Thursday, September 29, 2011

Infographic: The History of Snowboard Manufacturers - Is being an independent snowboard manufacturer actually a selling point?

With the gear guides and snowboard review season in full swing and people contemplating their next snowboard purchase its the time of year we hear a lot of blag from a plethora of snowboard companies about why their company is better than everyone else's, as they try to make their products stand out in a busy marketplace. To try and make sense of some of these claims we wanted to find a way to display the background of the different companies so that we could really see how they all compare.

We've spent the last few days researching the company histories of the major snowboard makers and putting it all into a pretty infographic. From the chart you can see how old the companies are, how long they've been making snowboards, which companies are independent and which are owned or licensed by other companies. Some of the things we found surprised us...

Click on the picture and then click again to see the chart in glorious full size

One of the main pitches we hear from the snowboard manufacturers is that they better than all the others because are an independent company, but is being an independent company actually a selling point?

Nope. This list only covers 56 past and present snowboard manufacturers. There are tens or possibly hundreds more snowboarding companies that could also be added if you include every Tom, Dick and Harry who puts their name on a board. In this list of the main players in the market, 62% of the manufacturers are independent which is a fairly meaty majority. If you added in all of the other enterprises, being an independent company becomes a very common thing. If pretty much everyone else can say the same thing, and it doesn't differentiate your company from the others then its not a good sales point.

Does being independent indicate that the manufacturer is starting a game-changing business? 

Nope. Most companies that start manufacturing snowboards are independent companies. Across these companies, 82% were independent when they produced their first snowboards. When you start out, being an independent company isn't something you chose to do, it is just incredibly unlikely that you could start it any other way. 

It's also unlikely that the manufacturer will remain independent in the longer-term as it becomes more and more likely that the company will be acquired. 75% of the youngest 20 companies are independent, but just 32% of the oldest companies are independent. Being independent might be a selling point now but in another 20 years half of those businesses will have been acquired and will have to come up with a completely different selling point.

So it's not a good sales point and people should probably use it a hell of a lot less, but it is a good indication of the quality of the snowboard?

Probably not. Independent companies on average have less experience in making snowboards. They've only been making them for an average of 14 years compared with the owned companies who have an average of 18 years of experience. Its not entirely scientific but in general the longer you have been making something the better you get at it and the more likely your products will be of better quality. It's not a perfect measure because younger companies are often able to be more adaptable and can on occasions produce more creative designs, think of Bateleon and their triple-base technology. That said the whole industry is still very young and some of the most experienced companies, like Lib Tech for example, are also some of the most creative.

Is it more core to be independent?

Meh. You'd think that the companies with the best claims at being independent and consistently sticking it to the man would be the ones who have retained their independence for the longest periods of time. Here's a look at 5 oldest, and they're an odd bunch with very little in common with each other:
  • Burton - the snowboard behemoth and hugely successful business run by Jake Burton who proved himself to be considerably better at running a business compared to of any of his peers. Burton aren't sticking to the man anymore though, they are the man.
  • Barfoot - a guy who had completely the opposite journey to Jake Burton, who now makes just a few boards a year and markets them through an antiquated web site. Not an unparalled success, and given the choice he'd rather have been in Jake Burton's shoes. 
  • Swell Panik - a man in a shed in France making very expensive (boards for $1,172 to $1,238 a pop) but beautifully crafted snowboards, skis and strangely monoboards.
  • Nidecker - a multi-generational family business that slowly drifted into snowboard manufacturing.
  • Elan - a company based in Slovenia that you're probably only vaguely aware exists.

What have we learned?

After doing this research we'd recommend that if you are going to buy a new snowboard in the next few weeks you should probably get the one with the pretty graphic.

If anyone else wants the data or wants to spot/correct any errors we may have made here are the details:

You might also like…
Directors of the Board – The Big Corporations That Control Snowboarding


  1. tbh lobster is pretty much Bataleons with them using the Helgasons fame as a selling point.

  2. That's true. There are a few other companies that do the same thing. Jones and YES boards are both made by Nidecker and Roxy boards are made by Mervin for example. We didn't cover that side of thing in this chart, but its something we hope to do someday.

  3. can't believe volkl is still kickin it. talk about staying power.

    eternal did a history of burton infographic that you might want to check out...

  4. I think this article is lacking quite a bit of info.

    I am all for transparency in the snowboarding industry but I don't think you have gone far enough. I would be very interested to see what company's boards come from which factories. There are so few companies that make there own boards, and perhaps a better look at the diversity in snowboards isn't the graphics and length of time they have been independent but where they are actually manufactured.

    Elan manufactures boards for most of the companies on that list. Off the top of my head I know Elan makes Artec, Rome, Arbor, Capita and others. K2, Ride and Morrow are made in some secret chinese manufacturing city alongside coffee makers and and shoes for payless shoe store. Perhaps this would be better as a separate article, comparing which manufacturers have been winning snowboard awards from different publications.

  5. Hi Alex

    We weren't looking to cover that aspect in this article, but where brands are manufactured is interesting. Unfortunately it's information that is not easy to find or verify which means it would take a hell of a lot of research to get right and present simply. We've done a couple of articles on OEM manufacturing, but we've only been able to scratch the surface so far. I'm not sure we'll ever be able to do something this comprehensive but we will be trying continuing to try and to build up the picture.

    1. You might as well nail Jello to the wall. By the time you compile the information about an OEM's clients, maybe 30% will have switched manufacturers. Rome has had their boards made in 2 or 3 OEM facilities since it started, e.g.

      BTW, you guys did a great job with this article, thanks.

  6. Great investigation and really interesting information.

    Another point that could be further developed, is the link between the quality of the product and the quantity of snowboards manufactured. Because I think this is more relevant than the longevity of the company. Building more ALWAYS implies a compromise on the quality.

    Also, "independent" does not mean "handcrafted". + What is the impact of all these companies on the environment? What's their Carbon footprint? I'd bet that the bigger it is...

  7. You forgot to list Snowtech, Flite, Glacier and Diamond Snowboards all from the 80's

  8. Bastard is missing and Voelkl is
    actually a German thing, though it might well be that at some point not
    too long ago they moved to Switzerland for reasnons that can't possibly
    have anything to do with taxation. Looking forward to an update, perhaps
    including info on which company makes what brand's boards, but you
    already did an outstanding job!

  9. Bastard is missing and Voelkl is German or at least was for decades, but really great job!


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