike, and Jeremy Jones (The jibber, not the splitboarder) to revive FORUM and they couldn’t turn their backs on it.
Now the brand has resurrected into a new era, and are not trying to steer the massive ship that is the snowboarding industry, but add some wind to the sails. “FORUM has always been about collective energy,” Line said. “We believe the progression of snowboarding will dictate FORUM’s future.” And so, last year they came out with their first offerings: two snowboards and outerwear, the latter designed by Line himself who has a bit of experience in the field. I tried the jacket last year and was impressed with the little details; from the ideal amount of stretch to perfect elbow geometry, and even to a new zipper that made it easier to zip your jacket with gloves on. If FORUM’s bright future is as influential as its past, we’re in for a fun ride.Visit Forum
Doing Business Differently
Back when Nitro founder Thomas Delago started, he wasn’t too concerned about style. “It really was that ’80s fun vibe,” he said. “Really crazy bright clothes…there was no coolness factor. I think what was really good was that the general vibe was positive. It was impossible to be uncool… because nobody was cool.”
My, how times have changed. As snowboarding got its grip on pop culture, coolness was paramount, especially when marketing departments and ad agencies tried to capitalize on the sport’s newness. But maybe because Thomas was from a small Bavarian town out of the limelight, he was able to sneak past all the hype and build a snowboard brand out of the radical idea that snowboarding should be fun.
Along the way, Nitro notched a ton of firsts that the brand is proud of including the first women’s pro model and the first adjustable three-piece binding, never mind the accolades of the team riders over those years. Nitro is also one of the only brands to not sell direct to consumers, instead trusting on its network of retailers to spread the good word and make sure it isn’t cutting out the ever-so-important middlemen (and women) who are often Nitro’s biggest fans.
Now in its fourth decade, it seems like Nitro knows a thing or two about having fun and has recruited a few of the most fun riders out there along. Being that work and fun often collide, the company lives true to its ideals and makes working at the brand more about the lifestyle than punching a clock. The company has no headquarters, as it’s a remote workforce of only 18 people running the show. As a privately held company, they have a bit more leeway to push boundaries and see where they can take it with little retaliation from investors and bean-counters getting in the way. As such, Nitro has made some innovative products with a loyal following that support them every step of the way.Browse Nitro Snowboards on Evo
Keeping It Close To Home
Known For: The headquarters and factory being in the same place.
Signature Products: Proto Synthesis Snowboard, triple camber edge tech
Notable Team Riders: Dylan Alito, Sam Anderson
There are very few brands whose factory and headquarters are in the same place, especially in the U.S. But Never Summer prides itself on the fact that the design, manufacturing, and testing process are all within a snowball’s throw of each other in Denver, Colorado. OK, maybe the testing grounds are a bit further, but any time you can test a board hot off the press on a single gas tank, it’s worth noting. The crew at Never Summer has been doing this for 32 years, and have lived to tell the tale.
NS boards have always been some of the toughest out there, standing not only the test of time but the test of constant beatings in conditions that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. Their latest innovation is the Triple Camber Edge, which alleges to be the grippiest edge no matter the conditions. Just check the video below to see how serious it really is. Could you hold an edge like that in the middle of a lake? Probably not, but let’s hope you’re not snowboarding in similar conditions.Browse Never Summer on Evo
The Best Brand You’ve Never Heard Of
Known For: The D1 shape that hasn’t changed since 2003
Signature Products: The D1 Snowboard
Notable Team Riders: The old dogs at the Creekside Gondola
If you haven’t heard of Dupraz, you aren’t alone. But those who have ridden on one of his boards will often become devoted converts to the oversized, giant-nosed shape that founder Serge Dupraz claims is the perfect board.
Hailing from the French Alps, Dupraz wanted to mimic the feeling of surfing on snow. While many snowboards pay homage to the idea that snowboarding and surfing are cousins, Dupraz considers his snowboards to actually be surfboards for snow – so much so, in fact, that his boards are measured in feet and inches just like their ocean-borne brethren.
The D1 model supposedly reached perfection in 2003 – the year that Serge settled on a shape that has now been unchanged for two decades. Varying only in stiffness and length, the D1 lives up to the hype. I, myself, have converted many-a-friend who once scoffed at the giant nose on the board, asking me how one could ride such a thing. “Just try it,” is all I say, and soon thereafter, many have crossed over.
Getting a board is the hardest part, as Dupraz only does limited runs and by the time the stack of North American purchase orders come across his desk, there isn’t much left. It might seem counterintuitive to tell even more people about the boards, thus reducing supply, but I’m hoping that with enough encouragement, the Dupraz line can press a few more boards to try and quench the insatiable thirst for a snowboard that can literally go anywhere, do anything, and fly down the mountain with speed, float, and precision.Browse Dupraz
Most Innovative Bindings
Bindings had a slow development curve compared to boards and boots over the years. Sure, they became lighter and stronger, but true innovation came at a snail’s pace. That is, until JF Pelchat, the Canadian legend from the Wildcats crew, developed skate tech found in NOW’s bindings from his garage in Whistler. Using a central pivot that mimics the same vectors of physics as the trucks on a skateboard, the bindings flex and pivot where others don’t, giving you a more natural transition from edge to edge.
The result is a cleaner, more effortless ride, and I’ve been hooked for years. Nowadays, other brands (such as Jones) have taken notice and put their own label on NOW’s tech. I’ve ridden the Drive bindings for the past six seasons and they are as good as it gets with the perfect combination of strength and responsiveness. But you really can’t go wrong with any of NOW’s offerings, and it’s well worth a dance to feel the difference yourself.Now Bindings on Evo
The Inclusive Factory
Nidecker was founded in 1887 when Henri Nidecker started building wheels on the Swiss shores of Lake Geneva. Henri’s son, also Henri, as well as his grandson, also named Henri – began to build skis out of the shop as the 20th century wore on. Then, in 1984, Henri the IV began their quest to make the best possible snowboards, which they have been doing ever since.
But that’s not the only thing the brand does. Now with Henri IV passed on, his 3 sons Henry, Xavier, and Cedric run the show for much more than the Nidecker brand. They also provide the resources to make Yes., Jones, and Now Bindings a reality, while letting the leadership of those brands innovate as they see fit. But with a guiding light of envioronmental responibility, they build boards that last and run well, whether it has the Nidecker name on it or not. In fact, through the Jones label, they have revolutionized the life cycle of a snowboard with the introduction of ReUp Tech, ensuring that an old board can live a new life by being recycled into a brand new board.
Their products also are some of the finest quality crafted products on the market, as has become the standard in most Swiss-made gear. Whether boots, bindings, pow surfers, or just good old snowboards, Nidecker is the cream of the crop with a family of brands that benefit from their innovations.See Nidecker on Evo
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.