Company Spotlight: Niche Snowboards – Redefining eco-responsibility
Niche crew members Dustin Morrell, Ana Van Pelt and Marty Siller
There are plenty of board companies that boast their contribution to the industry and environment, as well as their familial persona. The list of who can actually back up their touts is lowered to a handful. But maybe just one can say they were founded with these ideals in mind. That one could be Niche Snowboards.
Niche isn’t changing the industry by using huge budgets to promote mind-blowing events, filming IMAX quality videos or sending riders to the Olympics. This Salt Lake City company is changing the industry by seeing issues that aren’t being handled and handling them — head on.
Founded and owned by Dustin Morrell, Niche began as more of an experimental project. By shaping and pressing his own boards, Morrell began to understand the downside of eco-ignorance. “I learned a lot about construction and shaping, and really liked putting boards together, but found the process to be very damaging to my health and the environment,” Morrell says.
After teaming up with graphic designer Ana Van Pelt, now the creative director, the two began to explore the possibility of starting an environmentally conscious snowboard company from the ground up. “We started with the idea that we wanted to be the most eco-friendly board company out there. We want to always make a positive impact,” says Van Pelt. “Everything we put in is eco-friendly. Instead of regular resins, we use Snappy Sap bio-resin and hemp stingers instead of carbon fiber.”
Photo left: Tim MacKenzie flexing the Aether LTD
Now, three years after jumping in with both feet, Niche is turning heads with more than their graphics from legendary designer Michael Sieben. “Niche focuses on the community and local industry,” says Morrell. “Not to say we aren’t a global company, but we look towards our regional reps and distributors to help us focus on their local areas and provide exceptional service and grass roots efforts.”
In terms of manufacturing, Niche bypassed all the cheap-and-easy routes and landed themselves in a small town in Austria, at the GST factory. It may not be common knowledge, but GST is the muscle behind several top brands — manufacturing boards like Stepchild, Rome and DC. However, quality is not the only reason Niche sought them out, explains VP of marketing Tim Mackenzie, “We looked around at a lot of factories. We just found that GST really takes care of their employees. A lot of how they do things made us want to go with them.”
Another main focus of Niche is to bring a family-like atmosphere to its company, clients and the kids making turns on their boards. “Whether you’re someone who just bought a Niche in Colorado, or someone riding one at Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, we want you to feel like you’re connected,” says Mackenzie. “We want to invite people to be a part of who we are.”
While all of Niche’s business practices are clearly legit, it means nothing if the boards aren’t something special themselves. While in many cases, eco-friendly means “made of recycled newspaper,” Niche’s endless search for better materials has not only won them the 2012 ISPO Eco award, but has given their products a unique liveliness, not seen with other companies. By using unconventional technologies, Niche has come across some superior elements that are changing the way riders get loose. Instead of the traditional fiberglass construction, they have introduced the use of basalt, which is lighter, stronger and snappier. Combined with the use of Hemphop stringers and their Snappy Sap Bio-Resin, Niche boards last much longer and won’t lose their pop over time. It’s safe to say they are on a different playing field altogether.
As Niche doubled production from last year, Mackenzie sees this as an opportunity to make a difference in snowboarding. “In the industry and in general, social practices and economic practices need to change, and if we need to lead the charge, we are happy to do that,” says Mackenzie.
While continuing to rant about the good things these guys are up to would be easy, it seems more fitting to let Morrell sign off by summing up the experience of riding a Niche board: “Your traditional board gets left in the closet.”
Check out what the Niche crew is up to and get learned on their product at nichesnowboards.com.