2.1 Qualitative Analysis
The qualitative data associated with snowboard feel used in this research was obtained through a range of surveys and interviews, conducted online and in person (on-snow). Participants in an initial mass circulated survey (115 completed responses) were asked to identify, rate and analyse their current board against the set criteria. A follow-up survey with a smaller focus group (nine experts) allowed more specific questions about pinpoint feel and performance to be discussed leading to further refinement of the qualitative parameter list.
The first key element of the surveying process was an assessment of the respective popularity and links between the riding styles and snowboard designs available on the market. Modern snowboards are tailored in their design towards a specific application or style: either freestyle, freeride or freecarve. Freestyle boards have developed under the direct influence of skateboarding. As a result, freestyle boards have tended to be shorter and lighter, possessing more ‘pop’ or spring than their counterparts 1. They are also usually symmetrical about their transverse axis, allowing equally weighted riding both forwards and backwards 1. Freeride boards are less-specific in their application, and are designed for all-mountain riding under any snow conditions. They tend to be longer, stiffer and directional in their shape. The third formalised style currently in existence is freecarving, which is a race specific variation centred solely on speed and turning grip. Freecarve boards are usually highly stiff, and significantly longer and narrower than other boards on the market.
The first survey identified freestyle and freeride boards as the most popular, with 55 and 70 per cent of respondents riding in each style respectively (note that participants could select more than one style in their answer). Freeriding and freestyling interest was common 45 per cent of the time, whereas freecarving was only highlighted in 31 per cent of responses, and was not connected to the other two styles. The results and associated comments showed that many snowboarders are searching for boards that are able to ride variable terrain successfully yet not hinder the performance of tricks. In other words, the distinction between freestyle and freeride boards has become blurred, and versatility of boards in regard to the two main riding styles is now desired.
Survey participants were also asked to rate their current boards using a predefined list of qualitative parameters, initially classified into straight line boarding, turns and tricks. However, feedback from the respondents in both surveys indicated that subjectively analysing their board under such specific categorical headers was far too difficult, and as a result the parameter list was collapsed. Definitions and scope of the parameters were also altered and refined from the participants' comments, resulting in the following list of subjective feel based performance parameters:
Stability=How stable the rider feels on the board.
Feedback=Amount of stress felt on the rider's body, including the effects of board chatter.
Speed=Gliding speed of the board compared to other boards of similar length.
Accuracy=Precision of board movement in response to rider input.
Forgiveness=Tolerance of the board to errors from the rider.
Edge Grip=Level of grip exhibited during turns.
Manoeuvrability=How easily the board responds to rider inputs.
Transition smoothness=How easily the board flows from edge to edge.
Board Liveliness=The level of pop or spring in the board when performing a jump.
The rating system was based on the approach used by the BMW Group and the University of Bath investigating steering feel for BMW vehicles 5. Each parameter was subjectively rated between 1 and 10; 1 representing very low levels of the parameter present in the board's on-snow performance and 10 representing the opposite. A second rating between 1 and 10 of the user's perceived ideal level of the parameter was given, to determine whether the board exhibited too little, too much or the correct amount of each parameter, and if applicable, the margin by which the board was sub-optimal. An importance rating between 1 and 10 was also sought for each parameter to give them a relative weighting.
The 115 data sets in the first online survey spanned 35 different brands and 67 different models. Unfortunately the lack of any significant grouping prevented a strong statistical basis for individual board model ratings; however, the data was useful as an indication of the varying levels of importance and subjectivity in each parameter, and the overall popularity and performance of individual brands.
From participant ratings and comments in the first survey, the flex pattern (bending and torsional stiffness distribution) of the board and feedback given to the rider were crucial to the overall feel of a snowboard, along with its grip and level of ‘pop’. Feedback and forgiveness were highly variable across all three original sections of the analysis, and were thus identified as highly subjective parameters. Turning grip, manoeuvrability (both for turns and tricks) and board liveliness all produced similarly high levels of low ratings (of the order of 24 per cent), and thus were identified as areas of potential improvement. Grip, manoeuvrability and stability during a turn were also identified as the most important parameters to riders.
The subsequent interviews with the focus groups of experts allowed the identification of the key qualitative factors for riding in each of the current snowboard styles (see Tables 1–3), and further refinement of the qualitative parameter list. Freecarving was excluded from the research at this point due to lack of riders interested in this style. Overall, the answers for both styles clearly indicated that the flex pattern is the most crucial feature describing the feel and response of a snowboard. Furthermore, this was the parameter most commonly cited by the riders in both styles as needing variation for different performance requirements.
Table 1. Freeride ratings
|Parameter||Importance||User ideal||Test board|
Table 2. Versatile test board ratings
Table 3. Freestyle ratings
|Parameter||Importance||User ideal||Test board|
To finalise the qualitative analysis, on-snow testing and interviews using a range of high quality test boards were conducted to obtain subjective ratings with a strong statistical basis, and to determine the interrelationships for each of the qualitative parameters. This data will also be used for eventual correlation with objective laboratory based measurements. Eight experienced testers (snowboarding instructors) were employed to ride and rate three best-in-class new snowboards that spanned the freeride-freestyle board spectrum. One highly freeride oriented and one specialist freestyle board were chosen to represent the end points of the spectrum, and a third versatile board was selected mid-way. The board selection process was two-fold. Using published market share data 6, the snowboard brands holding the greatest market share (most popular) in the U.S. were first identified. This shortlist was then compared to data from the first survey, and the most popular recent and highly rating models were pinpointed. However, to ensure that the boards selected were placed at the desired locations within the freeride–freestyle board spectrum, published information on the models was sought in combination with interviews of experienced snowboarders.
Tables 1–3 display the importance weightings, user ideal levels and test board ratings for both freeride and freestyle boards. The versatile test board ratings are also shown for completeness.
The Kano model of customer attributes 7 has been used in this research to identify which design features customers want in a snowboard (both the ‘spoken ones’ that have to be addressed and the ‘unspoken ones’ that customers automatically assume they will have in the design). The sorting of customer requirements using this model is performed with respect to the ‘basic/essential’ attributes, ‘performance/functional’ attributes and ‘excitement’ attributes. Here, stability, manoeuvrability and accuracy are considered ‘essential’ for freeride boards, where if not fulfilled, will cause high levels of dissatisfaction to the customer. Edge grip, speed and feedback represent the ‘functional’ requirements, while forgiveness, liveliness and transition smoothness are considered the ‘exciting’ features, where non-fulfilment does not result in customer dissatisfaction, but achieving the optimal levels of these parameters will add value to the product. This sorting was based entirely on the importance levels of the respective parameters determined for each snowboarding style through the first and second-round surveys, whereby an even split of three parameters per attribute group was preferred for simplicity compared to an importance level divisional basis. From the obtained results, it was noted that freeriders desire a board that is manoeuvrable and stable (as well as accurate); parameters that on face value are opposites. However, considering that the average values of these parameters were not high (especially when compared to the freestyle results) the results implied that an optimal freeride board would be based on a compromise between manoeuvrability and stability, with a slight leaning towards additional stability.
A similar analysis was applied to the freestyle results, where interestingly, the range in values between the ‘essential’ and ‘exciting’ parameters was significantly greater than the corresponding freeride range. The ‘essential’ requirements of board liveliness, forgiveness and manoeuvrability all were within a 7.0 to 7.6 importance value range, whereas the ‘exciting’ parameters of edge grip, speed and transition smoothness all had very low importance ratings (between 3.1 and 2.3). Furthermore, the three groups of requirements: ‘essential’, ‘functional’ and ‘exciting’, were all highly distinct for freestyle boards (high difference in average values between groups), unlike the freeride parameters where the decrease in importance between groups was more gradual. It was also noted that the ‘essential’ freestyle requirements appeared less mutually exclusive than the corresponding ‘essential’ freeride requirements.