How do you know if the snowboard you're riding is right for you? Ashamed though I am to admit it, they all look pretty much the same to me. OK, so some are a tad wider than others – and I know the rule about how the tip should come up to your chin when you stand the thing upright – but that's as far as my technical knowledge goes. It's all a bit embarrassing really, especially as I've been snowboarding for the best part of a decade.
It can be difficult to build up experience of different equipment. Many of us simply end up having to rely on what the salesperson in the shop tells us before parting with our hard-earned cash. Of course, you could always try out some rental boards when you reach the resort, but stocks of the latest kit are often limited and in poor repair. If, like me, you're a bit on the tall side, then your choice is further restricted to whatever happens to fit.
However, as I found out last season, there is a way to get your hands on the newest boards. I booked a trip to the French resort of Morzine with the British company Rude Chalets, and looked forward to spending the week working my way through the Burton catalogue – a snowboard fan's dream come true.
Kicking the snow off my boots as I arrived at Chalet Christophe, my eyes lit up at the sight of a fully stocked rack of brand-new boards, waiting to be played with. "Whatever you're into – piste, park or powder – there's a board here to suit," said Helen Lavender, who runs Rude with her husband, Chris. They met in 2000 while doing a season in Meribel, and established the company in a bid to create the ultimate chalet holiday for boarders.
Part of that aim has resulted in a deal with Burton to become one of its official test centres, allowing guests to try out a huge range of hardware during their stay. Along with the boards, there are experts on hand to help you choose the most suitable one and a fully stocked workshop so you can experiment with set-ups and see what works best for you.
"Although they look similar, each board will behave slightly differently when you get it out on the mountain," said Helen, plucking a particularly flashy red and yellow one from the rack. "This T6, for example, is a lot wider than the average board, so it distributes your weight over a greater area – making it ideal for riding in powder. This Custom ICS, on the other hand, is a lot lighter and snappier, making it perfect for doing jumps in the terrain park."
I wasn't sure that aerials were high on my agenda. At 15 stone, I'm not renowned for my gymnastic prowess, but this seemed like as good a place as any to give it a whirl. Especially as there are several parks just up the road.
The chalet – one of three which the couple operates in Morzine, along with a further property in Chamonix – is located between Morzine village and Avoriaz, giving you a choice of more than 400 miles of skiable terrain, almost from your doorstep. The chalet operates a free shuttle to the lifts, so you can be on the slopes within 15 minutes of slurping your morning chocolat chaud. After sitting down with Chris to work out which board I should try first, I grabbed the Custom and headed for the hills. As someone who generally gives terrain parks a wide berth, I was a bit nervous about taking to the air. But at Avoriaz there's a "baby" park alongside the bigger jumps, allowing the lily-livered among us to build up confidence without committing to the really scary stuff.
After a few warm-up runs on the cruisy blues that lead straight from Les Prodains cable car, we headed to the park for the moment of truth. Already I could feel the difference between the handling of the Custom and my usual board, which was much longer, wider and slower, it was more like an extension of my feet.
With a suitably clear run, I dropped in to the park and pointed the board towards the first jump. Crouching low as I mounted the ramp, I slid off the end, achieving an impressive (for me) 12 inches of air. It was barely enough to raise a goggle-covered eyebrow from the assembled onlookers, but enough to give me the confidence to do it all again.
From there I headed off to try something different – in the form of The Stash. Built by Burton, its wooden jumps and slides blend in with the surroundings. Hidden among the trees, away from the intimidating gaze of all the cool kids, it's more peaceful than traditional parks – giving you the room to attempt things you'd normally avoid. Soon I was confidently landing jumps that I would have thought impossible before, spurred on by a board that felt precise and well set up for me.
Back at the chalet, I crashed out in my room, which was decked out with suitably snowboarder-friendly devices such as flat-screen television, an Xbox and an iPod dock. There are seven en-suite rooms here, each of which is decked out with edgy, action sports-inspired art. But the quirkiest decoration of all was the front section of an old Mini that I found poking out of the wall near the lounge, which doubles as a store cupboard for a stash of board games.
Hang on. Board games? Hardly a recipe for the adrenalin-fuelled après-ski antics I'd envisaged. "A lot of people like to spend their evenings chilling after wearing themselves out on the hill – whether it's playing Monopoly or watching a movie," said Helen. Fair enough. But after gorging myself on cheese fondue at Le Matafan restaurant down in Morzine, I gave the games a miss and headed straight to the hot tub to soak my aching thighs. And ponder which board I'd try next.
Travel essentials: Board testing
The Burton Snowboard Test Weekend (0870 068 7030; rudechalets.com) takes place at Rude Chalets' Joseph chalet from 11-14 December 2009. It costs £289 per person, which includes transfers, half-board accommodation and wine, as well as a three-day Avoriaz lift pass and access to the latest range of Burton boards. Flights are not included. The boards are available during the rest of the season at the Rude Chalets properties in Morzine, Avoriaz and Chamonix, for €75 per week.