Nestled at over nine thousand feet above sea level in the remote and waned mining town of Silverton, Colorado lies the grassroots company Venture Snowboards. Hatched in 1999 from an environmental and snowboarding passion by owners Klem and Lisa Branner, Venture has stayed on a pure and strict path to creating finely handcrafted snowboards while minimizing environmental impact. With a recent factory relocation to the rugged San Juan Mountains, the company is surrounded in exceptional product testing grounds in their pursuit of localized, sustainable production. Amidst economic downturn, the owners have somewhat avoided affliction and cite the slump as room to breathe against larger manufacturers. After some early season snow at Silverton Mountain, we caught up in their factory.
Words & Photos: Ben Gavelda
Check out the PHOTO GALLERY for additional photos of Venture Snowboards.
TW: What motivated you to start making your own snowboards?
Klem: I was a student at Colorado State University studying renewable energy and mechanical engineering, and was working for a snowboard manufacturer on the side. I had an a-ha moment about bringing together my two passions—snowboarding and the environment—by building a more environmentally friendly snowboard. That was back in 1999, and that core principle of building a greener snowboard is still at the center of everything Venture does.
TW: What aspects sets Venture apart from other brands?
Lisa: The fact that we handcraft our boards from scratch in the USA is pretty unique—there really aren't too many companies out there that can say they're doing it all, from the core to the topsheet. The benefit is that we're able to keep a really tight watch on even the smallest details, and that makes a huge difference in quality. Also, a conservation ethic is at the very core of the company. Many brands are
now getting on board with this concept, but what's different for us is that a concern for the environment has always been the root of it all. And at 9,318 feet, we may be the highest elevation snowboard factory in the world!
TW: What elements influence your board designs?
Klem: The San Juan Mountains are a huge inspiration for our board designs—we’re essentially building boards to withstand the abuses these mountains shell out. The rocky terrain around here just chews boards up, so we make our boards super durable to withstand those conditions. Our Storm model was designed specifically for the kinds of conditions you encounter at Silverton Mountain—could be blower in one place, chunder in another, so the hybrid design of that board gives you plenty of floatation with a softer, wider nose, but good control when needed with a stiffer midsection and tail. Every time we’re out riding we’re thinking about how to improve the boards to better handle what we encounter.
TW: Can you remember your first snowboard? What was it?
Klem: I made my first snowboard when I was a kid, out in my dad's workshop. It was a piece of plywood that I spray painted neon pink and attached rubber straps to for bindings. It was awful to ride, but that's what got me started and I've been riding ever since.
TW: Do you plan on incorporating more art and graphics into your future designs?
Lisa: We've always aimed to keep our graphics simple and clean, so while we may switch it up a bit in years to come, things will always be low key and will always be tied to the snow and the mountains. That's just part of our identity as a company and it's what snowboarding is all about for us. The snowflake that we've been using in our graphics for the last several years is a photo of an actual snowflake taken by Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley, a photographer that dedicated his entire career to photographing snow crystals.
TW: Localized snowboard production is a rarity these days. How have you managed to stay in the mountains and stay competitive?
Klem: It's definitely tough to build boards in the U.S., in a very remote location, and still remain competitive. The cost of doing business is just higher for us because we're not outsourcing and we're not located in or near a big city. But I think that's also an advantage. Big mountain and backcountry riders see what we're doing as a grassroots company, recognize that it's the real deal, and want to be a part of it. We've been able to build a loyal following because of that.
TW: Your green initiative has been a vital part of the company since day one. How would you like to maintain and further this?
Lisa: We are always looking for ways to lessen our impact, and even the smallest things add up. For example, we use scrap wood from the core production process to make cool reclaimed wood signage for our retailers rather than just tossing it. The sawdust we generate is used for horse bedding or mulch. And the smallest wood pieces that really can’t be used for anything else are burned in a woodstove that helps heat our factory. Probably the biggest imitative we've got on tap is our plan to build a sustainable snowboard factory here in Silverton. The design includes passive and active solar features as well as reclaimed and recycled materials throughout. We're hoping to break ground this spring.
TW: The San Juans provide a unique testing ground, what made you choose this as a home base?
Klem: A lot of our decision to locate our business here was the incredible access we have to backcountry terrain and our proximity to Silverton Mountain. The San Juans are some of the burliest mountains in the lower 48, and since our focus as a company is on freeride and big mountain boards, it just makes sense to produce them near the terrain they're designed for. In Silverton we can literally walk out the front door of the factory and go riding—what could be better than that?
For more, visit venturesnowboards.com