We test a lot of snowboards here at WL, and by that we definitely mean a lot. Reviewing north of 500 products a year sees our team attending a fair few board tests through the winter, with La Clusaz’s Avant Premiere and Kaunertal’s Spring Break events often book-ending our test team’s seasons. Over time we’ve become accustomed to seeing various staples in each brand’s line that appear every winter, as regularly as the seasons change.
"Don’t call them comebacks, they’ve been here for years"
We’re talking about the ‘modern classics’ of snowboarding, shapes that do their job so well they remain largely unchanged each time we see the new topsheet. Brand reps might mumble about a sidewall material or composite layer that’s new for this year, but the whole point of these rides is that they go largely unchanged because when you clip into them you know what you’re going to get, because they’re that good.
We covered this topic a few years ago in the mag, looking at classics of the time like the Ride DH and Endeavour Color, but coming into the 2017/18 season here’s an in-depth gaze at the new kids on the block, boards that have helped shape snowboarding into what it is today over the last five years or so. Don’t call them comebacks, they’ve been here for years.
The Ride Helix
It wasn't exactly the most popular move when Ride announced they were canning the beloved DH and DH2 back in 2014 - they were some of the most sought after cambered park boards going at the time when rockered shapes were really kicking off. But when the replacement - the Helix - hit the scene it was love at first sight.
"We went so far as to make it our all mountain snowboard of the year, despite the fact that it's a park board"
Essentially, they took the DH's innards, added a little rocker at the tip and tail and made it asymmetrical - meaning the heel edge has a deeper sidecut than the toes, but otherwise it remains a true twin - before trimming the ends into a shape that made people damn sure it's an asym, as well as giving it its classic outline.
Introduced with a special collab graphic from hipster design agency akomplice, we loved it straight away, and in its second year even went so far as to make it our all mountain snowboard of the year, despite the fact that it's a park board. It not only handles but rips any terrain thrown at it, from rails to pow fields. For something with a flex pattern as playful as this it still blitzes through turns and for our money is still one of the best boards out there. Just be careful if you try and stand it up outside the bar...
The YES 420
Whilst the rest of the snowboard industry were wetting themselves over rocker tech, YES quietly started working on something a bit different, a bit special. Something that would revolutionise powder board design. Introducing... the 420.
"Not only does the 420 float like nobody's business in the soft stuff, it's also a hell of a lot of fun on groomers"
Inspired by ÄSMO's pow surfer designs and the likes of old Terry Kidwell pro models, YES brought short boards to big mountains by revolutionising their sidecut design, tightening the radius and giving it a taper that makes full use of every millimetre available. Critically, not only does the 420 float like nobody's business in the soft stuff, it's also a hell of a lot of fun on groomers, turning on a dime and holding an edge.
Like the Jones Hovercraft, it's also inspired a couple of other versions in the YES range. First, the 2020 took short board idea and turned it into a twin using their SWS Factory's wakeboard experience to add the 'Powder Hull', something that really has to be ridden to be believed. Then the tech came back to the 420, meaning you can also pick up an extra floaty model if you so desire.
Yup, if you've ridden on anything in the last few years that mentions 'volume shifting' somewhere in the catalogue you've got Romain and the gang to thank, as good a reason as any to include the YES 420 amongst the modern classics. Not only that, but it still stands tall amongst those it's inspired with that simple base graphic and light blue topsheet still on the 148 model even though these days it comes in multiple sizes - you can always spot it in a lineup. This year's look is probably our favourite yet, the lightning bolt marking one of our all time favourites here at WL HQ.
The Jones Hovercraft
Whilst some say it might not be such a coincidence that after Jeremy Jones came up with the iconic directional shape of the Hovercraft after visiting the Gentemstick showroom in Hirafu, Japan, it’s hard to argue against this board being worthy of a place in this list. In fact, it was seeing that gorgeous wooden topsheet and subtle swallowtail, almost unchanged again that sparked the idea for revisiting this theme in the first place.
"The float this thing has is unreal, but the magic happens when you take it to the pistes"
One of the first boards to take traditional camber and merge it with new rocker technology in the nose, the float this thing has is unreal, but the magic happens when you take it to the pistes and realise how well it carves on hard pack as well. It’s no surprise that it gained popularity around the same time that snowboarding’s first generations started needing something a little friendlier than a stiff, cambered twin to enjoy the mountain.
No surprises then that whilst Jones have introduced a raft of different versions of the Hovercraft - this coming winter there’s a super-duper carbon version, the Ultracraft, splitboard versions of both and a women-specific model - the design has stayed relatively unchanged, even down to the graphics. Simple is as simple does, this is a true modern classic.
The CAPiTA Defenders Of Awesome
The year after the movie of the same name saw the CAPiTA Defenders Of Awesome board hit the scene, hard. The sticking original graphics were collages of members of the all-girl Scandi black metal band Sorceress, who also released a book entitled 'Defenders of Awesome in Ancient Scandinavia', given away for free with every DOA sold. Since then the topsheet 'babes' have become less about death metal girl power and more based on exploitation cinema with graphics paying homage to films like Death Proof, Spring Breakers and Planet Terror.
"It's a favourite amongst seasonaires that want that one board to last them for a winter"
But it's not just racy graphics that have propelled the DOA into a modern icon - like the Ride Helix it's one of the few boards that genuinely excels all over the mountain, making it a favourite amongst seasonaires that want that one board to last them for a winter. It couples a playful flex with a cambered profile that flattens out the base at the contact points, meaning it still bites when you want but won't punish you for landing a backside 540 a little squirrely.
Even with CAPiTA's production now moved to their own Mothership factory in Austria, not a lot has changed for the DOA other than swapping out a few materials. In their own words, "it may not be necessary to spend our time trying to improve perfection." But when you're on to a winning formula, why change? That is the definition of a classic after all.
The Burton Flight Attendant
Yes, the Burton range has plenty of boards that be chalked up as classics, but we'd like to make a special case for the Flight Attendant - the only board bar the Fish that has stayed present in the turbulent Family Tree line since its inception. Good thing too as it's a corker, nailing the trick the very best powder boards pull of by being equally at home on and off piste, achieving this with an absolutely nails tapered sidecut and one of the best camber between the feet/rocker in the nose profiles we've ridden.
No surprises really, as the board was originally designed by none other than Nicholas Müller, right before he jumped ship to GNU. It speaks volumes about how good this thing is that Burton didn't bin it immediately - this year there's even a new splitboard version to accompany it (spoiler alert, it's as good as the real deal).
"When we asked him what it was like he simply replied 'I was on a Flight Attendant.' 'Nuff said"
Whilst the graphics change depending on the general theme of the Family Tree rather than in keeping with its own lineage, you can spot a FA out of a line up with ease - the shape of the big, spooned nose is a dead giveaway, and it's always a scrap within our test team each year as to who gets to take it out.
In fact, it was the board our esteemed editor finished out the season on during a May powder day in Kaunertal. When we asked him what it was like he simply replied "I was on a Flight Attendant." 'Nuff said.
The Lobster Park Board
There's rarely been a buzz around a snowboard brand before launch as big as the one that surrounded Lobster Snowboards in the 2010/11 season. With Eiki and Halldor Helgason both rocking the now classic LObStER base graphics before any sort of official announcement, and then the release of two ultra-offensive versions of the same boards (now annually known as the 'Special Additions'), the hype was huge.
"The graphics alone merit the Park Board's place in the snowboarding hall of fame"
Seven years later and both the original boards are still going strong - the Jib Board and the Park Board. We've chosen the latter for this list, but to be honest either would have been more than worthy. It was originally Halldor's board before the brothers developed pro models out of the line - the one the infamous lobster flip was hucked about on at Air + Style - and for our money the one that rides best over the whole mountain. Triple Base really came into its own around the same time this launched and on here it ironed out rutted pistes, turned rusted rails into buttery boxes and even floated a little too if you managed to score some pow. Still does today.
But even if it didn't ride as well as it does, the graphics alone merit the Park Board's place in the snowboarding hall of fame, from the aforementioned base it launched with, the 'Troublemaker' first secret graphic, the ill-famed RV Juice, Trexunicornfathumanpig and Biker Penguins to collabs with the Party Snake crew - these boards take risks akin to skateboarding that are rare to find elsewhere in the snowboard world these days. Just like the Helgasons.
The Salomon Gypsy
By far the longest running of our chosen classics, the Salomon Gypsy has managed to stay both bang on trend and instantly recognisable with each year - you can look at the range of graphics above and see the evolution of design over the last decade or so. Does one of them stand out in particular? Oh yeah, the 2013/14 model is the one Jenny Jones took home Olympic bronze with in Sochi.
"When you're competing at that kind of level, you need something under your feet that you can trust"
When you're competing at that kind of level, you need something under your feet that you can trust, and with the Gypsy that's what we hear from our female test team every time one goes out. As inspiring as Jone's and Desiree Melancon's feats are, the board seems to give them the same confidence, with its 'Rock Out' hybrid camber profile providing catch-free stability and playful responsiveness all over the mountain.
So why does the Salomon Gypsy round out our modern classics? Simple, it's proud to be itself and encourages female riders to be the same.