Industry Insider: Unity Snowboards’ Pete Wurster
Pete enjoying the backcountry of Vail, Colorado
Building snowboards for 17 years gives you some wild amount of street cred in the industry. With more days riding under his belt then most out there, Pete Wurster talks shop about Unity Snowboards, the growth of the industry and why Fuel TV is blowing it.
You’ve been building snowboards for 17 years now. What factors pushed you to start Unity Snowboards?
A high school friend of mine, Pavel Krikava, had moved to Breckenridge after we graduated and met Steve Link who used to make Summit Snowboards. Steve taught Pavel how to make boards and I started buying boards from him when I was in College. After we graduated, Pavel and I got together and worked out a deal with Steve to rent his shop and start our own brand in August of 1995.
When you started, snowboarding wasn’t really an accepted sport. Now, years later, it’s one of the most popular in the world. What are your thoughts on its progression over the years to where it is now?
I feel like it was pretty accepted and big when we started in 1995. It was for sure smaller than it is today, but it was the fastest growing winter sport for the first several years that we were in business and today has grown to some amazing levels.
Having it as an Olympic sport has helped it grow to where it is today. I do feel that snowboarding and all action sports in the United Sates have a lot of room to grow. It’s much more mainstream than the past but we still don’t get the kind of TV coverage that NASCAR or MMA are getting now. Obviously X-Games is great mainstream coverage, but it’s only two weekends a year. Fuel TV has completely switched to a 100% MMA channel, which is tragic! MMA is entertaining and those guys are great athletes, but snowboarding, skating and surfing are way better and deserve more airtime than they are getting today.
Do you think the involvement of “big business” is good for the sport or would you rather see it go back to the good ol’ days?
I think some of it is good. Snowboarding is a great sport and I think making steps to grow the sport as a whole is good for everyone. Having some of the big businesses out there pushing snowboarding has been great for the sport overall. The events and TV coverage that Red Bull and other big companies have done can really help snowboard participation grow.
You’ve seen big technological advances in board design over the past 17 years. How does Unity keep up with the trends or technology to offer a superior board?
We try to ride as mush as possible, be creative and come up with new ideas. For us, the best way to be creative is to get out and ride and always be pushing our equipment and ourselves.
Being located in Silverthorne, Colorado you have one of the best locations in the world to test your boards. How many hours of testing and different prototypes do you go through before you have a finished product?
We try to build all our board over the course of the summer so that when winter strikes we can be riding and working on new design ideas, going on sales trips and demo days. We ride about four days a week during the winter. Once the tradeshow season is over, I make it a point to do some big trips to Europe, BC or Japan. This year I got to spend about three weeks in British Columbia which was super fun.
Seeing that you have a pretty well rounded team, what’s their involvement with the production of new boards every year?
They give great feedback on new ideas or designs to try. But, for the most part, they seem happy with the boards they are riding now. It’s tough to find riders who really think about how their equipment performs. From my experience over the years pro riders have the “it’s me not the board” mentality in regards to their riding and equipment. I seem to get more feedback from friends, shop owners and people we talk to at our demo days.
Unity has been a big proponent of backcountry riding for a long time. You’ve been offering a splitboard for years and last year introduced “The Whale,” a powder surfer’s dream board. Will there be any new tech dropping in the coming years that will make riding pow even better?
We are working on a twin tip version of The Whale right now. I did some prototypes last spring with it. It would be the type of board that could really push backcountry freestyle riding; really responsive and crazy easy to land switch in pow. It will open doors to really try some stuff that you maybe never felt confident doing before.
Left: Pete dropping a cliff in Vail | Right: Pete getting the goods in Wolf Creek | Photo: Jeff Cricco
Have you ever thought of expanding Unity’s product line and getting into other hardgoods?
A little bit. I thought about an outerwear line for a while. We did make skis for a few years, which ended up being a pain. There are way too many boutique ski brands out there these days. I stopped skiing when I was about twelve years old and I really didn’t have any interest in getting back into it, which became a problem from a design standpoint.
Over the past few years we’ve seen a huge shift into side and backcountry riding. As exciting as it is, what are your thoughts on its increased popularity and its inherent risks?
It’s the way to go if you want to ride good snow. Everyone who lives in Colorado these days knows that the weekend crowds at most of the resorts are out of hand. So it only makes sense that people want to get away from it all, and I support that!
It’s pretty amazing how much untouched terrain is out there even with the amount of people in the backcountry these days. There’s an endless amount of good riding to be had in the backcountry. People need to be safe as it can be dangerous out there. But it can be way more fun than the resort riding. On a busy weekend at Keystone you’re probably more likely to be taken out by some skier than you are likely to get in an avalanche in the backcountry; as long as you go out on a stable day that is.
Having so much experience in the backcountry, what advice do you have to help riders educate themselves before heading out of bounds?
The main thing that we all forget is to be aware of the natural signs around us. There really are natural signs of instability all around us on a bad day. It’s easy to ignore the signs or not be open to observing those signs because we want to shred deep powder.
For more info on Unity Snowboards and what Pete is up to this coming season head over to unitysnowboards.com
*Vertical shot of Pete in Vail, Colorado | Photo: Jeff Cricco