The Pacific Northwest is known throughout the world as having just about the deepest powder anywhere. Home to legendary resorts like Mt. Baker, Stevens Pass, and Crystal Mountain, the area's mountains stack up more snow than any other in North America year after year. Of course, like anywhere, there are hidden gems…like Alpental. Sister resort to Summit at Snoqualmie, "Alpy" sits in a quiet corner of the Cascade Range. This seemingly small hill, which has five lifts (one of which is a magic carpet) packs a punch. 435 inches blankets Alpental's 2,280 feet of vertical annually, where you'll find in-bounds pillow lines, spines, and cliffs. Oh, and if that isn't enough, through the mountain's two backcountry gates you have access to 523 acres of some of the best off-piste riding in the States. Yeah…it's legit. With the assignment to test a dozen powder boards, it was obvious that Alpental needed to be the proving grounds. Guided by local legend Krush Kulesza, we hit the spots, and it was everything we could have hoped for to put each model through the wringer. Here is an assortment of the best powder boards on the market, tested and approved by SNOWBOARDER Magazine. —AXIS MEDIA
#1 K2 GYRATOR 158
Alpine Lab Seal of Approval: Regular or switch, the Gyrator is effortless to ride. Center your bindings and let 'er rip!
CAMBER: Super reverse.
Since the eighties, the Gyrator has gone through a few facelifts. The modern version has an extreme reverse-cambered tip and tail for squiggling through the deepest snow you can find. K2's Harshmellow pads beneath the bindings help dampen any vibration when you drop a cliff and your only way out is to bomb through chop. We've never ridden a board that was a fun as the Gyrator.
Tight: Out of the wrapper, the Gyrator has pow legs, even if you don't.
Loose: On hardpack, she's a bit squirrely…but hey, it's a powder board.
#2 BATALEON OMNI 158
CAMBER: Good, old-fashioned camber.
Riding Bataleon's Omni is an incredible experience. Triple Base Technology helps the deck swivel about its axis quickly and controllably (like a rockered board), and good 'ol camber finishes it off, making it a perfect all-mountain board. Turn initiation is a breeze, and the profile of the Triple Base (dished tip and tail) allows the Omni to roll easily from edge-to-edge, making a tree line feel more like Pipeline.
Tight: The Omni's slightly narrow shape and Triple Base tip and tail create an unbelievably nimble powder experience.
Loose: If you've got big feet, shop carefully.
#3 NEVER SUMMER SUMMIT 161
CAMBER: Tip and tail, with reverse camber in the waist.
The Summit floats like a 61, but rides like a 51…nice and easy, in what is pretty much the perfect fish shape. Never Summer's hybrid R.C. camber (reverse between the bindings and camber underfoot) is perfectly paired with its tapered shape, thinning out at the tail to save your back leg from the dreaded thigh burn. The Summit is just at home on groomers as it is in the deep stuff, making it the perfect resort pow board. Now, go get one…
Tight: The Summit's nose is easy to float, yet the tail is incredibly poppy, launching you off and over everything.
Loose: The smallest size available is a 161. While yielding adequate dexterity, it may be too much board for some.
#4 ROME NOTCH 158
CAMBER: Reverse nose, cambered tail.
Rome's boards are fantastic all the way around; however, they've never been celebrated for producing top-notch (no pun intended) powder-specific boards…until now. The Notch was surprisingly one of the best decks we rode, and its hybrid fish shape (wide nose and tapered tail) was a blast to ride. The tail was stiff enough to power through all snow conditions, and the wide nose planed over the deepest Northwest powder conditions. If you thought Rome only made dope urban/freestyle boards, think again. The Notch was, in a word, epic!
Tight: Narrow and stiff tail allowed for quick turns—especially useful in tight tree riding—and held a strong edge in crucial sections.
Loose: Narrow tail makes riding switch dicey.
#5 JONES HOVERCRAFT 156
CAMBER: Between the bindings.
It's fair to judge this book by its cover; the Hovercraft is built for surfing…the deeper the snow, the more it feels at home. A gradually-kicked, elongated nose keeps the Hovercraft's head above water, and a stiff midsection and tail rips through any terrain and is always there when you need it. Choppy? Just lift the nose and mash through. Deep? Let 'er run! The Hovercraft rides as fun as it looks.
Tight: Like surfing? Like powder? The Hovercraft blends the best of both worlds.
Loose: Only available in a 156, so size is a limit, but the wide, set-back shape floats well and turns like a dream.
#6 CAPITA CHARLIE SLASHER 158
Playful in the trees, Charlie is a blast to ride if you like softer boards. A super-forgiving flat-kick nose gently tiptoes through terrain, and a stiff, stubby tail slashes and ollies off of everything in sight. If you're into hiking and are concerned about precious ounces, the Charlie Slasher is the lightest of the dozen pow sticks we tested…so it's got that going for it, which is nice.
Tight: R&D by 3rd place finisher in the Pro Masters Division of the 2011 Mt. Baker Banked Slalom Blue Montgomery, so you know this board is going to ride like a champ. So light and balanced, you hardly notice it's there.
Loose: Unless you're a featherweight, you're likely to find the Charlie Slasher a bit soft.
#7 BURTON BARRACUDA 158
CAMBER: Reverse in the nose, camber under rear foot, reverse in the tail.
A brand-new board in Burton's line, the Barracuda replaced the Malolo as Burton's premium hybrid powder board. It's nearly perfect in fresh snow, and rides effortlessly whether it's a six-inch or three-foot pow day. The hybrid camber includes Burton's patented V-Rocker profile between the feet and reverse camber behind the back binding. This unique approach makes the board turn extremely fast in trees (which was ideal in our NW testing grounds).
Tight: The Barracuda is an easy rider…real effortless.
Loose: It does have a tail, but wasn't stiff enough to pop high ollies.
COST: $ 499.95
#8 SALOMON POWDER SNAKE 160
For those who want all the bells and whistles of a powder board without the high price tag, the Powder Snake is your answer. The Snake incorporates a distinct pin-tail for fast edge-to-edge turning in tight trees, and the wide shovel offers maximum float, ridding yourself of back leg fatigue. More aggressive riders may find the Snake to be a bit loose, but fortunately, Salomon also makes a more high-performance deck called the Sick Stick that's stiffer and more responsive—a hot commodity for advanced riders.
Tight: Least expensive of all the powder boards tested. Great board for the price.
Loose: If you're a bigger guy or like stiffer boards, look elsewhere.
#9 NITRO SLASH 161
CAMBER: Slight camber.
With its unique shape, the Slash seems to ride best in deep, open powder fields and at high speeds. The bowls of Vail, Mammoth, Squaw, Jackson Hole, and Snowbird are ideal locations to let it open up and ride balls-out. For this reason, the Slash demands to be ridden hard, so it's ideal for advanced riders. Although the Slash didn't turn as fast edge-to-edge as some of the other narrow pin-tail shapes, it excelled with its ability to haul ass and maintain stability much better than skinnier options.
Tight: This arrow-shaped deck has a super-wide tip for maximum float.
Loose: The nose could be a bit stiffer to power through choppy snow.
#10 RIDE SLACKCOUNTRY 161
CAMBER: Reverse, flat, reverse.
At home at high speed, the Slackcountry tears up the whole mountain. Its set-back twin shape loves hardpack, and in powder, the profile lends itself to a nice, "normal" twin-tipped feel. The stiffer flex mashes through chop, and you can send the Slackcountry off of anything with the confidence that you've got some sturdy landing gear attached to your feet.
Tight: Shaped like a park board, the Slackcountry is more universal than other less-conservative pow boards, so it can actually ride all-mountain terrain, including the park.
Loose: Since this board is a traditional shape rather than tapered, your back leg will feel the burn, as it doesn't float quite as well as other boards tested.
#11 PRIOR SPEARHEAD 161
The aggressive spear shape of the, well, Spearhead means business. Its stiff flex from tip to tail dominates chop and is stable through changing transitions. The silhouette does exactly what you want it to; it floats, slashes, and changes direction in the blink of an eye, and you don't even have to ask it politely. Although it has a puny little tail, the Spearhead's camber and stoutness drives commands from your back foot straight to the snow, unlike most tapered boards, which end up buckling under pressure.
Tight: The Spearhead instilled a lot of confidence on any terrain, at any speed. She's a runner.
Loose: A bit pricey, but for a hand-built quiver board straight out of Whistler, BC, you can guarantee it's been engineered for powder usage.
#12 LIB TECH BIRDMAN 170
CAMBER: C2 (camber, reverse, camber)
Sometimes, bigger is better. The Birdman is, for lack of better description, a "man's, man's board." Available in just two sizes, 170 or 180, with this much material under your feet, you're gonna float during the deepest of days. Lib Tech has been a leader with reverse camber since its revival five years ago, and the same C2 technology (camber beneath each foot and reverse-camber in the waist) is integrated into the Birdman. For powder performance, it has the best of both worlds—cutting-edge design for excellent response while making turns, and an impressive overall length for powerful, aggro riding.
Tight: Let 'er rip. You'll give up before the Birdman does.
Loose: Not for the faint of heart or small of stature.