It’s not how they manufacture snowboards at the K2 Vashon Island factory that’s remarkable, it’s how they tear them apart. Using several different torture machines that have either been made from scratch or modified from the ski manufacturing process, designers, engineers, and riders pound, poke, prod, twist, bang, tear, and ultimately demolish snowboard after snowboard to ensure the highest quality and durability standards possible. In fact, these guys would make the Spanish Inquisition look like a tickle torture.

Not what you would expect from a place located on the quiet, forest-covered Vashon Island, a short ferry ride away from Seattle, Washington. But with snow-capped Mount Rainier looming off in the distance, winter sports are rarely out of the minds of the more than 700 employees that fill the huge factory, warehouse, and headquarters of the largest U.S. ski manufacturer and now one of the leading snowboard makers in the world.

Says Cameron Andrus, senior engineer of snowboards at K2: “Destructive and non-destructive, as well as extensive on-snow testing, make up a large part of our R&D. As a result, our boards speak for themselves.”

Not that other snowboard companies don’t test their boards, it’s just that K2 has gone to great lengths to make the destruction techniques as scientific as possible. Then they take the results back to the design tables to constantly improve their boards.

But before testers tear a snowboard apart, here’s how K2′s production crew puts them together. From beginning to end, the whole process is extensive and encompasses everything from cutting and bending the metal edges, to screen-printing graphics on the P-tex, to shrink-wrapping the finished board for shipping.

Steps One To Twenty

The main element of constructing a K2 snowboard is putting the board’s components into a mold and cooking them so all the pieces bond together. But before that happens, several things need to be prepared for the process. The steel edges, which come from Austria in bundles that look like a coiled rope, are straightened out, cut, and then bent to the shape of the appropriate board. The edges also need to be cleaned¿they are sandblasted to remove excess oil and dirt¿so nothing will impede the bonding process. A glue that is later activated by the heat in the mold is then applied to the edges.

The P-tex, also delivered from Europe, is cut to the appropriate size and screened with graphics. The ink for the graphics comes from a mixing room where the unique colors are prepared for specific board designs. The actual process is similar to T-shirt screening, and colors must be added one at a time, with the P-tex passing through a drying machine between each pass. The more colors on the P-tex, the more expensive it is for the manufacturer to make.

Of course, other pieces of the snowboard puzzle have to be cut and prepared prior to the construction phase. Fiberglass sheets (two per board) must be measured and cut to length. ABS tip, tail, and edge fillers are sized. Woodcores are laminated together, cut to shape and drilled for inserts, and the inserts are added before the woodcore is placed in the mold. A graphite matte is applied to reinforce the inserts.

Then all the pieces are brought together at a work-bench area where an employee assembles them in the following order: The P-tex base, with steel edges already attached, fits into the mold first, with tip and tail pieces added. Then a rubber lining is laid over the edges. The rubber melts into the steel and helps it bond to the rest of the board. A sheet of fiberglass cloth covers the group, and resin is poured over and squeegeed in. Then comes the woodcore, ABS tip, tail, and edges, another sheet of fiberglass cloth¿again squeegeed with resin¿and finally the topsheet. The top of the mold covers the creation, and the whole unit is placed into a press where 190 degrees of heat and pressure cook the board for approximately elve minutes.

When removed, the board is put in a cooling machine that sets the camber. Grinders clean off the edges and buff out the top and bottom, giving the board a polished look. The base is also waxed. Finally, the board is sent to a finishing area where information stickers are added, and the board is shrink-wrapped and grouped to be mailed.

Of course, K2 constantly upgrades their construction techniques. For instance, this year the company has designed their first capped-construction board, the Kevin Young pro model, as a late-season addition to the line. Obviously it’s put together a little differently than the other boards, but it still features a vertical laminated woodcore construction.

Luke Edgar, K2′s national sales coordinator, notes one of the inherent strengths that the manufacturer of both snowboards and skis has: “K2 buys all of our steel, sidewalls, woodcores, and topsheets from the same suppliers as our ski suppliers, affording us tremendous buying power,” he says. “This is one of the reasons our board prices have come down. We really want to make snowboarding affordable for people and get more kids into the sport.”

Testing One, Two, Three …

The testing rooms in the K2 manufacturing plant are located in the interior, appropriately fashioned as a series of inner chambers, not too unlike a medieval dungeon, except with fluorescent lights.

Appropriately, the board testers take a certain, demented delight causing a board’s demise. “Working in the R&D engineering department, my favorite part of my job is doing the destructive tests, making sure the durability of our boards is the industry standard,” says Pat Timmons, K2′s custom board maker and senior R&D board breaker.

Many of the tests are performed on products that have been either stored at room temperature or frozen. To enable this, the testing cornerstone of the K2 facility is the R&D freezer. With an air temperature of zero degrees, boards and other products are sentenced to an overnight stay to simulate conditions out on the cold slopes.

In addition to testing new products, the K2 designers take one cosmetic blemished board a week and run it through the maiming machines to ensure all the woods, fiberglass, glues, and resins are holding up the same as when they were initially developed.

Slap Me!

One of the most exciting machines the K2 design (destruction) department has is the slap tester. With this machine, the K2 engineers decided to remove the tip and tail metal protectors from their boards.

The renowned slap tester flips the board down so the tip of the board hits the ground. This flattens out the tip on contact then it bounces back up and the whole thing vibrates. The lab technicians record what happens to the board every time it is slapped. They also film the board to later analyze what happens in greater detail. Then engineers check to see where the boards are delamming, what layers are falling apart first, and what is holding together correctly.

Through the testing, they found out that the steel tips and tails are usually the first layer to delaminate because they’re the hardest material to bond onto a board. Also working to its disadvantage, steel retains the memory of an impact and is harder to repair. On top of all that scientific research, team riders said they didn’t feel the steel tips and tails were needed, especially if it meant the boards would be lighter without them.

In the end, by just using urethane around the tip and tail, there was an increase in the lamination strength and better shape memory retention during the slap tests. The designers also found that if repairs are necessary, they are easier and faster to perform without steel around the tips and tails.

According to the design department, they went from eighteen to twenty slaps with the steel on the tip and tail to about 35 to 40 slaps. To their estimate, each slap is about equivalent to ten to fifteen days of on-snow vibration.

Poke, Bend, And Twist

Within the chambers, there are a series of other testing machines also utilized on a regular basis by the K2 R&D (ruin and demolish) team.

With one machine, the center of a board is clamped down and then the tip is pulled up and back until the board takes the shape of a letter c. Sometimes the board breaks while it is being bent, usually at the middle. Then load is measured to see how much force it took to break the board.

Another machine tests the board’s torsional flex. A test sample is clamped at both ends and then one end is twisted. The force is then measured to see how much was needed to twist the board a set amount of degrees one direction or the other. Often, both the tip and tail torsional flexes are tested.

The flex of a board is also tested. With the board held flat at the tip and tail, a rod pushes down at the center of the board for a certain distance. Then the force to push the board down this distance is measured and compared to all the other boards coming off the assembly line.

Yet another test involves a machine that looks somewhat like an orange-skin peeler. With this, weights are attached to different layers of the top sheet and base to see it they will peel away from the other sections.

The engineers found that by using different bonding process within the board, they could strengthen the overall board construction. When the tests first started, the engineers were getting twenty pounds of pull from the topsheets at room temperature, and only five pounds when it was cold. After some changes, they’re now getting 50 pounds of pull weight at zero degrees.

Better Boards

Is all the destruction and mayhem worth it? To K2, it’s what’s going to set them apart in a very crowded market. Slowly, the snowboard department is beginning to carry weight with their overall corporate structure, and the corporation is giving them the support the snowboard department needs. And if that means they have to break another 100 or 1,000 boards until the make the strongest, lightest, best board in the market, they will. Hannibal Lector would be proud.n.

Poke, Bend, And Twist

Within the chambers, there are a series of other testing machines also utilized on a regular basis by the K2 R&D (ruin and demolish) team.

With one machine, the center of a board is clamped down and then the tip is pulled up and back until the board takes the shape of a letter c. Sometimes the board breaks while it is being bent, usually at the middle. Then load is measured to see how much force it took to break the board.

Another machine tests the board’s torsional flex. A test sample is clamped at both ends and then one end is twisted. The force is then measured to see how much was needed to twist the board a set amount of degrees one direction or the other. Often, both the tip and tail torsional flexes are tested.

The flex of a board is also tested. With the board held flat at the tip and tail, a rod pushes down at the center of the board for a certain distance. Then the force to push the board down this distance is measured and compared to all the other boards coming off the assembly line.

Yet another test involves a machine that looks somewhat like an orange-skin peeler. With this, weights are attached to different layers of the top sheet and base to see it they will peel away from the other sections.

The engineers found that by using different bonding process within the board, they could strengthen the overall board construction. When the tests first started, the engineers were getting twenty pounds of pull from the topsheets at room temperature, and only five pounds when it was cold. After some changes, they’re now getting 50 pounds of pull weight at zero degrees.

Better Boards

Is all the destruction and mayhem worth it? To K2, it’s what’s going to set them apart in a very crowded market. Slowly, the snowboard department is beginning to carry weight with their overall corporate structure, and the corporation is giving them the support the snowboard department needs. And if that means they have to break another 100 or 1,000 boards until the make the strongest, lightest, best board in the market, they will. Hannibal Lector would be proud.