Variables – Faces: Ken Achenbach

Canada’s Original Snowboarding Missionary

If snowboarding has an evangelist, it’s definitely Ken Achenbach. Alternately playing the role of rider, shop owner, inventor, photographer, writer, camp owner, and contest organizer over the years, Achenbach has done more to spread our sport throughout Canada and the world than the rest of snowboarding combined. Yep, he’s a true shred missionary and a preacher of the snowboard gospel.

“Going snowboarding is all I ever wanted. I never cared if I went anywhere as far as a career goes,” says Achenbach-which is ironic because he’s gone nearly everywhere as far as snowboard careers are concerned. The story starts in Calgary, Alberta back in the early 80s, when a young Achenbach ordered a stack of boards from Tom Sims with his mom’s credit card. When the local skate and ski shops shot him down, he was forced to sell the boards himself-and so began The Snoboard Shop, Canada’s (and quite possibly the world’s) first shred retail space run right out of the Achenbach family’s basement. The shop eventually spread to Whistler and became a catalyst for Ken starting the still-legendary Camp Of Champions, which employed his pro-rider shop workers and friends as coaches. “When people came into the shop, we didn’t sell them a snowboard, we sold them a new life,” says Achenbach. “The camp is kind of the same. You show people a different kind of life-that you don’t have to just live the one everyone programs you for.”

Like any true believer, Achenbach’s faith in the shred has been pretty much unshakable over the years: “From day one, I knew snowboarding was going to be the biggest thing ever. Any sport that fun and that easy is going to be huge.” And it did get huge-but not on its own, and definitely not without Ken’s help. He traveled the world to ride, shot photos of all his friends, wrote stories for the magazines, competed on the world tour, and cooked up brand-new gear designs that revolutionized snowboard equipment of the day. “Making the first twin-tip with Neil Daffern was probably one of the highlights of those years,” he says about the Barfoot twin model produced in 1987 with his design. “It’s pretty cool to look at every single modern board and know it came from something we thought up in the back of the shop.”

These days, Ken still spreads the good word through Camp Of Champions, which has, incidentally, grown exponentially from that first year of 75 campers to now employing at least that many staff members. His latest venture involves Powder Mountain Cat Skiing just outside Whistler, where he’s recently become part owner and head of marketing. Running a cat op means plenty of what Achenbach calls “quality testing” on those deep days, and really, it’s just another awesome way of sharing the snowboard experience with the world. “I’ve never cared where snowboarding goes, as long as it involves me, my friends, and riding a really good snowboard. I’ll even ride hardpack … if you force me.”