Snow angels

Eco-friendly snowboards combine respect for design and nature

Kathy Griffin, manager of Out of Bounds Board Shop, stands outside the store with an eco-friendly snowboard by Arbor.

Kathy Griffin, manager of Out of Bounds Board Shop, stands outside the store with an eco-friendly snowboard by Arbor.

Photo By Kat Kerlin

Snowboarders head to the mountains each winter to enjoy being in nature—the lake views, the crisp air and of course, the rush of flying down snowy slopes. But most snowboards aren’t exactly kind to nature. The majority are made primarily of petroleum-based plastic and held together with toxic resins and glues. Once the petroleum-based wax applied to them in the factory slides across the snow, it leaves behind a toxic residue that later winds up in mountain lakes and rivers after the snow melts.

“The president of our company has a great line: ‘You need snow to snowboard, you need clean air to skate, and you need clean water to surf,'” says Ken Perkins of Arbor, a Calif.-based maker of eco-friendly snowboards and skateboards. “If we continue down this path, we’re looking to have not only no more snow, but water quality sucks, too, and chances are air quality would follow. Then enjoyment of getting out into the mountains is gone.”

That’s why Arbor, and a handful of other eco-friendly snowboard manufacturers, are trying to be as green as possible without sacrificing product performance. Arbor’s handsome boards are built with certified sustainable wood cores, a wooden topsheet rather than plastic, bamboo rather than carbon fiber, and the wax applied is soy-based, not petroleum.

“Until somebody really comes up with an alternative to the glues and resins, most everything else [in snowboard manufacturing] is pretty toxic,” says Perkins. “There are some phenomenal eco glues out there but nothing that will hold a snowboard together for more than an hour. But it’s coming.”

Venture Snowboards is a small, independent snowboard manufacturer in Silverton, Colo., run by husband and wife Klemens and Lisa Branner. They build their boards’ cores using only wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. That was the easy part, says Lisa. “The rest has been pretty challenging,” she says, adding that there aren’t many good substitutes for petroleum-based products. “If it’s just going to fall apart and end up in a landfill, we’re not really making a difference.”

However, they choose materials that can be recycled more easily than others; use Purl wax, which is made from natural and renewable materials; power their building with wind power bought using renewable energy credits from their co-op; and source nearly all of their materials from U.S. suppliers. They reclaim all the excess materials they can, such as using sawdust for horse bedding or reclaimed wood for signs, and they’re also in the process of building a new energy efficient factory.

“We’ve been doing this since day one,” says Lisa. “Back in 1999 [when Venture opened], it was not sexy.” But the environment has always been important to the Branners. “When I’m in the backcountry and snowboarding, part of that is being out in nature,” says Lisa. “It’s my salvation in a way … I get so much joy and satisfaction out of that, that if I weren’t trying to protect that, it’d be kind of hypocritical.”

Kathy Griffin, manager at Out of Bounds Board Shop in Reno, which carries Arbor among its boards, says the idea of buying sustainably made gear is beginning to build. “We’re definitely seeing more interest in it in the last year or two,” she says. “But I feel we’re at the point where we’re educating the customers on it.”