Words/Photos: Ben Gavelda
The boards pictured here represent progressive snowboard design from the 2017 Jackson Hole Pow Wow. Call them powder boards, quiver boards or even shaped boards, they're a mix of it all, both proven and experimental at the same time. Some could be daily drivers and others are far out. Each offers a unique platform to ride, and perhaps holds a fun new formula of flex, shape and materials. The Pow Wow provides the stage where riders can weigh in on these new shapes and designers can share their concepts, but time on snow together is the main goal of the gathering. Here's more on the riders, designers and background of the boards.
"Five years ago was kind of the dawn of the new shaper's revolution," recalls Rob Kingwill, Chief Cat Wrangler of the event. "Brands like Gentemstick were coming into the field of view and I started noticing more weird and interesting boards, but you didn't have a lot of access to them unless you bought one." So Rob decided to do something about it. "There were two pieces to it: One was the Natural Selection that Travis Rice put together years ago. He brought all sorts of pros here and we got to ride together for a week. The event almost got cancelled, but it was so much fun because and all we did was just freeride together every day. Secondarily, I remember dipping into the Powder Mag ski test here and saw how fun and loose it was, just passionate people out riding together more than anything."
A passionate bunch they were this year. Warm temperatures swept across the North American west recently, but that didn't stop this dedicated posse of riders and board builders from taking to the hills for the Pow Wow. There was no powder in sight, but deep slush and springtime conditions presented an opportunity to see how the boards would perform. After all, how many of us truly get to ride untracked pow all the time?
For some builders it's not just about making a powder board, it's creating a quiver killer instead. "When we first started snowboarding we bought one board for the year," says Gray Thompson, rider and designer for United Shapes. "People talk about snowboarding dying and losing participants and you're not going to change that by pushing people to spend more money by buying quivers of boards. I'm into creating a board that someone could ride on everything. That's the future to me. Everyday is different. Every condition is different. And I want to make it accessible for everyone. I want a park kid to feel like he could jump on the tram then head to the park."
Others, like JP Martin who've been riding for decades see something larger at hand with design. "There's just so much that was instinctual about how the first boards were built and I think that Dmitrije [Milovich] and [Tom] Sims and [Chuck] Barfoot and all those guys that were originally thinking about board shapes were really influenced by surfing and I see that happening all over again," he says. "Guys that are craft snowboard makers now are taking not just the snow experience, they're adding in different flavor. You know, I would never take out an old Winterstick because I'd be afraid of breaking it, but to be able to get some of that same feeling that originally hooked people and made snowboarding actually take hold is pretty cool. The seeds of snowboarding were that it was fun and it was really unique because the boards probably did a great job even though we look back like, 'oh bungee bindings and nose ropes' and all that."
For brands like Gentemstick, the surf inspiration was there all along; it was just hiding out in Japan. Domi Churiki of Gentemstick recalls a bit of brand history. "Gentem as a company started in 1998. Taro Tamai was the founder and he started with one shape, the TT. We still make it. That model was actually already out with a different brand back in '91, when he designed it. That's how it all started," he says. "Taro has stuck to the concept of snowsurfing, which is what it was called before snowboarding. He's kept the concept alive. When he started Gentem in '98 no one would pay attention to the shapes. Only in the last ten years has it slowly started growing as people are trying to find something new in snowboarding."
Greener designers see the shaping process as a way to stay connected and innovate. "I think I started designing boards because snowboarding has always been the most important thing in my life outside of family," says Ride Snowboards Board Engineer Michael Chilton. "To have an impact on what I was riding was always a cool idea. Being able to make something that I could then go use and make it better or weirder or just make a different experience has been my motivation." For Akasha Weisgarber, long time Whistler local and main man behind High Tide Snowboards, it was the evolution of riding and ideas. "I've been snowboarding since the late eighties, lived in Whistler, been a snowboard bum and semi-pro, but not really. I ended up going to school for architectural technology so I learned AutoCAD. After that I just kind of wanted to get into it. I designed some boards for DC, Stepchild and Yes. Then from there you know I had all these ideas and no outlet. And also I didn't want to get a regular job and let the lifestyle fade because I still really enjoy it."
The Pow Wow grades design by compiling the feedback and reviews from the every board that goes out the door. There are a number of boards that rise to the top each year, called "Rated Radical" boards. Look out for in-depth reviews of said boards later this fall.