The great divide in snowboard gear runs between soft setups
(three-strap bindings and wider, flexible boards) and hard setups (ski-style boots, clamp bindings, and
stiffer boards). Soft setups are favored by surfers and skateboarders. They're better for tricks and jumps. Well focus on hard setups, which are best for carving turns. They're often the choice of alpine skiers who take up snowboarding.
"There are a lot of companies making great boards right now," says Kevin Kinnear, editor in chief of "Snowboard Life" magazine. "But Burton has the most R&D behind its boards. Burtons are bombproof."
Kinnear recommends Burton's E deck ($310) for beginners, the Alp ($420) for intermediates, and the Factory Prime ($450) for experts. F2's Speedster is another good choice for experts.
Coordinates: Burton, 800-881-3138; F2, 619-754-5585.
Boots and Bindings
Look for models with walk/ride switches on the back of the boot, just above the Achilles tendon. Unlocking the cuff makes walking easier and provides greater flexibility for soft-snow riding. Burton's Reactor ($399) offers this feature.
Raichle's Intec 124 boot ($415) is designed specifically to go with its Intec step-in bindings. They're easy to get in and out of. They're also simple and durable. The more gizmos, the more things there are to break.
Coordinates: Raichle, 800-431-2204
"Get a waterproof jacket that's baggy enough to allow for easy rotational movement," says Kinnear. "And you'll want pants that are padded with abrasion-resistant fabric in the knee and the butt -- the areas that will wear out first."
Mitts should have scuff-proof palms so they don't get cut by your snowboard's edge when you're carrying it. Swany makes a half dozen models of snowboard mitts with Kevlar-reinforced palms ($50-$80). Beginners should also look for mitts that have built-in wrist guards, as broken wrists are a common snowboarding injury.
Coordinates: Swany, 800-237-9269
Don't buy cheap, gas-station glasses. You can't be sure that they have full UV protection. Its best to stick with proven companies. All the top brands feature full UV and infrared protection.
Bolle's Anaconda Gun Venons ($85) are a hip choice, as are Oakley's Eye Jackets
Coordinates: Boll, 800-628-2740; Oakley, 714-951-0991