2014 Never Summer Proto HDX Review

In December 2012 I received an email from Vince Sanders of Never Summer, inviting me to be part of a new Design Team he was creating. The team would give feedback on the new boards and technology and offer reviews and advice to forum visitors across the world. Being the only UK and European member of the team, I was over the moon to be asked. In mid January I was sent the 2014 models of the Proto HDX and Premier F1. Both of these boards are to be reviewed, along with the Cobra X that I rode for several days on The Rider Social Never Summer Test Week held in Chatel in January. The first review will be of the Proto HDX, followed subsequently by the Premier F1 and Cobra X.

I always like to give a little introduction to Never Summer so that people unfamiliar with the brand can get a little background information and history on the brand and it?s product. Starting out as a basement operation in 1983, the Canaday brothers, Tim and Tracey have grown the business into an internationally recognised company. They work closely with the world?s leading raw material manufacturers and engineers to make sure each snowboard is the most durable and high performance on the planet. Each snowboard is handcrafted in their Denver factory and so confident are they of the quality of their boards that they all come with a 3-year warranty. They focus less on promotion and hype, letting the snowboards that come out of the factory do the talking for them. Never Summer are also famed for their longboards and manufacture skis for Icelantic and Fat-ypus.

In late 2010, Never Summer received the patent on their RC Technology. The 2013 boards carry the US Patent number with all boards in the range using both RC technology and ?Vario Power Grip? sidecuts. RC is short for ?Rocker and Camber? which places rocker between the bindings and camber areas at each end of the board. This board profile apparently ?destroys anything in it?s path from parks to steeps, to powder and high speed cruisers? and provides, ?unmatched power and snap out of turns.? The ?Vario Power Grip? is added to increase edgehold and provide ?added control and response in any condition.?

Whilst most of the 2014 line up uses the tried and tested original RC profile, Never Summer have added a few new profiles. The Proto HDX has been given an Extended Transition RC profile (EXRC), the Raptor has been given a Directional RC profile (DRC) and the new Prospector Split an Extended Tour RC profile (EXTRC).

Never Summer 2014 Proto HDX

When I first stepped on an early production Proto in 2011 it was love at first ride. I loved how the board was playful and responsive but could also rail a turn when required. The Proto is a board that is constantly evolving and for 2014 they have made several changes. Firstly, as previously mentioned, they have given the Proto an Extended Transition Rocker Camber profile (EXRC). The transition area has been extended from the end of the camber into the new low profile tip/tail.  This decreases the pressure over the ends of the effective edge, allowing the board to flow instead of push against the snow.  This creates a more fluid edge transfer and increases glide and powder flotation in flat areas of the board. Edge hold is also improved when the camber is engaged but is more forgiving and less likely to catch an edge when in a neutral position.

The Proto shares a new low profile tip and tail with the 2014 Evo. The new profile ?maximises material contact with the snow for a more powerful pop and add stability to landings. It also reduces the plowing effect in the nose for better glide and float in powder.?

The other changes revolve around the damping properties of the board. Several reviews of the 2013 Proto spoke of the lack of damping in the board. I felt that it was at times like riding a bucking bronco and that in flat light conditions I favoured a damper ride like the Premier. The problem that Never Summer faced was how to make the board damper, without sacrificing the board?s liveliness and response.  The Proto?s new guise as the HD/X is due to the harmonic dampers added to the tip and tail. These have been developed to take out a large percentage of residual vibration by quieting the nose and tail. This in turn, ?enhances stability at speed, in variable snow conditions and on hard landings without deadening the liveliness and pop of the cambered area.? The Proto previously shared the Evo?s damping system, but for 2014 has been given a Carbonium Damping System (CDS). The CDS ?greatly reduces vibration and provides unmatched high speed stability and control.? Elastometric rubber stringers reduce vibration from the metal edge and stringers below the inserts and under the carbon dampen additional vibration near the bindings.

When I first picked up the 2014 Proto, I spotted a strange pattern between the bindings and something that I referred to as the ?Edam insert? due to it?s likeliness to a slice of Edam cheese (see picture). I couldn?t see any reference to this in the 2014 catalogue so I emailed Vince to enquire what it was. He replied saying, ?We are not marketing this feature yet but what it does is absorb impact, reduce vibration and deliver a very smooth ride. The rocker puts more pressure over this area naturally more than a cambered board that is more elevated. This cushions this contact to the snow in the rocker area.  Focusing this dampening and vibration absorption in this area like the harmonic dampers keeps from deadening the board in the cambered areas and underfoot to really keep the board lively and crisp.?

For 2014, ?glow off the snow? makes a very welcome return and on my favourite board in the line up to boot. Never Summer listens to it?s customers and has over the last couple of years made late changes to board graphics, most notably the 2013 SL and both the 2013 and 2014 Cobra. There was considerable moaning on the forums when the 2013 line up was released with no luminous bases, but thankfully Never Summer have seen sense and brought them back. I was a very happy snowboarder when my Proto arrived with a luminous green base. The Proto also has a new Never Summer eagle logo adorning the base.

Conditions

Fresh pistes, off piste powder, bumps.

Handling

As with previous models, the Proto rides roughly 3cm longer than it?s actual length. This is due to it?s longer effective edge and blunted ends and as a result you can downsize, for an example, to a 158 if you normally ride a board of 161cm.

Small, medium and long radius turns are easy to initiate and carves feel locked on with no fear of wash. With a year between riding the 2013 and 2014 models, it?s difficult to determine whether there has been any improvement, however I can?t remember any major issues on either the 2012 or 2013 model. Cross under turns were responsive with noticeable rebound between edge changes from the carbon stringers.

The board performed admirably in powder. Whilst not as nimble as the Cobra or as flowing or effortless as a Premier it handled 40-50cm of fresh powder with no issues. I kept a centred stance and could ride balanced, only weighting the back foot at the end of the turn. The board planed through the fresh snow (you could see it planing at the contact points on flatter slopes) and didn?t plough. Unfortunately on my return to the Alps in Spring there was no fresh snow, so I was unable to see how it would perform in wetter, heavier Spring snow.

The Proto maintains it?s speed on the flats. I didn?t expect to notice this considerably, despite the information on the EXRC profile and low profile tip and tail stating that improved glide and float were benefits of their addition. On the days I was riding the Cobra and a friend the Proto he would go further as the terrain flattened on cat tracks. When we subsequently switched boards it was the opposite, with me going further.

Landings off kickers felt solid and I was able to ride away unscathed from a few sketchy landings.

One worry I had was that by adding the harmonic dampers and rubber damping in the rocker, the board?s liveliness would be affected. This worry appears unfounded as the board remains fun and lively. Last season in flat light I switched to a Premier due to the lack of damping in the board and tiring limbs. Although not ridden in flat light, I did notice that it felt less of a ?bouncy? ride and the legs were less fatigued at the end of a full day on the hill. The Proto has been given a damp rating of 4 after being downgraded to a 3.5 in 2013 on the Never Summer damp meter, but I feel it could have been upgraded further to a 4.5/10.

One thing of note is that it took a couple of days to be comfortable flat basing. It?s not been an issue before with previous Proto incarnations, and although the blurb on the new extended transition rocker camber profile says to the contrary, I think it was caused by the new RC profile. After a couple of days it wasn?t an issue, but something to be aware of should you ride one, particularly as my friend (who is an accomplished rider) came a cropper on a flat cat track.

Being a true twin, switch was a doddle and I spent one enjoyable floodlit evening just riding switch.

Pop

The Proto pops for fun. Just load the nose or tail and it pops effortlessly. I overshot the landings on my first run through the park. The Proto has always had excellent pop, but it feels more poppy than previous years.  The longer effective edge allows you to downsize and combined with the blunted low profile tips, lightweight core and carbonium top sheet mean the swing weight is low so rotations are straight forward (as they can be).

Flex

Classed as a 5 on the Never Summer flex meter, the Proto has medium flex both torsionally and longitudinally, makes the board playful and responsive. The board reacted instantly to the feet giving a nimble ride. It felt solid in a carve, leaving pencil thin lines with no wash. I?m unsure as to whether it?s due to the low profile tips, the extended camber profile, or a combination of both, but jibbing is much more pleasurable. It is much easier to initiate a press and it feels locked on once you?re in a press.

Rider in Mind

If you are an intermediate/advanced snowboarder looking for a true all mountain board then this should definitely be on your short list. It?s playful, responsive and has oodles of pop. The jibbing ability of the board has been improved upon and it has the ability to step up should you want to lay down some trenches on fresh corduroy. For a board classed as all mountain freestyle it floats excellently in powder.

Other Thoughts

The pimpled carbonium top sheet and durasurf base make the board very robust to knocks and dings from either stray poles in the lift lines or rocks hidden under the snow. I couldn?t spot a mark on the 158 HDX after myself and a few others had ridden it for 6 days on the test week.

The return to the glow off the snow bases is a most welcome one. The base is a talking point with fellow boarders and a definite selling point. I also like that you can see the tech under the base (although probably giving competitors ideas!).Where the base graphic shines, the top sheet graphics are a bit of a let down. Most of the board designs (Evo apart) are very geometric. I?d like to see a fresher approach to the graphics as they appear rehashed ideas from previous years.

On the test week, the campers were fighting over the Proto on the last day as it was a parks and kickers day. Comments during the week were that it felt like a playful SL with better edge hold compared to the 2013 model but less feedback from the snow conditions.

Conclusion

The Proto is a very fun all mountain board. I?ve said before that the Proto is a quiver killer, able to do everything, but I feel that it is now even more the case. The new additions to the board have in my opinion made an already excellent board better. The added damping has made it less of the harsh ride it used to be, but has not taken away the liveliness of the board and the new low profile tips and extended camber profile have made it more jibbing friendly.

Other Tester?s Comments:

?The most fun, poppy board I?ve ever ridden. Not as stable at speed on piste, but surprisingly good in powder.? – 2010 SL Owner

What Never Summer say

Type: All Mountain Freestyle

Proto is short for prototype. The Proto is continually evolving. For 2013/14 we?ve developed a new Extended Transition Rocker Camber (EXRC) specifically for the Proto. This longer transition area extends from the ends of the camber to a new Low Profile Tip and Tail (LPT). Glide and float characteristics are increased and pressure over the ends of the contact points are decreased allowing for effortless edge-to-edge transitioning. Our blunted true twin shape cuts down on nose and tail material for a reduced spin weight while increasing the effective edge producing superior stability. Unmatched snap, power and pop, plus amazing powder flotation, edge hold and high-speed stability makes the Proto HD a versatile and formidable threat for all aspects of snowboarding.

Proto HDX: A wide version of the original.

Technical Features:

Carbonium Topsheet

Carbonium Laminate Technology

Extended Transition Rocker Camber Profile

Vario Power Grip Sidecut

Low Profile Tip/Tail

STS Pretensioned Fiberglass

Bi-Lite Fiberglass

NS Superlight Wood Core

Harmonic Tip/Tail damper

CDS Dampening System

Elastomeric Underfoot Stabilizers

Sintered P-tex Sidewall

Durasurf XT Sintered 5501 Base

Full Wrap Metal Edge

My Stats

Stance: 54cm / 21.25?

Stance Angles: Regular, +15, -12

Height: 5ft 9? / 175cm

Weight: 10st 12lbs / 152lbs / 69kg

Boots: 2011 DC Ceptor UK10.5

Bindings: 2010 Union Force L/XL

Resort: Les Crosets/Champery / Tamworth Snowdome

Boards I?ve owned

K2 Fatbob 158

Forum Destroyer 157

Option Sansalone 157W

Never Summer Legacy 159

Capita Unorthodox 158

Capita Stairmaster 152W

Never Summer Revolver 156

Never Summer Legacy 163

Capita Charlie Slasher 158

About me

Qualified to BASI Level 2, I generally like to cruise the piste (at speed) with the odd bit of buttering and ollies/spins off little hits. If there?s fresh you won?t find me on the groomers, as I?ll be out looking for fresh lines. I rarely hit the park.

Massive thanks to Vince, Tim and Tracey at Never Summer. Tom at Maxtrack and Paul and Fi at The Rider Social in Chatel.