Alpine snowboarding

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An Alpine snowboarder executes a heel-side turn

Alpine snowboarding is a discipline within the sport of snowboarding.

It is typically practiced with hard plastic shelled boots called "hardboots" and carving or race-oriented snowboards. Loosely, it is the pursuit of snowboarding mostly on the ground, in the forward direction, with the primary goal of making clean, smooth turns. Freestyle snowboards ridden with soft boots are much more common. The term "alpine" has come to be mostly associated with snowboarding in hardboots, as they are the choice for people seeking the most efficient carved turn. Lately, the terms "Alpine Snowboarding" and "Hardboot Snowboarding", or just "Hardbooting" have become synonymous

Equipment[edit]

Alpine snowboards

Snowboards[edit]

Alpine snowboards are stiffer and narrower than freestyle or freeride boards. Alpine boards are often longer than other snowboards and vary in length from around 160 to over 200 cm ; they have shallower sidecut depth, resulting in a larger sidecut radius, typically in the range of nine meters for slalom boards to twenty-two metres for Super G boards. A larger sidecut radius facilitates carving turns at higher speeds. The smaller sidecut radius (slalom) results is carving tighter turns, some say at a slightly slower speed. For free carving many recreational experts have both GS and slalom style of boards to be used depending on the hill and crowd and snow conditions.

There are three main types of alpine snowboard: race, freecarve, and all-mountain.

  • Race
Race boards are used by experts for high speed, high precision carving. They are raced at the national and World Cup level in parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom, and at the Olympic level in parallel giant slalom. A few top level boardercross racers also ride alpine snowboards. Race boards are also commonly used recreationally by expert alpine snowboarders, or those seeking to become experts. Manufacturers of alpine boards typically offer slightly detuned versions of their race models in a standard "stock" range of sizes. They may also offer full professional race construction for a premium. This premium construction offers exotic build materials such as carbon fibre, rubber for dampening, metal such as titanal to give a more lively feeling ride and sometimes secret materials, particularly in the bottom or base which holds the wax. The premium construction can soak up the vibrations in the rough and create a feeling of energy when coming out of one turn and setting up for another.
  • Freecarve
Freecarve boards are built for carving on groomed trails. They resemble race boards, but are designed to be ridden recreationally, and typically at slower speeds than race boards. Depending on the style of riding, the board may be wider, allowing lower boot angles, often used for 'extreme carving' fully linked laid out turns; or may be narrower, allowing a more lively quicker to turn board.
  • All-Mountain
All-mountain boards are built to provide strong carving ability while allowing all-terrain riding. They are wider than race or freecarve boards, but still narrower than softboot boards (freestyle or freeride boards). All-mountain boards typically feature larger noses, to help accommodate loose or uneven snow, and they usually have rounded tails rather than the squared tails that are typical of race and freecarve boards.

Bindings[edit]

Alpine snowboards use plate bindings that are much stiffer than the common strap bindings found on most snowboards, although a range of bindings are available that offer varying degrees of stiffness. Plate binding closure systems employ either a manual closure lever at the toe, or a step-in closure at the heel. Manual bail bindings use a heel bail and a toe clip to hold the snowboard boot in place, a metal bail holds the boot down at the heel, and a toe clip lever is used to manually secure and release the binding. Step in bindings allow the user to insert their toe into a toe-bail, and then step down with their heel to engage the locking mechanism. Step-in bindings are released by pulling on a release cable that is threaded up the side of the boot. There are several different heel locking mechanisms for step-in bindings on the market but the patented F2 INTEC is the most popular.

Although step-in bindings provide the convenience of instantly binding to the snowboard without having to stop, sit-down, or even bend over they also provide a considerably stiffer connection to the snowboard than manual bail bindings do. Some riders (racers, in particular) tend to prefer the softer feel of manual bail bindings despite the convenience of step-in bindings, while some other users prefer their bindings as stiff as possible.

In recent years, binding design has advanced considerably, with regards to stiffness and adjustability. Some manufacturers have begun introducing elastomers of various thickness and hardness to the binding design, to allow for greater (or less) shock absorption, as well as to permit the binding to float over the board more softly.

Like common soft-boot snowboarding bindings, hardboot plate bindings allow the user to adjust binding angles, stance width, and position. However: plate bindings also allow a number of other precision adjustments not commonly found on common soft-boot snowboard bindings. Most plate bindings offer the ability to adjust heel lift, toe lift, canting, and bias. It is fairly common for an alpine snowboarder to put a bit of heel lift in the rear binding, and (or) a bit of toe lift in the front binding. As binding angles increase it is not uncommon to also see cant applied (where the binding is tilted one or two degrees medially or laterally). Depending upon binding manufacturer, lift and cant can be applied in three-degree increments, or in infinite increments. Bias is set by moving the toe and heel blocks of the bindings back and forward along the binding's length, allowing the rider to centre his or her feet over the board as precisely as possible.

Boots[edit]

Alpine snowboarders use boots with a hard plastic shell usually referred to as hardboots but which have somewhat more fore-aft ankle flexibility than ski boots. They also differ from ski boots in that the soles are beveled to avoid dragging in the snow during deep carves. Some people are turned off by snowboarding in hardboots because they assume the boots are uncomfortable, or not as warm as regular snowboard boots. Because of the design differences between ski boots and hard-shell snowboard boots - softer plastic, more fore-aft flex, and the more widespread use of heat moldable liners for hardshell snowboard boots - hardboots are often just as, if not more, comfortable than most softboots because they offer more support and do not use strap bindings which tend to put pressure on the top of people's feet when strapped in tight for more edge control.

Popular brands currently ridden by alpine snowboarders include Deeluxe (formerly Raichle), UPZ (formerly UPS), Head and a variety of older model boots including Burton and the Northwave brand, favoured by racers and extreme carvers despite now being 15+ years old. A number of riders also use ski boots, often modified to increase the forward flex.

Suspension-isolation plates[edit]

In the year leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, a number of individuals, companies, and snowboard teams developed special suspension plates to provide a layer of isolation between an alpine snowboarder's feet and the board while maintaining the ability to provide uncompromised edge pressure. These plates allow the snowboard to flex naturally beneath the feet (increasing grip) without disturbing one's stance, while improving leverage over the board. This is particularly beneficial when racing on a rutted-up race course, or when riding through chopped-up late afternoon snow. The 2010–2011 season will be the first year these plates are available to the recreational snowboarders, but they are largely thought to represent a tremendous increase in performance for all riders.[dated info]

Stance (boot and binding setup)[edit]

The distinguishing characteristic of an alpine snowboard stance is relatively aggressive binding angles. Most snowboarders riding soft-boots tend to ride binding angles anywhere from -5°/+15° (rear/front) to 5°/20° and anywhere in between—whereas an average stance for an alpine snowboarder might be from 45°/50° to 55°/60°. A few alpine snowboarders who prefer very narrow boards will run angles as high as 75°. Alpine snowboarding stances tend to be highly individual, based upon such factors as technique, physiology, equipment, riding style, and personal preference. Small adjustments to an alpine snowboarding stance can yield dramatic effects, so riders tend to adjust their stance slowly over a long period of time. Considerations taken into account are as follows:

Binding angles: Binding angles are generally set by the board's width: you set the rider's angles such that the rider's toes and heels end just above the boards edge but without going over it. For this reason, riders with smaller feet tend to prefer narrower snowboards while riders with larger feet tend to prefer wider boards. As a rule, the front binding angle is set slightly higher than the rear, usually by five degrees. A small number of riders prefer very high binding angles and ride extra-narrow snowboards to accommodate this, although the trend has been towards lower angles in recent years. If the toes or heels overhang the edge of the board by any more than a few millimeters then this overhang will cause you to boot out a low carve - causing a crash. If the toes are too far inside the edge of the board you have under-hang, which will rob you of edge pressure and make the board difficult to control and balance in a turn.

Stance width: Stance width varies dramatically from rider to rider, although it could be said that stances have generally gotten wider over the years. Depending upon height, board length, and riding style one might choose a stance width from 18" to 23" wide. A wider stance tends to provide increased power and stability, whereas a narrower stance will provide increased "twitch" maneuverability at lower speeds. There are several formulas for determining what the correct stance width is for any individual:

  • distance from the floor to the middle of the kneecap
  • multiply pants inseam by 0.607.

These formulas should only be used as starting points - ultimately, stance width is determined by what feels most natural to the rider and provides the greatest range of power and control.

Lift and cant: Lift can be applied to either the heel of the rear foot, and/or the toe of the front foot. Lift is never applied to the heel of the front foot or the toe of the rear boot. Lift can serve two different purposes: to offload weight from one foot to another, and/or to widen one's stance beyond what might normally be comfortable. Three degrees of lift in both the rear and front foot will allow for a wider stance while maintaining the same load on both feet. Six degrees of lift on the rear foot will offload weight onto the front foot, and also allow for a wider stance. Lift is usually applied with some degree of canting, so that the overall effect is to tilt the legs in line with the long axis of the snowboard. How much lift and how much cant is applied is often a factor of how high one's binding angles are.

Bias: Bias is set by shifting the boot forward or backwards in the bindings, to center the rider's toes and heels directly over the boards edge for maximum power transfer. Some people like to bias their front foot slightly towards the heel, and the rear foot slightly forward towards the toe. Others prefer to bias their front foot slightly towards the toe edge, and the rear foot slightly towards the heel edge. This is known by some as the Jack Offset. However, many riders prefer that the toes and heels on both boots be centred directly over the edge of the board.

Boot cuff adjustments: Most alpine snowboarding hardboots feature adjustable boot cuffs. The cuff can be adjusted to allow for softer or firmer forward flex, and neutral position of the cuff (cuff angle) can be adjusted forward or back. Typically, the rear cuff is adjusted to be somewhat more forward than the front cuff — which is nearly always straight up. Boot cuff angle adjustments are sometimes carried out in tandem with heel lift adjustments. Stiffening the boot cuff will make the rider's boots more supportive, (which is useful when carving at higher speeds) but it will also make the board somewhat harder to handle at low speeds.

Notable Alpine Snowboarders[edit]

  • Austria Siegfried Grabner - multiple champion in ISF and FIS Series, Olympic bronze medalist and 16 years (by 2010) in professional Snowboarding, most importantly producer of SG Snowboards supporting his own SG Pro Team, the only international Brand "PRO TEAM" left in alpine snowboarding.
  • Canada Jasey-Jay Anderson - The reigning Olympic Champion and World Champion in Men's PGS. The first Alpine snowboarder to win an Olympic title on home soil (Men's parallel GS at Vancouver 2010).
  • Netherlands Nicolien Sauerbreij - The reigning Olympic Champion and World Champion in Women's PGS. The first ever Dutch athlete to win a medal in an Olympic snow event (Women's parallel GS at Vancouver 2010).
  • Switzerland Philipp Schoch - The first snowboarder ever to defend his Olympic title (winning the PGS in 2002 and 2006).
  • United States Chris Klug - The only person to win an Olympic medal after receiving an organ transplantation.
  • France Karine Ruby - Two time Olympic medallist (Gold in the Giant Slalom in 1998 and silver in the PGS in 2002).
  • Canada Ross Rebagliati - First ever Olympic champion in snowboarding.
  • United Kingdom Seal (musician) - Famous singer SEAL is a hardboot rider.

External links[edit]