As with all other hardware categories, board-builders had a decision to make for their 2021/22 line; what approach would be best for engaging with the (hopefully) post-COVID snowboard retail market? Up the amount of carryover, in order to take the pressure off shops with large inventories? Or focus on the new and exciting, to get the stoke levels back up as quickly as possible? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between? Andrew Duthie does the full spectrum.
FORK IN THE TRAIL
When we asked the industry at large what they had planned, the responses we got were uniformly thoughtful and considered (well, almost: there’s always one, and in this case it was the brand genuinely puzzled as to why we were asking so many questions about “the current virus scenario impacting the world”….). Almost immediately, it became clear that there was to be no consensus. Companies will tackle the upcoming winter cycle in wildly differing ways, depending on what they reckon is best for them and their partners.
“We have to make sure they [retailers] are healthy before we are selling them more technology,” says Academy’s Jeff Baughn. It’s a similar sentiment over at Nobile, according to Marketing Manager Jan Korycki. “We hope that our actions will help retailers simply survive and allow them to keep the prices of older products with full margin.” Salomon, Burton, Rossignol and Jones also all cited the need to make life easier for retailers as the main reason for increasing their percentage of carryover in 2021/22. So too have Rad Air – although with a 30th anniversary to mark, there will be a smattering of new models from them too.
Self-proclaimed pioneers of the carryover approach Dupraz will be staying the course: “Our approach to make the ultimate all mountain snowboards with a limited collection of ultra durable boards now makes more sense than ever.” Relative newcomers Canary Cartel are following a similar path. “Actually, skateboard companies are carrying over logo products since forever now,” points out Christian Kirsch. “We think that, unless you are dropping something new, there’s no more need to change colours and design every season if nothing changes under the top sheet.” That’s also been Stranda’s approach, although they do plan to add some more lengths and widths to their existing range.
At the other end of the spectrum is Ride, who are coming in hot with “26 fresh boards” according to Sales & Marketing Manager Joerg Schramm. “COVID or not, we are not stopping to develop our snowboard technology or to give the boards a new fresh design. People will love the new designs, and they will make you smile even in these tough times. Watch out!” CAPiTA are also going heavy on new (carrying over the Neo Slasher splitboard, but refreshing everything else), as are Nidecker. “Our strategy is simple”, explains Thierry Kunz. “We need to bring innovation and novelties to market, and that goes double in these hard times.”
Gigi Rüf’s brand Slash is celebrating 10 years for the 21/22 season and so he’ll be working with re-issues of the very first Straight and ATV graphics, sold to key retailers across the globe as well as an exciting collab, under wraps for the time being. Pre-pandemic, Gigi had already been working with retailers to deliver a collection that struck a balance of newness and enabling sell-through: “By introducing my 20/21 Present Future collection, I had intentionally taken out half the models to create a two-year fluctuating demand model. So, for 21/22 you’ll have the chance to buy the models that weren’t available this season.” And now Gigi is using ecommerce experts Quivers, which allows him to sell boards D2C on his website, but his retailers claim the sale locally. Read more on this on our website.
Even with the Mervin manufacturing facility being closed for ten weeks, Roxy will be offering more new products than in a typical year, and only the GORP splitboard will be carried over in Gnu’s line. It’s a slightly different story across the factory floor, however; while Lib Tech do have some new releases lined up, they’ve also, in the words of Pete Saari, “trimmed a little here and there to keep the SKUs in check and make sure we could manage the workload in the COVID-challenged environment.” Other brands cutting back in some way are Never Summer, whose reduced production capacity led to “tough decisions to cut some models and sizes”, and Moonchild, who are ditching the twin-tip models introduced last year in favour of concentrating on their oddball pow shapes. “We will go back to our roots and build premium boards for the niche market,” says co-owner Jure Sodja.
RIPPING UP THE RULEBOOK
So the jury’s definitely out on which way to go – but in any case, isn’t a once-in-a-century global event exactly the time to try something completely different? That certainly seems to be the case over at Endeavor. “COVID-19 has allowed us to get more creative when creating our 21/22 line,” says Joel Goddings, Brand Manager. “We will be offering ‘timeless’ boards which we won’t put on sale and we will continue to purchase stock as necessary. Like many brands, we had a few boards in our line that the main difference year-to-year was a graphic. By offering them for multiple years it will keep overproduction down, discounting down, and allow us to offer an amazing board for multiple years. We will still offer new technology and shapes seasonally, but not in every product.”
That word “timeless” crops up again in WEST owner David Fernandez’ vision for his brand. His plans predate the pandemic and are more to do with generally reducing over-production and over-consumption – but however they might have been received in the Before Times, the world will doubtlessly be even warmer to his ideas post-COVID. In short, there’ll be no new line dropping at the start of each winter. Instead, certain key models will be sold until they’re gone. Expect the odd limited edition deck to appear at any given time throughout the year, but overall the days of over-production at WEST are over. “We know that we might lose some sales (especially reorders) but we think that it is time to really change the consumption habits as they have been so far the most harmful to our planet,” explains David. “By producing high standard products which last longer and having great attention to the graphic design’s details, we’ll try to motivate the consumers to use their board till the end.”
While the above examples see brands breaking from the norm, it’s a slightly different story over at Tur Snowboards. Having only made their debut this winter, they’ve ditched the ‘September drop’ right from the off. Board models and graphics will be present in the line for at least a calendar year, says co-founder Hampus Mossesson, but other than that, all bets are off as to when they’ll be refreshed or replaced. “Graphics [for a new model] are ready as I’m writing this,” he continues, “and hopefully the board will be released before anyone reads this!” Another newcomer is Hokkaido-based Island Snowboards, who are getting off the ground slowly using Japanese small business culture for inspiration. “There are countless businesses that only produce a fixed amount of something, and when it’s sold out for the day or for the season, that’s it,” explains founder Owain Bassett. “We’ve always planned to grow sustainably and organically… a model that I think works well given the current world situation.”
Over in Canada, Yunika Snowboards have settled into a three-year product cycle, of which the current one is at the midpoint. They’re wagering that such an approach is right for these times, given the extra security it provides retailers. As founder Jean-Marie Thil explains, “The situation for the industry is extremely challenging and we haven’t fully seen yet the impact and change that will occur. This is sadly only the beginning…”
However they’re choosing to approach the 2021/22 season, just about every brand has something new and noteworthy lined up. Some are either resurrected models from the past, or at the very least inspired by an old favourite – some COVID-induced nostalgia for the good old pandemic-free days, perhaps?
Amplid are bringing back what Peter Bauer calls “our first real powder board, from almost 10 years back” – the Morning Glory. It’s been redesigned for the ‘Future Shapes’ line, and should bring a smile to the face of anyone with rose-tinted goggle lenses. The Burton Leader Board hasn’t been missing for nearly as long, but it’s nevertheless a rare re-entry into the brand’s Family Tree line, presumably back by popular demand. “It’s all about big-mountain stability for riding steep lines and holding an edge when mistakes are simply not an option,” says Jan Grimm, Hardgoods Specialist. While the much-missed Ride DH isn’t coming back, Joerg Schramm invites us to consider the new Benchwarmer, a fresh freestyle board that “will follow in the footsteps of the legendary DH.” And for anyone who remembers the Ride Zero, there’ll be a new version next year.
As for what’s brand spanking, a few new carvers will be hitting the market, including the K2 Excavator which, as the name suggests, is built for digging trenches. The Gnu Banked Country, designed by Temple Cummins and his son Cannon, will feature a new take on the wavy Magne-Traction edge that gets more pronounced towards the tail for maximum power out of turns, and Amplid are adding to their Centrifugal range of carvers with the Souly Grail. While details of Nidecker’s forthcoming Instinct series are still thin on the ground, they’ve got form in offering something for the elbow-droppers. In any case, we’re intrigued to see more details of what a very animated Thierry Kunz calls the ‘APX’ construction method. “The factories all said it couldn’t be done, but dozens of prototypes later we proved them wrong!”
Freestyle fans have plenty to get excited about too, especially those who like to log their air miles in the powder. Both the Lib Tech Orca and the Jones Mind Expander will be joined by directional-twin-shaped versions in 2021/22. Look out for the former (named the Golden Orca) under Travis Rice’s feet on the Natural Selection tour. Over at Salomon, Louif Paradis is getting his own addition to the Hillside Project series, that aims to “mix street style riding with powder riding.” Someone else who’s pretty handy at that is JP Walker, whose new pro model from Santa Cruz is designed to do it all. Fans of the Korua Tranny Finder, one of their more freestyle-friendly offerings, should look out for a new shape in 2021/22, as well as a new name. It’s getting re-christened the ‘Transitionfinder’; not as catchy, but less likely to be mistaken as offensive, according to co-founder Nicholas Wolken.
A couple of new boards, while not directly influenced by COVID, nevertheless serve as a sign of the times. Gone is the K2 World Wide Weapon, and in its place comes the World Peace. Granted, it’s much the same as its predecessor, albeit with the base up-spec’d from extruded to sintered, but if replacing weapons with peace isn’t a good message for the post-pandemic era then we don’t know what is. Likewise the Nitro Optimysm is a beacon of light in dark times; there’s the name, obviously, as well as the fact that it might well be the first board we’ve seen that’s designed primarily for flatland tricks. So even if every resort shuts for good, all you need is a bit of snow, a bit of gradient, and one of these…
SHAPING THE FUTURE
Even as the world goes tits up, you can count on snowboard brands to tinker away at their latest innovations with all the diligence of an AstraZeneca lab technician. While we’re not seeing anything to rival a pandemic-busting jab, a few things have got our attention. Head will be bringing their EMC tech over from the ski line; having applied a version of the KERS system to some models for a few years now, they’re no stranger to harnessing the kinetic energy generated by turns, and this latest feature promises to improve dampening for a smoother ride. Bataleon have been working on an improved carbon-infused fibre, to be found only in the extremely-limited-edition (150 for sale, delivered in a custom-made sleeve) Thunder Bolt. “It will make power transfer so nimble and controllable you feel like you’re driving a F1 car,” says CEO Dennis Dusseldorp.
For some brands, the advancements lie in how much more sustainable their products have become. Borealis is just one brand that’s going greener in 2020/21. In addition to the bio resin, FSC-certified wood cores, eco-friendly ink and other planet-friendly processes, they’re now adding the substitution of basalt for carbon, and recycled ABS sidewalls. Sandy Shapes have also been developing a new bio resin during lockdown (as part of a wider sustainability drive) and should be ready to roll it out next winter. Over at Jones they’re also trying to do their bit for a better world; it’s not a massive leap forward, and indeed you might not have clocked it without us pointing it out, but the topsheet of the 2021/22 Jones Hovercraft will be the first to feature zero ink, with all logos and detailing delivered instead by laser etching.
Shape-wise, more brands than ever are preparing to leap into the third dimension. The new K2 Special Effects will feature 8mm of contour in the nose, Slash have worked 3D shaping into their existing ‘float camber’ profile, and Burton will be building upon this winter’s pilot of 3D Family Tree boards with an expanded line for 2021/22. It’s also something that Konvoi continue to work on at their factory in the Czech Republic. “The most interesting thing to come is more three dimensional cores and running surfaces.,” says Ben Dietermann. “There is still a lot left to discover and thanks to our well-equipped workshop we can keep at it full throttle.” Naturally there aren’t as many avenues for innovation when it comes to profile, although the Canary Cartel guys have a new combo of camber and flat base to show off next year. By then, however, they may regret calling it ‘the LockDown bend’…
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
2020 was rough for the young ‘uns, so it’s great to see how many brands are stepping up their grom offerings next year. Directional/true twin models still dominate, predicting that kids will most likely be following the freestyle path, but 2021/22 will be throwing up a few freeride-specific boards too. It’s a sign of the times, says Elevated Surf Craft’s Aaron Lebowitz, who makes proper surf-inspired kids’ boards: “an area like Mammoth has 100+ groms between the age 9-12 who can carve hard and navigate powder, often surpassing their parents.” Allesandro Marchi of Sandy Shapes agrees, explaining the reasoning behind their new kid-friendly all-mountain board: “We decided to create a radically different product, not a toy: a new shape specifically developed for the progression of the young riders, but maintaining the same construction and performance as an adult snowboard.”
Winterstick will have both bases covered with the new Yute Twin and Yute Swally. The former is pretty self-explanatory, while the latter, says Factory Manager Peter MacDowall, is, “a powder board for kids who don’t want to get stuck when it snows, and actually lets them enjoy powder.” Meanwhile Bataleon will be releasing a ‘Mini’ version of their unmistakable Surfer shape that first appeared a few winters ago. Like its bigger brother, this one is built primarily for the powder but gets on famously with piste too.
“We have updated our Junior board programme,” says Baptiste Chaussignand, Senior Product Manager at Salomon. As with most of their kid-friendly output in recent years, the new arrivals are smaller versions of what you’ll find in the grown-up’s collection. Now it’s the turn of the Sleepwalker and Oh Yeah boards to get the ‘Grom’ suffix, for boys and girls respectively. Likewise Ride are releasing a scaled down version of the resurrected Zero from their adult line.
It seems that the kids aren’t just alright – they’ve also been eating their greens. Both Nitro and West are keeping a beady eye on changes to the youth market and have noticed that the average foot size of young riders is increasing. As a result expect to see wider versions of the Nitro Future Team and WEST K-West. Factor in the new unisex youth model from K2, a 115cm version of Easy Snowboards’ Wallride Mini (their smallest yet) and the new Arbor Cheater, and it’s clear that younger riders will be well looked after in 2021/22.
As for what will stand out on the racks, there’s no shortage of conversation-starters coming our way for 2021/22. As Rome’s Matt Stillman puts it, “we find boards to be a challenging category to carry over graphically.” Indeed, the brand’s Stale Sandbech-inspired mini line, which dropped just this year, will be refreshed with “a more abstract texture-based approach that has some echoes of surfboard vibes.” Moving from the water to the concrete, DC’s EMB board will once again draw inspiration from the brand’s skate heritage; Nick Pourfard, who upcycles old decks to create his Prisma guitars, has been drafted in to do the topsheet honours.
When it comes to bold new approaches with a bit of artistic flair, leave it to the Italians to lead the charge. Comera have retained the services of one of the country’s leading tattooists to create a new graphic, while the latest Rusty Toothbrush collab from Drake has been designed by Aldo Rebuli using what they describe as “an interesting new interpretation of Caravaggio.”
The artwork on next year’s Weston Eclipse women’s board is the work of Brooklyn Bell in collaboration with the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, and reflects the fact that sales of the board will fund the brand’s ‘Powder to the People’ scholarship programme. Through the scheme, cash towards sitting an AIARE course is provided to members of communities that have traditionally been under-represented in the backcountry, including women and people of colour.
Interestingly, the latest creations from Verdad’s Démir Julià have been directly inspired (if you can call it that) by the mess we currently find ourselves in. “Due to the COVID crisis, and all the B*S* that comes with it, I have recently found my inspiration and inner peace in Art Deco, which was an artform born between the two World Wars. Back then, people needed to dream big, they needed hope and to grasp that ‘sky’s the limit’’ feeling again. This style is immense, magnificent and precious; our ‘Classic’ and ‘DJ Aguila’ series graphics are pure Art Deco and we are loving it!”
While the pandemic hasn’t prompted Kjetil Bjørge over at Fjell to change his approach, he reckons there’s never been a better time to consider one of the Norwegian brand’s minimalist topsheets: “with the noise in the world, we think for us it will be even more important to keep the silent expression in our design.” Alternatively you can choose to just wind the clock back to a simpler time, courtesy of the reissued artwork dropping in the upcoming YES illustrated graphics designed “to echo the history of snowboarding”.
Things will no doubt continue to change at a breakneck pace, but here’s how things stand in the snowboard world for the moment. Time will tell as to who has made the right call, and who hasn’t – but with any luck, the 2021/22 season will see brands and retailers alike thriving in the post-pandemic world, regardless of which path they’ve chosen.