We sifted through a mess of 893 snow sports brands representing at the SIA Snow Show to find the Colorado companies we love most, then asked them to show off their best boards for the 2011/2012 season. Click through for a fast-forward look at the boards locavores will be craving next season (listed by the companies' proximity to Denver), followed by three very cool pairs of skis.
1 & 2. Never Summer. Any discussion of what's happening with Colorado ski and snowboard companies has to begin with Never Summer. Why? The Never Summer factory on Colorado Avenue, just north of I-70, manufactures its own snowboards as well as skis and boards for three of the other companies on this list (Icelantic, Fat-ypus, and High Society Freeride). Never Summer has been taking the lead as innovators, recently nabbing a patent on the rocker-camber design that has helped sales skyrocket over the last few years. Never Summer also has a deeper line than any other Colorado company, manufactures more boards, and will be celebrating their 20th anniversary next season.
Check out the 20th anniversary edition Heritage board and fly the Colorado flags on the topsheet and base of this big-mountain freestyle board every time you ride, in the name of local pride, or try the new Proto CT all-mountain twin tip, suggests Never Summer's Tim Canaday, who has been making boards with his brother Tracey since they were in high school. Both boards are part of Never Summer's Carbonium Series, adding carbonium laminates to the new NS SuperLight wood cores: Tinkering with board design is the Canaday brothers' specialty. "Either of these boards will serve you well on any mountain in Colorado," says Tim Canaday. "I don't know of any rider in Colorado who rides exclusively in the park and doesn't need their board to handle just as well on the rest of the mountain. The Proto CT is really our answer for these riders, combining the best of our SL all-mountain board and our popular Evo pipe and park board." For more on Never Summer, revisit Westword's January 2010 cover story.
3. Unity Snowboards. This Summit County company based in Dillon is best known for its freestyle boards, perfect for slaying nearby parks and pipes at Breckenridge, Keystone or Copper Mountain. Top team riders like JJ Thomas, Zack Black, and Dylan Bidez all ride the Origin twin-tip park board, Unity's most popular board. But Unity founder Pete Wurster himself is actually an old-school big mountain freerider and powder hunter who has been in pursuit of more elusive prey this year in a season that has brought dumps as big as 26 inches at his favorite local mountains: The Whale, featuring graphics shaped out of text from Moby Dick, is a floating beast built for quick carves in deep snow, and it's available as a splitboard for the intrepid. Unity's splitboards have been a surprise success, says Wurster. "We couldn't make enough of them this season... the orders just kept coming in. At some point we had to cut it off and say, 'We want to go riding this winter.'" No wonder so many other snowboard companies outsource their manufacturing to China!
4. Venture Snowboards. Speaking of splitboards, Silverton-based Venture Snowboards was the only snowboard company at SIA offering its entire 2011/2012 line with split options -- handy, since nearby Silverton Mountain only has one chairlift and the San Juan Mountains offer more hike-to terrain than anyone could possibly snowboard in a single lifetime, says co-founder Lisa Branner. "The problem with splitboards from other companies has been that they tend to chatter a lot, because they're just not put together tightly enough," she says. "You could almost run a credit card through the space between the edges on some of the other splitboards I've seen on display here at SIA today. Ours are locked tight and ride pretty much exactly like the solid versions of the same boards, which means you can have the ride you deserve after putting in the work to get it." Venture added a fourth board, the Odin, to its line this season thanks to a new partnership with big mountain snowboarding legend Johan Olofsson, who helped design and shape the board to meet his needs. Olofsson joined Jeremy Jones and company for a harrowing trip to Alaska for the 2010 backcountry snowboarding film Deeper (see clip below), riding one of Venture's Storm-R splitboards.
5. High Society Freeride. This company, based in Snowmass, makes great snowboards like the Empire, an all-mountain, all-conditions board designed with the Aspen resorts in mind and manufactured by Never Summer, but its Aspen-bred Blazer jacket was the center of attention at SIA. "It's the perfect jacket for a place like Aspen," says High Society Freeride co-owner Reggie Charles, half joking. "You know, for the guy who wants to come off the mountain and head straight for the lounge." Just to see him squirm, we made him pose in the jacket when he showed off the board, which is available in a traditional camber model or with Never Summer's patented Rocker & Camber design. "Next year I have to make sure the sample jacket is in somebody else's size," Charles quipped. The medium-flex Empire runs big, with 160, 164, and 168cm models. For a shorter all-mountain board try the Twilight. We also liked the Scarlet women's board. I don't know as much about skis, but, since the first two pairs on this list are nearly as fat as snowboards and are manufactured at the Never Summer factory, I'll close out this list by mentioning great new boards from two local ski companies and one set of skis made in China by a ski shaper with Colorado roots and headquarters in Breckenridge.
1. Icelantic. The Gypsy from Icelantic, new to the line, is a wicked long rocker ski featuring walrus art by Travis Parr (the 2011/2012 collection has an animal theme and Parr's art looks fantastic, as usual).
"The Gypsy is the only new shape this year but it's a fun one," says Chris Blackett, operations manager for the Denver-based ski company that has seen astronomical growth year over year since founder Ben Anderson first started making skis in his garage. "This is a big, long, fully-rockered reverse camber ski. It's got a lot of flex and a lot of float to it."
2. Fat-ypus. Jared Mazlish, founder of Breckenridge-based Fat-ypus, couldn't decide which boards he's more excited about: The L-Toro, team rider Adam Delorme's new signature ski, or his bestselling I-Rock, so we figured we'd let him show them both off. "The L-Toro is a softer ski for us but it's really poppy and has a lot of life in it," says Mazlish. "It's got a little bit of camber underfoot and a lot of rise in the tip and tail, making it a great powder ski, but it's also got a solid edge in all conditions. The I-Rock is the most versatile ski in our line and, I expect, will be our bestseller again this year, so it's an easy one to love."
3. SkiLogik.. We're reserving honorable mention status for this Breckenridge-based ski company, on the grounds that their beautiful-looking skis are made in China while everything else on this list is made right here in Colorado. But if you're not a hardcore locavore, then these skis are certainly worth a look: The elaborate wood and mother-of-pearl artwork by artist Mariella made for some of the coolest-looking skis we saw at SIA. David Mazzarella started SkiLogik in Colorado, then moved to China with Mariella and their children to set up the factory from scratch.
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Mazzarella is unapologetic about his manufacturing location, writing in the company catalog, "The first thing I did was choose a low-cost location so I wouldn't have to worry about costs. Sounds odd, but it works that way. Expensive locations force you to compromise the product by going cheaper on materials or reducing labor times. The alternative is outsourcing to low-cost locations, but that restricts you to a cookie-cutter product and puts quality at risk. I took the third rail. I moved with my wife and kids half way across the globe and set up our own factory so that I could design and produce with the best methods possible."
Spokesman Jeb Marsh says his favorite in the line is the Howitzer, the ski that earned the highest marks in Freeskier Magazine's 2010 Homebrew test of companies that produce less than 1,000 pairs a year.
"It's the overall favorite and bestseller in the line," Marsh says. "110 underfoot, 22 meter radius sidecut, slight rockered shovel construction, traditional twin tip tail, just a little bit of camber underfoot, black locust sidewalls, polonia core, very damp ski, fun and carvy, fun in the powder, very lightweight... a lot of guys have been buying these and setting them up with lightweight tele bindings or a lightweight alpine setup. They've been a real hit this year."