The future is bright.
Over the past five seasons, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has become a gathering place for snowboard shapers from around the world. They come to participate in a celebration of innovation called the JH PowWow, an event founded by Rob Kingwill under the principle that snowboarding is collective experience, and together we can progress board design on the mountain and not in front of a computer. Familiar names like Gnu, Jones, Never Summer, and Arbor shared a rack with smaller shapers like Soulmotion, Winterstick, Notice, and Gentemstick, making it one of the most eclectic ensembles of the year. Feedback flows and stoke is contagious. But most importantly, JH PowWow is for the love of snowboarding.
We sat down with six shapers and designers whose boards left a lasting impression on us this year, and asked them to share their stories. Each are different. Each are the same. These are the people that will shape snowboarding for the generations to come.
Thank you Rob for yet another incredible event, thank you Jackson Hole for opening your mountain to a bunch of hard charging snowboarders, and thank you to all of the brands who participated in the JH PowWow. The future is bright.
Photography by Owen Ringwall
Mikey Franco, Franco Snowshapes
In 2010, I was on a trip to Japan working for Burton but was hurt and couldn’t snowboard. Those guys felt really bad for me because it was dumping, so the president of Burton Japan took me to meet Taro Tamai [founder of Gentemstick]. I walked into Taro’s showroom and thought it was Mecca. I had never seen anything like it before. So I came home inspired by that, and my buddies here happened to make skis and snowboards. They said, “you can’t snowboard this winter, why don’t you come in and make a board.” I said I would, but it had to be like this. They himmed and hawed, but finally they took me under their wing and taught me. Next thing I knew, I was making boards.
I kept getting more and more inspired between Taro’s shapes and aesthetic, and with the craftsmanship of the Igneous guys here. Igneous is more utilitarian, Gentem is surfy and etherial. I wanted the two to combine to be very dreamy. I wanted to find a way to build this career. With so many clients from guiding here [in Jackson], I felt that custom was going to be the way to go. That’s what led me down that road, instead of going into production.
Greatest reward? Cutting it out, hands down. I can’t wait to cut it and see the form. To say, “yes, there it is. It matches what I drew on the computer or what I had in my mind.” The next best thing is when I get to hand it to a client. My goal is to design the board from their head down to their feet. I get into their psyche, I get into their mindset. I’m a nervous wreck until they call me. It’s really important to me that they love it, and I nail what they asked for.
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Michael Chilton, RIDE Snowboards
I grew up in South Lake Tahoe, started riding when I was 13 and haven’t stopped since. I did competitions and always wanted to be sponsored; didn’t do sports or anything, just snowboarding. I went to school in Reno for engineering and wanted to be a board designer, thinking that was the dream job. Somewhere around freshman or sophomore year, a professor convinced me that job didn’t exist. So I was turned away from it, and worked for the power company in Nevada for three years doing solar development, and a lot of basic engineering things. I wanted to turn full circle and go back to what I originally got into engineering for. So I went to grad school in Boulder for engineering and product design.
Out there I worked for BCA for a few months doing product design, and in parallel I was working for a company called Neepo that was doing boards out of Reno. That was where I got my first hands-on experience getting down and dirty designing boards. A month after I graduated from grad school, the job at RIDE opened up. I had an interview within a week of applying and within three weeks of the interview I was living in Seattle. It’s insane that this job actually exists and I get paid to do the things that I do. It’s trial by fire, super fun, and every day is a learning experience.
Greatest reward? The best part about my job is having an impact on snowboarding. Seeing my boards in the lift line is the weirdest thing. It blows my mind every time I see someone buying one, every time I’m talking to someone about what it is, and seeing it get an award or any amount of recognition from people I respect. It’s one thing to design the board and be really proud of that, but we also have a team of artists that make it look great. I sincerely doubt my boards would ride as well as they did if they didn’t look as good as they did.
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James Nicol, Snoplanks
I got into snowboard shaping when I moved to Bend in 2011. I lived in San Diego for about ten years, and did a lot of surfing and shaping surfboards for myself and friends. When I got up to Bend I lost that, wanted to get it back, and I needed a pow board. So I bought a piece of plywood, ripped it down, sanded it, glassed it, finished it, and rode it at Mt. Bachelor for ten days, no edges. It just got this stoke going and I wanted to keep making a better board. It started as an edgeless brand that was doing reverse sidecut pow boards, really outside the box stuff and it got some attention. We then brought it back to center and made a quiver of boards that are good for a lot of different conditions. People in Bend have rallied around us, and we have a lot of support there.
Last year was our first year of sales and we’re coming into our sophomore season looking pretty good. We have a sick team of ripping riders and they really support the brand because they immediately bring feedback to myself and Will [Dennis]. We can change things right there. We make our boards pretty much unlike anyone else, using bamboo from tip to tail with carbon, and a sintered, black base. Simple, clean aesthetic, but people like it. It also helps to have a guy that you can ride and shape with. It’s super creative, super rewarding. It’s tough having a small business. We haven’t really gone the investment route, so we’re bootstrapping the shit out of it right now. But that keeps you on your toes, and makes you really want it. We’re changing the model by going direct to consumer, doing a payment plan on our website so people can access the boards a lot easier.
Greatest reward? When someone comes to the shop and picks a board up, and they see it for the first time. They’re like, “oh my God, I’m so stoked!” Right there, that’s what it’s all about.
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Gray Thompson, United Shapes
Our story starts in 2014. Pretty recent, just the young brand. I was riding for countless other snowboard companies, riding tons of boards, and was working on developing boards with a bigger brand but kept running into hurdles. I just went down a completely different path. The opportunity came with some friends who were feeling the same way about ideas getting watered down through other brands, and we came together to start United Shapes. It’s a new brand that could have a true, honest, and authentic story that wasn’t determined by numbers, corporate hierarchy, sales, or trends.
It was a clean start to do whatever we wanted, whatever we could dream of. The only limitation is being small and having capital or not having capital. That was the start. Snowboarding as long as I have, I had so many ideas for these boards that I have wanted to make for my whole life. I was always designing the perfect board in my head, so it was an opportunity to unleash all those ideas and make them come to life.
Greatest reward? It’s seeing people out there, and seeing how people’s minds change on snowboarding, or how they ride and approach the mountain. With my freestyle background, we have a younger demographic of people that spend a lot of time in the park. But a lot of these people are getting on a directional board and having this whole new feeling about snowboarding. They’re looking at the mountain differently. I love to ride with them and see how stoked they are to rip turns in a way they have never felt a board ride before.
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Akasha Weisgarber, Hightide Mfg
I’ve been snowboarding since the late ‘80s and moved to Whistler right after high school, so I’ve been a snowboard bum for a long time. I went to school for architecture technology and learned some computer programs. There was always an interest in board design and I started working with a few brands going their CAD files for their snowboards, and helped develop their shapes. I did a lot of work with Alex Warburton on developing the YES line, a little bit of work with Stepchild, and some work with Johnny Quattro who worked for DC. But then it came to a point where I had boards I wanted to create but no outlet.
So Tyeson Carmody, Gabe Langlois and I decided to realize that vision. We built a pneumatic snowboard press from scratch and started pressing boards. They rode pretty well, and I just went from there. All of the Whistler locals were pretty stoked on them. The first boards we pressed were in the fall of 2014.
Greatest reward? I like the lifestyle, and being able to snowboard and keep the passion alive. It’s great to see people stoked on the boards and having friends ride them.
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Jeremy Jensen, Grassroots Powdersurfing
I started building my own powsurfers 10 years ago, but I have screwed around with bindingness boards for 18 years now. It really started out of boredom in early season riding when it snowed a foot and it wasn’t really deep enough to go snowboarding. So to take the bindings off made that smaller terrain more interesting, challenging, and fun. On the skateboard side of things, I could try shove-its and kickflips off of little bumps, and all the jumps become much bigger. It’s such a surf-like experience to be without bindings, and the shapes of the boards cater to that. Where I live there are a lot of nooks and crannies, really small but interesting pieces of terrain. Those boards allowed me to get into these ditches and small-scale features that were tricky to get a snowboard through.
Injury was a big thing that kept me doing it. I’ve had a lot of back problems, knee surgeries, tons of ankle surgeries; products of too much skateboarding and snowboarding. I couldn’t really do that for a few years so I got more into powsurfing because it was much lower impact and still a creative, new way to interact with my environment. It changes the way you intersect with the mountains. I moved back home to where I grew up snowboarding, and I had ridden that terrain for 20 years. It was a rebirth. It makes me feel like a little kid again. Grassroots is about returning to the roots of snowboarding, surfing on snow, and reminding people what really matters. A lot of that is nostalgic for riders. Many people that are drawn to it are really experienced snowboarders, so it takes them back to their first year of learning and is like the Fountain of Youth in a lot of ways.
Greatest reward? Initially, it was personal. I was just building them for myself, friends, and we would sell very few of them. It was a big reward having my heroes asking me for boards. People like Bryan Iguchi, Todd Richards, Terje Haakonsen, Ingemar Backman, and all these people I idolized as a kid. I’m creating something that’s making them super stoked. It’s rad that way, and going out with first timers or even people that have been out a bunch and seeing the looks on their faces, the words that come out of their mouths after the first run, are priceless. To see little kids like my daughter giggling her little face off and having a blast riding super simple stuff. I think it’s the best part, because it doesn’t make much money. That’s the reward.
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