Powder board reviews can be a little formulaic. They’ll talk about a storm system rolling in. They’ll talk about the perfect alignment of conditions and equipment. They’ll tell you how riding that board in that place changed their lives. It made them different people, and gave them a different perspective. There will be passages of forced metaphor, and talk about how they felt connected to the mountain in ways they never knew were possible.
This isn’t that kind of review.
Partially this isn’t that kind of review because that kind of review is a little pointless. You know what’s fun to ride in powder? Almost everything. I mean look at the nonsense shapes Corey Smith was making before buddying up with CAPiTA. If it’s got enough float, and you don’t completely suck, it’s going to be fun to ride in powder.
Even beyond that, it’s a Jones Snowboards Hovercraft. It’s the snowboard that inspired a hashtag. That isn’t just clever marketing on Jones’ part, that link is full of pictures of people having a good time on snow. On this board. So the collected wisdom of the Internet already says this board is good at powder. If somehow that still isn’t enough for you it says in clear easy to read letters on the structural bamboo topsheet “Shaped By Jeremy Jones“. If nothing else that man knows far more about what makes a board perform in natural conditions than anyone reading (or writing) this article.
Which is great. Because I aim to have a good time at Tailgate Alaska and the Hovercraft seems to be the perfect board to do that on. But what about the rest of the season? What about when I’m not riding fresh, untracked snow? No matter how great a board is at powder, I live on the East Coast. I can count on one hand the number of true powder days I’ve had out here. I’m not talking days with new snow, I mean days where turns feel bottomless and you just find yourself laughing all the way down the mountain. Days that the other guys write powder board reviews about. Between geography, meteorology, and gainful employment getting in the way that just doesn’t happen a lot for me. So if I’m going to drop a couple hundred dollars on a board it had better be a good ride even when conditions aren’t ideal.
So I set out to find out how it would do on eastern snowpack. The kind of stuff that’s been groomed, thawed, frozen, and re-groomed a thousand times before you even pull into the parking lot. The stuff I actually ride for most of the season.
I couldn’t have found a less ideal situation if I tried. The plan was never to catch first chair but I did want to get to Wachusett early. So things were already going off the rails when I didn’t pull out of the driveway until 9:38. An hour of chaotic eastern-Mass driving later and I pulled into the parking lot and found a spot suspiciously close to the lodge.
I should clarify that this is all taking place in early March, before New England got socked by three (hoping on four) major storms in a row. So as I rounded the corner of the lodge, the runs came into view and I saw why there were so few cars in the parking lot. Conditions were bad, even by east coast standards. Large sections of several runs were completely melted away, and it seemed to be all the groomers could do to keep snow running to the lift stations, let alone down to the lodge.
Normally I’d consider turning around at this point. I mean at that point there’s a better chance of damaging your board than of having a good time. But I saw it as the perfect opportunity. I came here to test my board in less than ideal conditions, and it didn’t get any less ideal than this.
On the ride uphill I scoped the trails to see what would be the best first run for this board. I was simultaneously relieved and disappointed by what I saw. Conditions were not good by any means, but they really weren’t as awful as they seemed. Wachusett is my mountain of choice out of convenience more than anything, but the grooming staff really do make the most out of what they had. And today was no different. Everything was clearly on it’s way to mashed potato, but it wasn’t quite there yet. There were of course patches of ice in skied-off areas, but that is to be expected.
So finally I got to the real reason I was here, how does the thing actually ride? It took a few turns to get used to the feel of the board. This Hovercraft is only two centimeters longer than my “daily driver” and yet it took significantly more effort to move it around at lower speeds. Almost, but not identical to, the feeling you get riding a wide board when you don’t have appropriately large feet. And the directional shape was a little nerve wracking at first. I ride a lot of directional boards, but this was my first swallow tail; in as much as the Hovercraft’s mild cutout counts as a swallow tail.
But things completely changed once I got it up to speed. The benditure of this board, with float-friendly rocker in the nose and mild rocker through to the tail, makes turn-in very predictable and easy. I know I compared it to riding a wide board earlier, but I never felt like I’d have to “jump up” to get on edge like I do when riding wide. The Hovercraft easily gets on edge, and once there delivers smooth and consistent performance. Even on the tracked-out sticky snow I was riding that day.
It’s also worth noting that this board is seriously fast. I’m by no means a quick rider, and usually find myself at the back of the pack no matter who I’m riding with. And yet riding the Hovercraft I found myself passing people on the mountain. And not just falling-leaf types, actual serious riders. And skiers. Skiers that were clearly trying to go fast and I was cruising right by them.
All told, I had a good day on the Hovercraft. I don’t think I’d choose it for this kind of snow, that’s really not what it’s for. But it did show that conditions don’t need to be perfect for this board to be rideable. And that matters a lot. There’s lots of days and trips where I’m hoping for powder but riding regardless. Previously that meant bringing two boards, one for the good snow and one for the snow I’m probably going to get. But now I can just pack the Hovercraft, confident that it’ll deliver on deep days and still a lot of fun at low tide.
Have a powder board you want to try out in perfect conditions? Tickets are still available for Tailgate Alaska.