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NOW Founder JF Pelchat On New Binding Brand

Whistler legend and industry vet JF Pelchat is releasing a new binding brand at SIA with a revolutionary design that takes its cues from skateboard trucks. Pelchat has built a solid roster for Now, including partnering with another Canadian legend, Alex Warburton, to help with industrial design, Nidecker to handle the production side, and Chad Perrin to run sales; not to mention adding Devun Walsh and Jeremy Jones to its A Team and a team sponsorship with Yes Snowboards.
We caught up with Pelchat to learn more about the endeavor and get the final video teaser in the series he’s been using to build hype and announce what Now is all about.

Now Founder JF Pelchat

So the concept of your new bindings are influenced by skate trucks—dig into that analogy and how it translates to  your new binding’s design and function.

I have been looking at skateboarding for quite some time now and how a skater digs his toes & heels to make a turn and how the energy is transferred. Skateboards use a minimal amount of effort to turn and that is achieved without a highback or being strapped in. It made sense to incorporate that motion into a binding.

The easiest way to understand the binding’s concept is: take a skateboard, flip it upside down…in my application the “skateboard hanger” is the binding, and the deck is the snowboard.

I knew that all bindings flex, but that energy was lost in the baseplate/disc instead of being transferred to your edges where you need them. Our binding concept is simply to transfer the energy to the edges. In order to successfully accomplished that I needed the binding, our hanger, to move on a similar axis as a skate truck. The link of that axis is called the kingpin. We also have our hanger sitting on bushings which will diffuse chatters and dampen the ride.

How long have you been working on this project?

I have been working on products since the early ’90s. I remember building my own baseless bindings after seeing a picture of the Westbeach Perogies binding—this was also the era of cutting down your tip and tail. Then I went on to work in a snowboard factory called REV Snowboards before turning professional and I helped test the Freedom Groove an early version of the channel system, [similar to] today's refined Burton EST system. Throughout my career I have been involved with products and finding ways to improve them. In 2000 I filed my first US Patent, which is an interface system that works on the channel boards. In 2005 I was already working on this new binding concept. Most of my conceptual ideas are engineered in my head when I drive the Sea to Sky highway from Vancouver to Whistler, then I go into my garage and pick apart bindings and start the process of building a working prototype.

How would you describe the ride on these compared to a traditional binding? 

How easy it is to ride harder! Our binding design is so effective that you need less effort to make a turn which in return makes the overall experience more enjoyable and less tiring. I think that the biggest improvements are:  edge control,  responsiveness, and comfort. The binding does the work for you—transferring the energy directly to your edges.

Your feet are more relaxed in your boots and less prone to cramps or pain. We also offer a binding that can be customized by changing the density of the bushings according to your style of riding or snow conditions. The harder the bushing, the stiffer and more responsive the ride; the softer the bushing, the softer the ride. These bushings also act as dampeners when riding through choppy snow and help the board hold a better edge when riding trough bumps, ice, and what ever mother nature throws at you.

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You designed the heelcup to also be ridden without highbacks. How are they made different? Do you see low backs continuing to make a come back?

The binding is designed to be ridden with or without a highback."Flush Cup" we call it. The highback is stacked on the heelcup and creates a flush surface between the two and your boots, patent pending. The heelcup is designed to hold your boot. On traditional bindings, when you remove the highbacks, your boot is pushed back and the binding settings are changed. Our Flush Cup allows us to have the same boot connection with or without  the highbacks.

I definitely think that there is a market for it—more and more people are believers just like Mike Ranquet. Riding without a highback will probably not be for everybody, but I strongly feel that the consumers should have that option and the choice to do so. I have personally ridden without highbacks and can tell you that it is another cool way of enjoying snowboarding. Can you T Bolt them too? If you want to… but no need for it as we use a traditional disc system that can be mounted on a 4×4, 3X3, and channel boards.

Check out a sneak peek of Now’s upcoming catalog.

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How far along are you in the patent process?

I am in the final stage of the PCT application so the patent is pending at the moment. I did look at the claims that qualified with my lawyer and there's s nothing that will prevent us from getting a patent.

Tell us a little about  your partnership with Nidecker. I'm guessing they're producing them and you've got a rev share deal going?

In the past five years I have approached the top five snowboard companies with my ideas but nothing came out of it, even if the meetings and reactions were really positive. Some of my meetings were [when] the US economy was tanking. One day I showed my concept to my friends at YES and they got me in contact with Henry Nidecker, Jr. He really liked my concept and proposed to help me launch. They help financially for the development and production and they plug Now into an existing distribution. On my side of things, I am putting my efforts into products, brand image, and marketing. They understand the value of a rider-owned and controlled company, but obviously like any financial partnership, it all has to make sense and be sustainable.

Are you guys going to be working with any of their board lines to sell completes or offer deals through retailers?

No, not at this point. We want to send a clear message that Now is a new company operated by snowboarders and that our focus is to concentrate on our own products, delivery, and have support in place for our distributors, retailers, and consumers.

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You've partnered with Alex Warburton who has some serious depth both on the board and designing toys for them. Tell us about his role in the company and how he's dividing time between Yes and Now these days.

Alex has been such an instrumental part of developing this binding. He has so much knowledge of the industry and it's products that it was easy for him to fall into this role of industrial designer, product manager and veteran guru. He often puts me back in line and makes me see the other side of the coin. Alex and I have a really good work synergy and I am really glad that he moved back to Squamish to pursue his career. He is also the brand manager for Yes Snowboards and can manage both projects on six hours of sleep, seven days a week.

Sounds like you've been getting some great feedback from other pros and have locked in some great team riders with Devun Walsh, Jeremy Jones, and the Yes guys.
Now will be a rider-owned company and the master plan is to have three or four main riders as shareholders with a voice in Now. So far I have two out of four and hopefully by the time SIA rolls, my master plan will be executed.

Are you guys going to sell direct to start or work with retailers?

We will be working with retailers, this is the only way we will get the industry support. They are the people who will help validate our project and efforts. Retailers are our voice as well as being an important part of the process.

Are you partnering with Yes on distribution? I know you're working with Chad Perrin who's handling sales for those guys, Jones, and Nidecker?

Since Nidecker is handling the distribution we will be using some of YES and some of Jones existing distributors, but we are also looking at different options and we're also not limited to the above. This will be a case of what's best for the brand and who suits the best profile to carry our products.

What will these retail for and how many SKUs will you launch with?

For the first year we will have one model, two colorways, and two sizes—medium and large—with a US target retail at $280.

Anything else I haven't thrown out there that you'd like to? 

We couldn't come up with a corporate color, but we do have an official drink – Canadian Club and Coke. The future is Now. Please drink responsively.