Its trade show silly season in the snowboarding world. SIA, the US’s major show just finished on Sunday, and without giving anyone time to get over the hangovers, Europe’s biggest show ISPO also started on Sunday. That’s a bitch of a clash of schedules for anyone in the snowboarding industry.
Now that the trade show circus is in our neck of the woods we thought we’d take a look at the industry in Europe. Specifically we thought it would be interesting to ignore the traditional big guns of France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy and see what the other places have to offer. And to keep the list just partially sane we limited ourselves to just looking at companies producing snowboard. See how many of these oddly located brands and manufacturers you recognise…
Despite its limited girth Belgium has made its stamp on the world with their statues of pissing children, fictional detectives, beer, waffles, chocolate and brutal colonisation. What is a bit of a surprise however, given that the highest point in the diminutive country is only 694m above sea level is that that actually have a decent sized snowboard brand.
Imperium was founded in Les Arcs, France, in 2004 by Belgium pro snowboarder Demir Julia, who despite our first guess turned out to be a bloke. Possibly as a reaction to his effeminate name, Julia compensated by seriously overcooking the macho thing, focusing his brand’s image on the hip-hip/gangsta/naked chicks thing. Imperium is in short Europe’s answer to Technine.
|Tintin 2 - coming to a cinema near you in 2012|
Julia looks like he’s moved on too and is about to launch another snowboard brand in the next few days called Verdad.
|Julia as a full grown man, who was oddly enough not going to a fancy dress party when this picture was taken|
Netherlands (by way of Norway)
If the modestly bumpy Belgium is an unlikely country to find a snowboard brand then the pancake flat nation of the Netherlands is even less likely. It barely tickles the sky, reaching only 322.7m at the highest point. Despite its natural disadvantage with a little help from an unlikely benefactor in Norway it’s now home to one of the most respected European snowboard brands.
Bataleon was started by probably the least likely founder of any snowboard brand, a 44-year-old biophysicist called Jørgen Karlsen who doesn’t seem to have any history of snowboarding himself. In 1998 Karlsen, along with the help of four snowboarders, started the brand and a short while later the serial tinkerer invented the triple base technology (TBT) that’s made the company’s name.
|TBT, comes complete with a full compliment of emergency escapes.|
This year Bataleon have a range of 15 snowboards and the company is still a private company owned by the ‘strangely illusive and we can’t find a picture of him’ Jørgen Karlsen. They were headquartered in Norway for most of its existence but the company appears to have moved to Amsterdam in the last couple of years. Karlsen has little to do with the brand and spends his time in Norway biophysicising stuff to his heart’s content. The snowboards are made by an OEM factory in Austria.
Next up it’s the tiny Danish offshoot most famous for an eccentric warbler and its recent crippling financial implosion. There’s just over 300,000 people in the country, which is officially known as a handful, but two of them have just set-up their own brand.
Lobster was started in 2011 by interweb snowboard stars Eiki and Halldor Helgason, snowboarding’s most famous fans of scat porn. Already in it’s short time the brand’s whipped up quite a virtual storm, they’ve already collected 17,468 Facebook ‘Likes’ which makes Lobster by far the most socialising snowboarding brand on this list. In their first season they've gone out with arrange of 3 snowboards which are made with TBT technology in conjunction with Bataleon in the same OEM factory in Austria.
Here we go, finally a country with some mountains paired with some people. Finland churns out professional snowboarders by the bucket load so they should have a few snowboard brands. They’ve got the one.
Started in 2000 Icon is, as far as we can see, Finland’s only snowboard brand. Set-up by two guys who like to call themselves the “Immortal Cowboys Of North Oy”, or ICON for short, because if you are the sort of people who call your business Immortal Cowboys of North Oy then you're not the sort of people who give a shit about rules, least of all rules about creating accurate anagrams. The company was initially owned by a Finish distribution company, but it became independent in 2004 and it looks like they make the snowboards in their own factory in Finland.
This year they have a range of 6 snowboards, but they also produce a range of outerwear including this natty little number.
|This is one of the reasons why Finnish clothing brands don't travel well.|
The last of the scandi countries and they have all the pieces of the puzzle; they’ve got the population, they’ve got snowboarders, they’ve got ski resorts, they have a world-leading pedigree for producing flat pieces of wood. The only thing they don’t have is a snowboard brand.
They used to though. Way back in 1981 the guys that started Extrem built their first snowboards. The company was founded in 1993 making snowboards before they added ski production into the mix in 1998. Sadly it looks like they were producing snowboards up until about 2008 but today they concentrate solely on skis and the nation of Sweden is now without their own snowboard brand.
Ah Slovenia, a great country, famous for … … … nope, we’ve got nothing.
In Elan though, Slovenia do at least have probably the biggest snowboard company on this list. There also the second oldest company on the list as they started out making skis right back in 1945. The end of WWII was a weird time to start a leisure sports factory, but hey, it worked for Elan. They started producing snowboards in 1987 and this year they have a range of 12 snowboards along with boots and bindings.
Elan’s snowboards are made in their own OEM factory just over the border in Austria. It’s the same factory that also makes boards for the likes of Capita, Arbor, Rome, Bataleon, Nitro, Lobster, Artec, Dinosaurs Will Die, Academy, Allian, and Amplid. Here’s some interesting technology they have - Waveflex technology. They guys have taken mixed cambers to a whole different level. I can’t fathom how it works but I like the fact it looks like a cheese toasty and I’d be keen to have a try.
You might think that Elan would be keeping themselves busy producing most of the world’s snowboards, but clearly those Sloves have a hell of a work ethic, because they decided to fill in those awkward hours when they weren’t making snowboards with making more snowboards. In 2004 they launched Artec, a sub-brand of Elan made in the same factory in Austria. Artec are a bit more experimental than Elan, they’ve got a range of 9 snowboards and they all come in the same style of graphic that the work experience kid whipped up one afternoon on Photoshop.
Billy Morgan’s triple rodeo just revolutionised snowboarding to universal acclaim. Surely the UK have a snowboarding manufacturer.
Kinda. There’s one but it looks suspiciously as if it’s on its last legs. Even as we were writing the website of True appears to have given up the ghost. Started in 2006, it made ugly snowboards primarily for the rental business across the UK's assorted dry slopes and fridges. The big selling point was that they had Lisa Brooks, who at the time was working on getting the world’s first doctorate in snowboard design and had rather confidently named herself Doctor Snowboard. Today she has now got a proper job at Dyson. At the last count they had a range of 5 snowboards.
Poland - Everyone’s favourite battlefield. They’ve got a decent sized snowboard brand too.
They currently sell a range of 7 snowboards to the public and they’ve also taken alternative cambers to a whole other level with their latest invention - 3D Snake Transition technology.
|Even the Karate Kid would have difficulty waxing this bad boy|
So far we’ve been dealing with odd countries with just one snowboard company a piece. Then we get to the Czech Republic, a land we thought only existed to be a depository for the vomit and blood of British stag parties, however it turns out they’ve not just got one snowboard brand, they’re infested with them.
Meatfly looks to be the biggest brand from the country. It was started in 1995 and is best known for outerwear, but they also produce a range of 19 snowboards. We’re not clear if they make their own snowboards or not.
Westige was established in 2001 and it looks like it’s a brand that came out of a one of the major snowboard stores in the country. They have a range of 10 boards but they also dabble in boots, bindings, goggles, bags, protection, skis, kite boards and bicycles. They’re made in the Czech Republic and although it looks like they do a fair amount of business in the country they don’t seem to do much outside of it.
Hackboards started out in 2002 and are another brand that stick to their home turf. They push out a range of 13 snowboards and have their own snowboard park in the Czech mountains.
Frople is arguably the wettest name for a snowboard brand in existence. Although they started to produce snowboards back in 1989, by 2009 it looks like the business failed, probably because their brand name sounded like a euphemism for man milk
Sporten is the oldest company making snowboards in the Czech Republic and one of the oldest in the world. These guys started making skis back in 1896 and are one of the larger OEM factories producing skis for other brands. They’ve been dabbling at making snowboards for a few years now and this year there’s a range of 9 to chose from.
Finally we get to Russia. You think you were getting tired of this article, imagine what It feels like to write the fucker. Russia is still finding its feet at this snowboard building lark, although with the upcoming Sochi Olympics, snowboarding is a rapidly growing sport and a few fledgling snowboard brands are cropping up.
Joint Snowboards looks like it started in 2011. They started off selling snowboards made by and OEM factory in China, but then that makes sense for a brand that’s based just over the border in Siberia. They’re based in Novosibirsk, Russia’s third largest city that no one’s ever heard of. They’ve got 5 snowboards out this season.
Black Fire is another brand shipping in OEM boards, this time from the Elan factory in Austria. They started in 2002 and sell a range of 16 snowboards, with throwback 90s graphics, that look like they’re primarily designed to be rental boards or really disappointing presents.
There are three other small brands flogging OEM build snowboards:
Before we finish here’s one last company that worth adding to your snowboard knowledge quiver.
The man behind Gromel, Aleksey Ostatnigrosh, was pretty much the second person to try snowboarding in Russia when he had his first try in 1980. The company was set up in 1988 and was first Russian snowboard company and apparently the only one to actually build snowboards in Russia. Sadly the company folded in 1993 because they couldn’t afford the protection money, you know…your standard snowboard business problem. The good news is that Aleksey Ostatnigrosh still makes custom snowboards, based in out of his new home of Ohio. It’s well worth a read of his history here.
Whew. That’s enough of that.