The re-emergence of the swallow tail |

The re-emergence of the swallow tail

Fork tailed snowboards, otherwise known as the swallow tail, have made a comeback in a major way. Powdery conditions are where the boards perform their best, allowing the large nose to float easier and conserving the rider's energy.
John LaConte |


Weston Snowboards showroom

106 Main St., Minturn

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

VAIL — With all the powder we’ve seen this season, unusual snowboards have been coming out of the snowbank.

Among the most noticeable has been the swallow tail, or fork tailed board, named after the bird to which nature has given the same adaptation.

In birds, the fork tail is used in the air, offering an aerodynamic advantage in flight. On the water, surfers have long used swallow tail boards for increased drive on the wave. And on Vail Mountain on Jan. 17, snowboarders were using swallow tail boards to sink their weight back easier and keep the nose of the board on top of the snow, conserving energy and staying afloat in the 2 feet of powder underfoot.

Benton Inscoe, of Boulder, was one of them.

“One of the lifties told me he’s been seeing them a lot this season,” Inscoe said. “It doesn’t surprise me, the conditions have been perfect for the swallow tail.”

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A former Breckenridge resident, Inscoe would ride his twin-tip all-mountain board through the powder when it was there and in the terrain park when it wasn’t. After moving to Boulder, he said it made sense for him to invest in a powder board.

“Living down on the Front Range, my ratio of average days to powder days has tipped a lot more toward the powder days, and I’m having to go through a lot more effort to get those powder days,” he said. “So it seemed like I owed it to myself get a board that’s going to maximize the fun of the powder day.”

Inscoe finally pulled the trigger on a swallow tail board at the beginning of this season. Himself a surfer, he said he saw the similarities right away.

“With the short swallow tail it puts your weight further back on the board so it feels more similar to being on a surfboard where your back foot is all the way against the tail,” he said. “Having the V cut out in the back of the board makes it easier to initiate the turn and compensates for how wide the board is and how big the nose is.”


The technology isn’t exactly new in snowboarding. In his shop in Minturn, Weston Backcountry owner Barry Clark has his original Burton Performer swallow tail from 1985 on display. He said that board inspired him to release a Weston Snowboards swallow tail this season, called the Japow.

“It’s kind of a nod to the past, but there’s so much technology in these new boards that it’s certainly future oriented, as well,” Clark said.

Clark said the Japow is a popular demo board for people wanting to feel the advantage of the swallow tail in powdery conditions.

“Anyone who is curious should come and try one out,” he said. “Now is the time.”

Local snowboarder Andrew Wight has tried out a variety of swallow tail boards this season, including the Japow. He said what he likes most about the design is how much energy he saves on the long powder days, like the ones he’s been enjoying this week.

“By the afternoon you can really feel the difference,” he said. “No more dead back leg syndrome.”

And, of course, the major drawback, for Wight, hasn’t been a drawback at all.

“I ride switch (swallow tail forward) on mine all the time,” he said. “You just have to concentrate on what you’re doing.”

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