P.S. RIP Tacoma Northwest Snowboards
P.S. RIP Tacoma Northwest Snowboards
Been wanting to do this post for awhile, but due to time and brain cell constraints it’s been sitting in draft status since this XDL Powder Alert vid. The french/freedom press/unamurrrrcan line I wrote made my brain do it’s ADHD/tangential thinking thing that keeps me up late at night, thinking about how the confluence of the internet/information availability, the recent economy and corporate economics has created the perfect negative storm for many in the industries we all love.
< tangent >
A majority of consumers these days make their (short-sighted?) buying decisions solely on the best available price, creating a race to the bottom for retailers – and as you’ve likely seen in your hometown the brick and mortars will lose 9 times out of 10 to the online retailers. The B&M retailers value adds are usually some blend of knowledge (which has been outsourced to the internet), customer service (though not always if your local shop is a brobrah too cool for school – though most of those mid-90s relics exist only in memories and tattered up stickers on the lift towers at Ski Acres), and ‘product experience’ (aka inventory, shit you can touch/feel/try on).
Retailers know that there is a subcategory of consumer that comes in, tries on everything, and leaves – only to punch the barcode or product name into their fruitphone (there’s a reason Target, Amazon, and other retailers are giving away shopping apps, and it’s not because brand recognition pays the bills…) and order from the cheapest possible place online – wasting employee man hours and thus $$ that could be better spent servicing customers that actually have intent to purchase product from these retailers. Sadly, those consumers don’t identify themselves upfront, so there’s no way to charge only that subset a cover charge to come into the shop or just ignore them, so this unquantifiable expense will likely always exist (and it’s likely growing), and retailers will have to find other ways to differentiate themselves. (NOTE: If you’re that guy I don’t want to hear you complaining in two years when your local shop has gone away and you’ve got no place to go to fondle new gear or pick up the latest vid in September to get your stoke going)
Shops like Seattle based evo have done a a great job at evolving without losing their street cred. They’ve curated a nice mix of both the big mainstream and more niche product lines, and their retail and online arm operate seamlessly together, allowing them to capture some of that online dollar without resorting to a Sierra Snowboards style swap meet/selling shit out of your trench coat on the street corner pricing strategy to gain (negative margin?) market share. (Yes, I’m ignoring for a fact that the sales they capture online are likely NOT just consumers who would usually walk into evo but instead are purchasing from them online, thus cannibalizing some other shop’s shot at a sale, but I’m temporarily suspending reality and choosing to believe that the only people buying from them online are those with local shops that don’t carry or won’t order the brand/specific product they need OR their local shop is a too cool for school/brobrah shop that think their mere existence provides value to consumers and thus not a tear will be shed when it’s consumed by market forces)
Long tangent summarized: don’t be that guy, and if you ARE that guy at least give your local shop a chance to capture your sale and price match (plus shipping costs, etc.) what you’re about to buy online. Failing that, in the words of a-man “kill yoself” (I guess that’s not a direct quote, he would have likely used more caps, more punctuation, and threw in a 9 or something)
< /tangent >
We are lucky that many of the companies that were around at the start of this whole skiboarding thing are still around, with many of them still making their product in the USA. Better yet, most of these American made products are able to compete both on price and performance – which in other industries is often NOT the case and the consumer pays a ‘tax’ (be it price or quality/performance) by buying locally. A side benefit of being made in the homeland is they don’t shit where they sleep – many of these companies are far more environmentally forward in their processes than those abroad. From soybean topsheets to Forest Stewardship Council certified wood to windpower to soy wax, many on this list are leading the way.
It’s worth nothing that ‘made’ can have various connotations, running the gamut between mere assembly to every raw material going into the product being sourced in the USA – and given all the time in the world, a million monkeys and a million computers I could come up with a proprietary scale taking all sorts of factors into account, but as I’m short time, monkeys and computers that’s not going to happen. Also note that there is a considerable difference between MADE in the USA and DESIGNED in the USA. When someone is advertising the fact that their product is designed in the USA I look at it as red, white and bluewashing, which based on some commercials I’ve seen lately is the new greenwashing. I can summarize my simple minded thoughts on it as follows: one creates additional jobs on the assembly line, thus getting more people we know paid, and more dollars flowing into our local economies, whereas the other just may make crock pots.
HOPEFULLY as snowboarding continues to grow, and splitboarding becomes more popular, consumers will continue to recognize the value of these (sometimes niche) players and they will continue to exist and thrive and not go away ‘as their once-unique products become commodities made cheaply overseas.’ The list below is just a short smattering and will continue to be updated as I think of additional companies. I’m not saying that everything on the list is of higher quality than product X you may be looking at, just hoping to plant a seed of bigger picture implications of your dollar’s voting power for the next time you’re faced with a purchase decision of two products of comparable quality, price and utility.
Libtech/Gnu – They’ve been around since day one. Certainly the most mass recognized and produced name on this list, and likely the most innovative, but did you know their snowboards, skateboards and surfboards continue to be manufactured in the USA?
One Ball Jay – Forever linked to Mervin above, 1BJ continues to manufacture their waxes right here
Karakoram – 94% of their parts are made in the USA, 91% of them in Washington state, and assembled just down the 90 from their testing grounds.
Spark R&D – The OGs of the splitboard binding game, manufacturing and/or assembling all their bindings in Montana.
Signal Snowboards – Started by Dave Lee (yeah, that Dave Lee) and manufactured in the flatbillin’, chromed out/raised up/never seen dirt monster truck capital of the world, Huntington Beach.
Never Summer – Denver’s in the house and spitting out high quality sticks since ’83
Winterstick – Some guy by the name of Tom Burt designs the boards, manufactured by CO based Wagner
Freeride Systems – A rarity for outerwear, Freeride Systems actually manufactures their apparel here in the US
OwnerOperator – Well out of my price range, Owner Operator’s New York made gear has that Mollusk or Thalia St. vibe
Batwaves – If you were around in the 90s dissing Batwaves is a lot like dissing Dre – you diss them you diss yourself. The same simple design, long cuffed, Cordura nylon goodness you remember (albeit at a bit higher cover charge), still manufactured in Idaho.
Brian Pattee at Down the Middle custom splitboards recently got the call from Mr. T. Rice, who was looking to get a few boards split before he headed to Alaska to film with Jeremy Jones and the ‘Deeper‘ crew. The fact that Travis had to call up Brian means that obviously the long rumored Lib OEM split is still at least another year out. This guy does INSANE work (check the middle edges), I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves….
EDIT: Lib made a factory (non-drilled though) version for 2010. You can grab it online at “>US Outdoor Store.
Your skis are killing you, and your snowboard is killing the environment.
Bold statement or understatement? Take a minute and think about your kit and the toxins used in the creation of it. The resins in your core contains VOCs. Your wax has PFCs, the production of which requires PFOA. Clothing dyes, waterproof laminates, metal zippers and plastic buckles? Yup, more fun chemical cocktails and non- and slow degrading products leeching into your water. What about durability? A more durable product may be bad for business but good for the environment as it’s less waste making it’s way to landfills. It’s mind boggling to think of all the bad that goes into the manufacture of our good times.
Thinking outside of output from the direct manufacturing process there’s the core. That wood has to come from somewhere – and odds are good that it wasn’t sustainably grown. Was it grown locally? Every mile from the factory is additional mile of carbon spewed into the atmosphere. Your snack on the lift? That wrapper is filling landfills while you’re filling your stomach.
So why is it that an industry that is dependent on winter being cold continues to use products that contribute to global warming? Outside of Lib Tech it feels as if it’s primarily smaller companies such as Venture Snowboards and Purl Wax leading the way, whereas larger companies with much larger R&D budgets merely offer a single line of greener products. Do companies with a business predicated upon the outdoors have an ethical obligation to the consumers and the environment? As consumers will we continue to blindly (ignorance is bliss, right?) purchase product without giving a second thought to it’s environmental effect from cradle to grave, or will we rise up and voice our opinions and vote with our pocketbooks?
I’m not pretending to have any answers as the problem gets more complex the more layers of the onion you peel back. Hopefully by merely planting this seed others will think about their purchase habits and who they choose to support when it comes time to open your wallet.
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