A Snowboard With Soul
Words: Don Watkins
lay in photos and video
By the age of three I was sliding on snow. By sliding on snow I mean aimlessly pointing my skis straight while my parents kept me from being a leg-sweeping, 2′ missile on the bunny hill. Soon thereafter I perfected the wedge Christy and the weekend family trip to the mountain was born. Year after year I skied the same 500 vertical foot runs with family and friends, and it never got old. Truth be told, the more I was on snow, the more I missed it when I wasn’t. Eventually snowboarding made its way to the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania, and my father and I decided to take a trip to the dark side. After a few days standing sideways and many bumps, bruises and laughs later, I soon realized the mountains would be a large influence and source of inspiration throughout my life.
Snowboarding became – and remains – my passion. The feeling of freedom, adventure, and soul satisfying sensation experienced while on a snowboard encouraged me to explore the Green Mountains of Vermont while at college as much as possible. Like a stack of dominos, or strategic chess move as I like to see it, it also brought me to Jackson Hole. It wasn’t just the riding; it was the people, culture and the way the community connected and thrived in and around the mountains. It was this commonality and bond that brought me to the factory door of local board builder Mikey Franco of Franco Snowshapes to construct my dream ride (link).
Mikey and I hit it off pretty quick. It was easy; we both love snowboarding. Mikey, however, takes it to the next level. He gets as much, if not more enjoyment, watching riders experience highs they never thought possible on snowboards he custom tailored to their style of riding. I speak from firsthand experience. What puts Mikey’s boards in a league of their own though is not just his ability to build what you (the rider) want. It’s a combination of his extensive 30+ year snowboarding resume and methodologies and trade secrets shaped and molded by his close friends Mike Paris and Mot Gatehouse of Igneous Skis (link). Mikey started out as one of the first snowboard instructors at Jackson Hole in the winter of 1989-90. He continued on the snowboard instruction career path, soon joining the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) developing standards and techniques for teaching snowboarding all over the globe. He trained Burton Snowboard Learn To Ride and Experience Program instructors, and today, when he’s not in the Franco Snowshapes factory with his sidekick Max Ranall, you’ll probably find him guiding riders for JHMR around the backcountry. Needless to say, the guy knows how to and what make a snowboard.
This was great for me because I had no clue how to make a snowboard. I didn’t even know what I wanted to build. All I knew was I wanted more of that soulful feeling of freedom and adventure I experience when riding, and this was the ticket to it. So after a few conversations with Mikey about what types of boards I currently have and my favorite type of riding, it was settled. It was time to add a swallowtail to the quiver.
As one of the more timeless board shapes of snowboarding, the swallowtail is designed to float and turn effortlessly in powder. Influenced largely by surfing, the general shape is often a wider nose than tail and a stance offset to favor the “V” cutout on the back of the board. Simply put, its lack of uniformity means it’s trickier to build. However, I knew I had a good coach, so I was up for the task. So it began- we glued 1″ wide maple and ash stringers together to make the core; measured and set our running length and center points; drilled inserts; planned and profiled the core; cut and epoxied base, edge, fiberglass, core and top sheet material; cut out the overall shape on the band saw and fine tuned the swallowtail and nose by hand; sanded and glassed the top sheet; tuned, waxed and finally mounted up the bindings. Roughly 30 hours later spread over a couple weeks we had a snowboard!
Besides having the opportunity to personally build my snowboard and learn way more about design, shape and construction than I ever imagined, what makes this board special is it’s built for me and my style of riding. From stance to taper and overall flex, it’s what a snowboard for me should be. So, you might ask, was that first turn and day on the snow everything I imagined it’d be? As cliche as it is to say, yes, words cannot describe. The funny thing is it keeps getting better! With that said, do yourself a favor and drop on by the Franco Snowshapes and Igneous Skis Factory. Whether you’re in the market for new boards or not, the passion these guys have for their sport and the mountains is contagious. You’ll realize if you haven’t felt it already that sliding on snow is more than just something to do to pass the time, it’s a way of life.