Silverton Mountain is home to some of the best freeriding that can be done in the San Juan Mountains, it also houses Venture Snowboards run by Klemens and Lisa Branner. Venture is a brand that has found a way to lessen their environmental impact without sacrificing the quality of their decks. Add to that the fact that many brands have outsourced over seas to do this while they’ve remained here and you have a truly homegrown brand.
Angry Snowboarder: What does American Made mean for you as a snowboard manufacturer?
Lisa Branner: For us, made in the USA actually means made from scratch. We take great pride in the fact that we’re not just assembling boards here in Silverton, but that we are building all the components as well. Our cores literally start out as a pile of lumber in the parking lot, for example. This means we can keep a really tight watch on all phases of the process and have total control over quality. Another key to quality is that our boards are built by snow sliders, by people who actually have a connection to what they’re doing. They’re going to go out and play on those boards once they’re finished so they are invested in a completely different way. In the end all of that adds up to better performing and more durable boards. But we’re committed to American Made in other ways as well like sourcing all our raw materials as close to home as possible. We seek to purchase every element we use in our snowboards locally, regionally, or nationally and only look to international suppliers when there’s no other option. The added bonus there is that materials don’t need to travel as far to get to us, and that helps reduce our carbon footprint.
AS: The market has drastically shifted towards softer twin shaped park decks, where do you see yourself poised in this market shift and how beneficial is it being a niche brand that can fill the void left by the bigger companies?
LB: Venture is hugely influenced by our personal passions as riders, so we’ve never been concerned with chasing the trends. We enjoy freeriding and the backcountry, and we’re building boards for people like ourselves. It’s definitely a niche, but our goal has never been to dominate, just to continue doing what we love. There will always be a need for companies like ours that keep snowboarding authentic and bring it back to its roots.
AS: Rocker has definitely revolutionized snowboarding and been the biggest technology change in the last decade. What was it like bringing it into your line up and how does a traditional cambered split board differ from one with rocker? Does it function different when it’s split and is it harder to make?
LB: We were definitely skeptical about rocker at first, but once we got the concept we adapted it to our needs pretty quickly. The real challenge was doing a better job with stability and edge hold, as these are key performance issues when you’re riding big mountain terrain. While it took a couple of iterations to get it dialed, we’re obviously doing something right since the rockered versions of our Storm and Zephyr splitboards both got Editors’ Choice awards from Backcountry Magazine. Our rockered boards are flat between the bindings with a lifted tip and tail. From a performance perspective, the rockered shape frees you up to pivot at will and makes the boards a lot more playful and surfy feeling. You don’t get locked into a turn the same way you do with camber, but you can get the board on edge when you want to. And of course you’ve got the advantage of better floatation in powder, since the nose lifts up out of the snow. For splitboarders, the main concern we heard was that when you’re in touring mode you’ll have less surface area in contact with the snow. While that may be true, you also get more pressure on the contact area so you end up with about the same amount of resistance, and not having to de-camber the board so the skins can make contact is definitely an advantage. For those reasons I would argue that in most instances the rocker actually performs better than camber. I could see how a full blown reverse camber design might be a problem here, but our flat design works great.
AS: Have splitboarders embraced you adding rocker to your decks or are they staying with the tried and true camber?
LB: We’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm for rocker, as well as some skepticism. Since rocker helps with floatation in deep snow, and most backcountry riders are powder hounds, it’s definitely had appeal for that reason. But the detractors have good reason to be skeptical. There have been so many different variations of rocker to hit the market in the past few years, and not all of them perform well in the challenging conditions backcountry riders typically encounter. If you’re going to be riding sketchy terrain you want to be sure your board can hold an edge in a no-fall zone. I think eventually even those skeptics will come around when they realize we’ve found the right combination of flex pattern, sidecut and rocker so you still have the bite you need on firm or icy snow.
AS: With the economy being in the shape it is and lift ticket prices going up are you noticing more of an interest in splitboarding and people earning their turns?
LB: We have definitely seen a surge in interest in splitboarding over the past few years. I don’t know if what’s triggering that is the economy or just the simple fact that the snowboarding population is looking for a more soulful experience than they can get at the resort. Splitboarding takes you away from the crowds and puts you in touch with your surroundings. It’s a purer experience. I also personally think that freeriding is the pinnacle of snowboarding. It’s a natural progression for riders to eventually want to take things to the next level and seek new challenges in the backcountry. Another thing that’s helping splitboarding grow is that the gear is progressing and getting better. For example, splitboard specific bindings have totally revolutionized splitboarding by dramatically increasing performance for soft boot riders and making a splitboard feel almost identical to its solid counterpart.
AS: The snowboard industry has a bad habit of dropping established riders and seeing them as past their prime when they aren’t as easily marketed towards the youth. You recently brought on legend Johan Olofsson as a product tester. How important do you think it is to recognize riders like him for their accomplishments and what he can offer from his knowledge?
LB: We’ve never been big on the whole pro rider thing – it’s just part of the marketing machine that mainstream snowboarding has become in recent years. But every big mountain rider on the planet owes Johan some respect for creating a new paradigm in snowboarding. He was the first to have the vision and drive to take freestyle skills out of the park and pipe and into big mountain terrain, and in so doing, he redefined snowboarding as we know it. We’re incredibly lucky to be able to tap the experience and skill of such a talented rider.
AS: Since your inception you’ve always been as environmentally conscious as possible, what do you find to be the hardest challenge continually going forward trying to make the best boards you can while still having as little amount of impact on the environment?
LB: It’s always a challenge finding environmentally friendly materials that can hold up to the abuse a snowboard is typically put through. We refuse to compromise performance or durability for the sake of building a “green” board – what’s the point if it can’t withstand the purposes it was built for? Then we’d just be producing more trash destined for the landfill. So we’re always trying to find that balance between the environment and performance. I think it’s important to stress that while we always strive to do the best we can on the environmental front, we are not environmental angels and the process is definitely an ongoing one.
AS: Could you describe your partnerships with 1% For The Planet and POW for anyone that might not fully understand what it means to have yourself aligned with these organizations?
LB: One Percent For the Planet is an alliance of businesses that have pledged to donate 1% of their annual sales to grassroots environmental causes. We’ve been a participating member since 2006 and have donated to groups like the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies which is researching the impact of climate change on our snow pack, and has done some really groundbreaking work on the dust on snow phenomenon. Protect Our Winters is a non-profit environmental organization started by Jeremy Jones with the mission to reverse the global warming crisis by mobilizing the winter sports community. We’ve been working with POW for the last couple of years, most recently by collaborating on a snowboard graphic design contest that focused on winter, activism and the environment. What we hope to accomplish in supporting these organizations is to bring awareness to a much wider audience and to support on-the-ground efforts to combat global warming.
AS: There’s a multitude of issues facing snowboarding as a whole whether its the industry, climate change, or the economy. What do you feel are the biggest ones that a solution needs to be further looked into?
LB: I think the climate change issue is by far the most important factor for our industry. We have no livelihood if we don’t have any snow, and as the Sierra Club’s David Brower is so often quoted for saying: “There is no business to be done on a dead planet.” There has been a lot of forward movement in the industry on this issue the last few years. I don’t know whether that’s because going green is the hottest new marketing trend or because the snow sports community has finally taken this problem to heart, but in my opinion the motivation doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that now more than ever the industry as a whole is taking some responsibility for its actions and thinking about ways to do better. It’s going to be a long road and a continual process of improvement, but at least now we’re all starting to pull in the same direction.