High Gear: 2015-16 Unity Snowboards Dominion

2015-16 Unity Dominion

Length: 155 cm, 159 cm, 164 cm, 168 cm, 160 wide, 165 wide, 170 wide, 180 wide

Split board length: 155 cm, 159 cm, 164 cm, 168 cm, 165 wide, 170 wide

Shape: Directional

Flex rating: 8 (stiff in tail, softer in nose)

Camber: Float rocker (traditional camber between bindings, reverse camber on tail, early-rise reverse camber on nose)

Prices: $475 full board, $825 splitboard

It’s rare to come across a traditional snowboard these days.

Just like bindings and skis and every other piece of gear, modern snowboards are more specialized than ever before, made with funky camber, funky shapes, funky materials and funky, well, everything. Do these technological touches make a difference? Absolutely, and there’s a reason snowboards today are better than when the sport was little more than Sorels strapped to flat planks with leather straps.

But man, there’s something incredibly comfortable about a traditional, old-school snowboard, one made to mimic the best models from the sport’s past. Sure, it might not float quite as nicely as a true powder deck on a two-foot day, and, sure, it probably isn’t as playful as a park board for a day of lipslides and frontside 900s.

But, that’s not the point. An old-fashioned freeride board is made to do it all, from park to powder to glades to groomers — all within an hour or two, no board changes required.

The Dominion from Unity Snowboards is owner/master builder Pete Wurster’s ode to the best decks from the past three decades of snowboarding history. He knows that history well: Unity is celebrating 20 years on the market this season with a small production run of around 1,000 snowboards, each one made by hand just minutes from the mountains in a small Silverthorne factory. Even the company itself is something of an ode to the early days.

At first glance, the Dominion looks and feels similar to the boards Wurster was selling for beer money back in 1995, now re-imagined with modern materials and construction. It’s light and poppy, with a relatively traditional sidecut profile and a directional shape.

The shape was the first thing I noticed with the board. For years, I’ve been a die-hard fan of true twin boards. These are the same length in the nose and the tail, which means they ride the same both regular and switch. Twin decks are made for park and freestyle terrain — in other words, they aren’t beginner boards — but they’re also nice to have on a day exploring the trees and bowls. When I’m out just cruising around, I tend to ride switch as much as I ride regular. Life is just more interesting that way.

Field test

It made me just a bit nervous when I discovered that my review board, the Dominion 155, was a directional model. I haven’t been on a directional since my 2002 Burton Cruzer — talk about a true beginner board — and wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy the linear feel of a board that is cut, built and shaped to be ridden in just one direction. Even my powder board (the incredibly fun Unity Kapow) is a twin.

So I headed to Copper with a few friends on Christmas Day for top-to-bottom laps on American Flyer, which includes trees, the recently-opened medium jump line and a little bit of everything else, just to see if it lived up to the freeride name.

It took a few turns to find my footing. The widest stance on the 155 centimeter board is 23 inches, nearly two inches smaller than my usual stance, and, for a second, I felt like I was standing at attention: knees straight, shoulders back, chest out. But, I soon eased into the board and started playing around, buttering through the nose and tail and popping ollies over rollers.

This board has some series pop to it. Unity’s new float rocker construction (traditional camber between bindings, reverse camber on tail, early-rise reverse camber on nose) is one of the modern touches Wurster brought to an otherwise traditional deck. The tail is stiff and responsive — perfect for popping over rollers — while the nose is just a touch softer. I noticed this right away on nose presses over flat ground, then noticed it again when we ducked into the trees for a taste of freshly fallen snow. The Dominion floated wonderfully through a foot-and-a-half of powder (anything beyond that, and the 155 required a hearty back lean) and was unexpectedly forgiving when we hit a stretch of bumps weaving through the trees. Like the best vintage slalom skis (think original Dynastar models), the nose is buttery, flexible and forgiving when it rides over hard-packed chop. I never got bucked or tossed over the nose, even with the narrow stance. I honestly didn’t expect that, but it was a welcome feeling on a directional board.

After testing the nose, I swapped over to switch for the final stretch of trees. I was a little worried that the board would feel either unresponsive or uncomfortable in the wrong direction — as in it wouldn’t hold a tight edge when I needed it most in tight trees — but that was hardly the case. It didn’t float as nicely through the fresh stuff (duh, given the longer nose) and it felt just a bit rudderless on quick, whip-like turns, but it never felt unmanageable. It’s a testament to Wurster’s relatively mellow directional cut: The nose is only slightly skinnier than the tail, unlike powder-only boards with noticeably spindly noses and blunt tails.

The final test was a lap through the Woodward jumps and rails. If the Dominion is anything like the Kapow, I knew I was in for a good time. That board is insanely powerful on jumps and in the halfpipe — it’s team rider JJ Thomas’ go-to board for messing around in the pipe — and, after feeling what the Dominion could do on rollers, I was ready for something with a lip.

I wasn’t disappointed. The Dominion handled the three-pack jump line like a champ, popping with a vengeance off the lip and never washing out on landings, even when I came down switch. (I didn’t test hitting anything switch because, again, the stance was a little too narrow for my liking.) Rails were just as fun, although the shape is much better for locking onto 50-50s than boardslides and lipslides.

By the time we reached the base of Flyer, I was ready to keep charging. The Dominion is a true freeride deck, the kind that’s designed for simply having fun on the snow no matter what it’s like outside. Glad to know it was up to the challenge.

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