Venture Snowboards: Certified by Mountain Goats in Silverton’s Backcountry
By John Garvey
“We consider ourselves kind of the microbrew of snowboards,” says Venture Snowboards co-founder Lisa Branner. The analogy makes sense to any Coloradan because nothing taps into our identity like an obsession with craftsmanship.
From the early days of Venture Snowboards, founders Lisa and Klem Branner challenged themselves to produce snowboards that felt great to ride, using lean manufacturing methods as well as sustainable materials.
“A snowboard, being a composite made with plastics and resins, etc., is not inherently an environmentally-friendly product,” said Lisa. “But we definitely try our best and incorporate sustainable materials any way we can.”
Klem has two degrees in mechanical engineering, with a focus on renewable energy. After working at another snowboard manufacturer, he and Lisa started Venture Snowboards in 1999.
The company has a dual focus: performance and environmental stewardship. The environmental equation includes lean manufacturing methods to reduce waste, sustainably harvested wood, local sourcing, and purchasing renewable energy credits to cover operations.
That said, Venture Snowboards isn’t willing to sacrifice product durability and performance to environmental objectives. For instance, Venture experimented with hemp-based resins, but when they didn’t hold up to durability standards they were axed. Instead, Venture looks for win-wins, periodically experimenting with new materials that achieve both objectives.
“As a small manufacturer, it’s continuously a challenge to actually make snowboards at a profit,” Lisa said. Manufacturing costs are significantly higher in Colorado than China and Dubai, where many snowboards are made.
“When we say from scratch, it’s literally starting as a pile of lumber in the parking lot. We take it from start to finish, all the components done in-house,” Lisa said.
Venture’s boards are made with poplar and ash, which results in a combination of flexibility, durability and less weight. The employees, like the founders, are avid snowboarders.
“They have a whole other level of buy-in than some factory worker in a remote country who’s never seen snow,” she said.
Silverton Mountain, North America’s highest ski area at 13,487 feet, is a key business partner. The mountain’s varied and rugged terrain, including over 22,000 acres accessible only by hiking or helicopter, is the perfect testing ground for Venture’s boards.
“The mantra for many years has been ‘All Thrills, No Frills.’ It’s kind of the same way that we approach snowboard production in many senses because we’re more interested in the ride quality and durability vs. pretty graphics or ... fancy-sounding materials,” Lisa said. “We look more at tried and true methods rather than flashy things that have marketing value.”
Silverton’s guides also make the perfect testers. “Those guys are day in, day out riding on super gnarly terrain,” Lisa explains, “and that, I think, is the best test you can possibly have versus clamping the board into some kind of thing that’s gonna warp it and try to break it. Let’s actually put it to the test in the elements in the conditions that it was designed for. We can see exactly what happens to the product when, for example, somebody rakes it over some crazy rocks. And in the end, the edges hold, people look at their bases and think they’ve got a core shot and in fact it’s just a little scratch. I think that’s really testament to the fact that we’re doing it right.”
Venture Snowboards has also partnered with The Eleven Experience, an adventure travel company with operations near Crested Butte, as well as Ska Brewing.
Where would they like to be in five years? “Probably exactly where we are right now,” said Lisa, although with a broader worldwide distribution and stronger brand presence among West Coast and East Coast riders.
“There’s something for everybody in the line,” she said. “You don’t have to be a badass, big mountain rider to ride Venture. So I want to keep doing what I’m doing the way I’m doing in Silverton and doing it right. I think that’s our vision.”
A business journalist and freelance writer, John Garvey writes about architecture, sustainability, clean energy R&D and anything that entertains and inspires. View his portfolio at Clippings.me/johngarvey.