“The most important thing to consider when designing a board,” says Thomas Laakso, a designer at NoLimitz Snowboards, “is who you’re designing it for.”
The design of a board, from conception to completion, is a process that entails more than one might think.For some companies, it begins in June or July of the year prior to a board’s release and involves dozens ofindividuals. A new design cycle begins when established brands evaluate their current product line as a basisfor progress. The majority of input comes from the company’s pro team (if they have one) and a group ofboard testers who more closely represent the public. Feedback can be elementary: “This board sucks!” Orthe responses may be of a more intellectual and valuable variety: “The board’s 8.5-meter sidecut radius isfine, but because it’s so stiff longitudinally and is hard to bend, it doesn’t turn very sharply.” A good boardtester doesn’t have to win pro contests, but they should understand the relationship between a board’sdesign elements.
They must also be able to clearly communicate ideas to the product-line manager (PLM),or directly to the engineers-many of whom come from the aerospace industry. In addition to the riders’ input,the PLM may decide that the company’s board line has too many freestyle boards, for example, and needsto offer a reasonably priced freeriding board. Or the R&D engineers might come up with a new way torefine the woodcores (materials are currently the area of greatest advancement in board design), possibly bycutting up to 30 or 40 competitors’ boards in half during the course of a year.
While riders and PLMs may supply a sort of wish list for their ideal board, it’s the engineers’ role to figure out how (and if) that dreamboard can be made into a functional riding reality. By determining the best application of the latest proventechnology, and drawing on their experience from years of trial and error, engineers have a good idea ofwhat’s practical. The resulting board is usually a compromise between the riders’ vision and what theengineers know will work. Regardless of fly-by-night technology (marketing hype), there is a basic formulafor designing a functional board. The people at Ride Snowboards call the formula their “secret sauce.” It’sstrictly mathematical and … proprietary information. Mathematical formulas play a substantial role, but adesigner must also have a feel for the particular board and snowboarding in general. The fundamentals ofmaking a board work can’t be overlooked, even in lieu of the short-lived profitability of a technicalappearance.
Like Thomas Laakso of Nolimitz Snowboards says, “It doesn’t matter what the sidecut is if theboard’s flex doesn’t allow it to work in the rider’s benefit.” The companies that are successful in applyingcutting-edge design spend years testing and refining it before selling it. For the industry’s leaders,state-of-the-art is actually tried-and-true by the time it lands in a snowboard shop. To the consumer’sbenefit, legitimate designers agree that if a board doesn’t ride well, a company won’t be around for long.Ride’s Brett Lehr puts it simply: “The ultimate thing is to give the riders what they’re looking for.” By drawingon their experience and resources, board designers ensure that every rider will have the best board for theirmoney come winter.