When Captain James T. Kirk said the words, “Space, the final frontier,” he was only partially correct. It was space all right, but not outer space. The final frontier everyone is talking about these days is cyberspace, and as snowboard-product manufacturers jack into the Net in growing numbers, others are wondering what it’s all about.

Aggression, Airwalk, Burton, Palmer, Rossignol, Sims, and Vortex already have product represented on the Internet World Wide Web, and K2 says they’ll have their Net site set up and running by the first of September.

As usual, the answers to why everyone is doing this depends on who you ask. The national media is hyping the Internet as the next big thing¿a bigger marketing tool than television because it allows interaction on the part of the viewer. But behind the hype are some interesting realities. The Internet allows potential customers to explore information about a company at their own pace from their own homes in as detailed or superficial a level as they choose. It speeds communication between manufacturers and their consumers, and it is addictive as hell.

Not everyone is as excited about this on-line world, however. Dennis Jenson, Burton’s vice president/director of marketing sees it as another tool to market product. “At this point, by anyone’s best estimate the Internet would have to rank as a low to medium priority item in the marketing mix,” Jenson says. “Looking to the future, it could be much more relevant. For most snowboard companies the cost of putting up a full-blown site would far outweigh the benefits, because it’s a large commitment to reach a fairly small market.”

Yet Burton is making the commitment. In the last year they’ve spent more money on multi-media marketing pieces like their CD-ROM catalog and the recent Security Leak promo kit than anyone else in the industry. Still, Jenson is rather non-plussed by the hoopla the Net is generating. “It’s fun, but I want to stress to the world that people are spending way too much time talking about it; it doesn’t make you snowboard more,” he says. “It’s just this thing that everyone wants to talk about. I’m bored with it already. I hate sitting at my computer.”

Jenson might hate it, but there are many others who love sitting in front of their computers and exploring the digital universe. Current numbers on people with connections to the Internet vary, but in an article titled “Cyberspace For Sale,” The Los Angeles Times claims there are 30-million. In a first-ever interview with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Tom Brokaw said that currently there are 20-million Internet users. Add this to the fact that the video-game maker Sega sold 400-million dollars worth of their Sonic The Hedgehog game cartridges, and you’ve got a nation on the brink of digital revolution. It’s no wonder large corporations like Sony, IBM, Mastercard, MCI, Ragu Foods, and Club Med are taking advantage of the Net.

People who have enough money to own computers at this point are obviously active consumers. At least that’s what Tim Swart, promotions manager for Airwalk, believes: “I figure the type of people who are on the Internet have enough money to have a computer, or they’re in college,” he says. “Either way, they’ll probably have the money to buy our products.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that college students make up a sizable chunk of Internet users, and this is reason enough for Sims to go on-line. “I decided to put up our Web page specifically to go after the college crowd and also the high school kids,” says Gaylene Nagel, marketing manager for Sims Snowboards. “It’s also a way to test out an area where I think we’ll be spending more marketing dollars in the future.”

The college market is why Marc Bujold, Rossignol’s snowboard division manager, decided to put their pages up. “We’re in a college town, and I know how much free time college students have,” Bujold says. “They’re into hanging out on-line. With our Web pages I’m lookingg beyond the twelve- to sixteen-year-old jib punk to the college students who want more information about product.”

Most of the companies on-line see the Web as a way to increase global awareness of the product and its dealers. “I’m trying to get our name and product out there on the global scene,” he says. “Plus, we’re going to have the dealer network, where users enter their zip codes into the program and instantly get a list of the four closest Rossignol dealers. So basically this is helping the company and supporting our dealers at the same time.”

More than the market, some are going on-line to communicate more effectively. “The engineers in the K2 R&D department, as well as marketers, are excited about having direct contact with consumers,” says Tim Petrick, vice president at K2. “We plan on using the Web site as a sounding board for K2’s new ideas. Getting on-line is the best way for us to get closer to our customers so we can optimize the recreational equipment we produce.”

Getting On-line

Currently there are two basic ways to get on-line. One is by investing in the computer hardware, software, and phone lines to set up a private Web server like the ones Burton and K2 are building. This can be extremely expensive and requires a dedicated staff that understands both the snowboard market and the often befuddling world of electronic data transmission and design. The up side is that it guarantees complete minute-by-minute control over the site, and establishes a strong foundation for the future when much more than marketing may be happening on-line.

The second is to sign up with a Web service provider who will program and manage a company’s pages for a fee. This is the method used by Palmer, Sims, Rossignol, Aggression, and Vortex. It is inexpensive because the cost of setting up the server is shared by all those involved, but it is not as personal because individual page owners must depend on someone at the provider to maintain the site. And when one site can have an almost unlimited number of pages, things can and do get lost in the shuffle.

Two main providers serve most of the snowboard pages: the Cedro Group of San Jose, California, whose Sportslink includes Ski Industries America (SIA), Aggression, Rossignol Snowboards, and Vortex Snowboards; and the Heckler Magazine site based in Sacramento, California that houses Sims and Palmer’s Web pages. Both offer relatively inexpensive ways for companies to have a presence on the Web. “I think the Internet is a cheap, effective addition to anyone’s marketing plan,” says Robert Chea, director of information systems at Cedro. “With our service you can market for a whole year for about a 1,000 dollars. It’s a global audience, and it gets your name around.”

Sims and Palmer are on the Heckler Magazine site. Heckler was the first snowboard magazine to offer on-line marketing to their advertisers. And both Palmer and Sims are happy with their setup. “I just wanted to try the Web out and test the waters without having to do it myself,” says Bud Fawcett of Palmer USA. “And Heckler offered me a perfect way to do that. My goal for having a Web site is to be an archive of anything having to do with Palmer: videos, interviews, dealers. We’re not there yet, but this is a start.”

Fawcett is right. This is the beginning. And right now no one can imagine what snowboarding on the Internet will look like in the future. Right now the one thing everyone can be sure of is that people are flocking to the Internet. And whereever there’s a crowd, there’s a potential snowboarder.

Ian Ponting, manager of Windsurf Bicycle Warehouse in South San Francisco, made a point: “People love to use their computers to communicate,” he said. “But I hope they realize that there is still a big world out there!”