As the 2018 Olympics surge into their last week, we’ve seen some incredible feats from athletes taking on their competitors and elevating their performances to new heights. One of the more awe-inspiring events (among many) has been the snowboarding competition. From events such as slopestyle, half-pipe, parallel and big air (the sport’s newest event), the flips, spins, alley-oops, and yolos athletes such as Chloe Kim, Red Gaerard and Jamie Anderson have carried out on their boards have been beyond impressive.
Of course without a good snowboard, many of these talented Olympians would not be where they are. In fact, the durability and quality of a snowboard can be the one thing that makes or breaks an athlete’s run.
Curious about the craftsmanship involved in making a snowboard, we’ve looked into the many companies selling snowboards and explored whether any are actually still crafting them by hand. Before snowboards became mass-produced and standardized in the late 1980s, the design and production of a snowboard relied much more on how one felt gliding across the snow or how well its edges cut up snow and ice.
The advantage of a handmade board is that it can not only be customized to its rider, but also to its environment. A snowboard made for Oregon powder doesn’t work so well on a windy New York mountaintop. Crafting boards by hand also allows for more experimentation with design and innovative materials, which contributes to the opportunity to find that optimal ride.
Another great feature of handmade boards is that many are built and shaped by the craftspeople who actually use them, the riders themselves. This leads us to one of the most important features of a hand-carved board: the craftsmanship itself. Passion, love of the work, and quality are paramount ingredients in these boards.
Back to our search, we were pleasantly surprised to find several outfits based right here in the U.S. that are leading the charge in building handcrafted snowboards. Check out the following companies that are placing value on craftsmanship, skill, and quality over mass production and the bottom line.
Created “for riders, by riders,” SnoPlanks is an innovative snowboard and ski company out of Bend Oregon. The company was founded by craftsman James Nicol. He and cofounder Ryan Holmes spent roughly five years testing out different designs and materials that reflect more of a “surf style” snowboard. With a background in surfing and surfboard shaping, Nicol and Holmes wanted to recreate that soulful feeling you get when surfing waves and apply it to winter powder.
Launched in 2014, SnoPlanks hand-builds, shapes and finishes all of their skis and snowboards using locally-sourced sustainable bamboo, fiberglass and carbon fiber. They are proud to say that from start to finish, their boards are 100% made by hand in the USA.
Another great aspect of the company is that they appreciate the importance of maintaining the amazing environment they call their playground and home. In addition to using sustainable materials such as bamboo, entropy resin, and naturally sourced finishing oils, Snoplanks also supports the climate change initiative, Protect Our Winters, (POW) by donating a portion of each sale to the organization. POW focuses on education and advocacy and consists of outdoor sports brands, athletes and the greater outdoor community to “lead the charge towards positive climate action.”
Deviation Ski & Snowboard Works is another company out of Oregon (Portland to be exact) which touts a more “microbrew” mentality to their brand. Focused on creating custom boards from locally sourced raw lumber (such as ash, poplar and purple heart woods), Deviation definitely saw an advantage to basing their company in Portland; some of the most experienced and skilled woodworkers in the country live in the area.
Taking full advantage of their knowledge base, the company engages these artisans to inform wood blends for their boards. They handcraft, fine-tune and test their boards in a variety of weather conditions — a part of the process they take great pride in. The founder of Deviation, engineer Matt Hilbert, upholds a craftsman’s approach when it comes to tailoring their product for the customer. Deviation believes in full customization: A customer can choose which core, style, flex, base and top sheet design go into the build of their board, making it a truly one-of-a-kind, handmade work of art.
Way on the other side of the country is a shop out of Peru, Vermont called PowderJet Snowboards, which happens to have a pretty great tagline: “They have factories, we have a wood shop.” The impetus for PowderJet came as a result of founder, Jessie Loomis, not being able to find a snowboard that would skim open powder as deftly as it could navigate tightly packed Vermont trees. PowderJet only builds about 150 snowboards per year, but that’s fine with them, as making top-quality boards is more important than churning out thousands of them.
One of the other awesome things we love about PowderJet is not only their dedication to their craft, but also their desire to share it with others. The company holds workshops at their Peru, VT shop where you can learn how to build, hand-shape and even create custom artwork for your very own snowboard. They also take their workshops on the road to various mountain locations around the country.
Ready to jump on a snowboard and carve through powder? If you do decide to buy a board, consider supporting a company that stands behind the craftsmanship that helps its riders become true winners. For those of you who prefer to watch, we hope you enjoy the rest of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and keep an eye out for these handcrafted boards on the slopes!