Flexible vs. Stiff Snowboard

Low angle view of a man snowboarding

Snowboards vary widely in flexibility, or flex as it’s known by snowboard manufacturers and vendors. There is no one degree of flex that’s “right” for all snowboarders. The decision about buying a more rigid and less flexible board over one that has more give -- side-to-side, tip-to-tail or both -- depends on a wide array of factors, including your level of experience and how you plan to use your snowboard.

Longitudinal Flex

A snowboard’s flexibility from the front tip of the board to its tail is known as longitudinal flex. According to REI, this measure of a board’s give is the most critical gauge of snowboard flexibility and has the greatest effect on performance. To measure longitudinal flex, put the snowboard’s tail on a soft -- preferably carpeted -- surface. To mimic the pressure your feet will apply to the board, wrap one of your arms around the board’s upper mount. Supporting the board at a 45-degree angle, use your other arm to press down on the lower mount. The less responsive the board is to this pressure, the greater its degree of stiffness.

Torsional Flex

Torsional flex refers to the degree of give a snowboard has across its width -- from one side of the board to another -- and generally has somewhat less effect on a board’s overall performance than longitudinal flex. A snowboard that has greater torsional flexibility allows you to make sharper turns with greater ease, according to ABC-of-Snowboarding. Conversely, a board that is rigid along its torsional axis requires greater effort to execute a turn. To get a quick idea of a snowboard’s torsional flex, place the tail of the board on a soft, nonabrasive surface, putting a foot on either side of the board to hold it in place. Then grasp the board’s tip in both hands and firmly twist in opposite directions. A board with soft torsional flex will be more responsive to this pressure than one that is stiff.

Flexible Boards

Because a flexible snowboard is easy to turn and more forgiving, softer boards are a smart choice for beginning and freestyle boarders, according to REI. Soft boards also work well for lighter-weight riders and those who prefer to do most of their boarding in terrain parks. A flexible board makes it easy for terrain park riders to set up jumps by using their bindings to manipulate the board’s flex. Flexible boards are understandably more sensitive to user input, so you might want to opt for a softer board if you plan to board primarily on softer or bumpier snow surfaces, according to Tactics.

Stiff Boards

Veteran snowboarders and free-riders -- also known as all-mountain snowboarders -- generally prefer more rigid boards, which provide greater grip when turning and are better at holding an edge when quickly descending a hill, according to REI. Rigid boards also are better for heavier boarders and won’t wash out at high speeds as quickly as softer boards. While flexible boards perform more responsively on soft and bumpy surfaces, the edge-gripping properties of stiff boards make them preferable for riding groomed slopes and deeper powder, according to Tactics.