In last week's feature, tobias c. van Veen tracked down local ski builders in Whistler and Pemberton, discussing the economics of small-scale production in high-end sports equipment. Many builders felt that a shared industrial space would allow them to take their designs to the next level. In the concluding installment, tobias talks to local snowboard and splitboard makers.
People in the Valley are good at making and doing things. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the fringes of Whistler's hub; a quick survey of the Pemberton phonebook reveals a slew of entrepreneurial types, from landscapers to photographers. While these artisans and trades support something of the bigger beast of tourism, most long-term locals are self-starters, setting up shop, and selling a service or product. Many workers in the Valley are multi-skilled, juggling numerous jobs depending on the season. Nearly everyone around these parts has figured out a way to work and play in the Sea to Sky corridor by fulfilling some sort of niche.
Over the past couple of years, a motley though dedicated band of local ski and snowboard makers, have gained momentum — propelled by declining technology prices, trickle-down mechanical innovations, and information sharing through social media, thanks to maker-websites such as skibuilders.com. Yet the desire to craft skis and boards, to create local, handmade, artisanal shapes for riding on snow, though it follows upon similar developments in the surfing community, can only be understood if its economics are contextualized within a thriving snowsports culture that has embraced a Do-it-Yourself ethos.
Freesking and ski-touring have once again upended the ski industry, with innovations in rocker design — those crazily turned-up shapes — sweeping across all styles of ski. Splitboarding, though it has been around for close to 20 years, is seeing a strong resurgence, if not renaissance, as snowboarders strive to keep apace with their ski-touring cousins. The Sea to Sky is not alone in this respect; across North America a wave of smaller-scale ski and snowboard makers have begun to make inroads into the broader snowsports industry, redefining the whole through the diverse sum of their many parts.
PRIOR — all that has happened will happen again
If there is a Big Bang moment for modern ski and snowboard construction in the Sea to Sky, it is Prior. The history of Prior would fill a tome unto itself. Ever since Chris Prior began shaping snowboards down in the city over 15 years ago, Prior snowboards (and later skis) began to be synonymous with superior-quality, Coast Range oriented design. Prior is one of Canada's most respected ski and snowboard makers, bridging the gap between the major manufacturers and the smaller, one-man outfits. Simply put, Prior is known for its designs around the frozen world.