Colorado Company, Venture Snowboards Brings the Backcountry to #SIA13
We had a chance to meet up with Lisa Branner, Silverton resident and co-owner of Venture Snowboards at the 2013 SnowSports Industries Association Tradeshow (#SIA13) in Denver this weekend. Despite the absolutely nutty schedule at SIA, she was gracious enough to squeeze us in to discuss the renowned big mountain snowboard manufacturer’s 2013-14 lineup and her thoughts on the mountain lifestyle in the super high country of Colorado’s San Juan county – home of the innovative and insane Silverton Mountain Ski Area.
The Venture Snowboard background…
Before we dug into the product list for 2013&14, Lisa took a few moments to bring us up to speed on Venture’s evolution.
While Venture has been building backcountry snowboards in Silverton, CO for 6 years now, they originally got their start far before that. Venture originally sprang up in ’86 when the 15-year-old Klemens, or Klem as he’s sometimes better known, built his first board with spare plywood bits, rubber straps & spray paint obtained from his father’s workshop. Regardless of the fact that the “project” rode little better than a closet door, Klem became hooked.
Fast forward 10+ years to 1997 when he and Lisa moved to Fort Collins, Colorado. Klem studied engineering and renewable energy at Colorado State University while working part-time at a snowboard company. His time at the shop combined with his coursework fused his passions and his resolve to re-imagine the standard snowboard manufacturing practices of the day with emerging sustainable building materials and techniques. It was from these everyday initial beginnings that Venture Snowboards eventually got its start two years later in 1999.
Before long, Klem and Lisa moved to Denver where they redoubled their efforts to continue Venture’s build up. Klem devoted himself completely to Venture while Lisa worked various day jobs to make the family’s ends meet – each burning the midnight oil to keep pace with the company’s growing marketing and public relations needs. Their dedication and perseverance to Venture was beginning to pay off and the brand was progressing as its reputation for capable powder tools grew… but at the same time, neither of them particularly enjoyed living in the big city and they each felt a faint disconnection from the very mountains they were building snowboards for. Soon thereafter, Lisa recalls having a conversation with Klem where after reviewing the family’s financials they decided that,
“…Well, we can either go broke in Denver or we can go broke in Durango.“
Since they each pined for the mountain lifestyle they pulled up stakes again and headed further west initially landing in Bayfield, CO – neighbor community to the popular college town of Durango.
Their successes in Bayfield eventually enabled Lisa to leave her day job behind. With the couple no longer relying on the outside income to keep Venture or themselves afloat, they began to think about what was next – at one point asking themselves where would they move to if they were to move absolutely anywhere? Time and time again, Silverton came out as their top pick for two reasons: 1. where better to locate a big mountain company than in the biggest mountains in the Lower 48, and 2. they had slowly but surely fallen in love with the place.
In 2007, the quirky mining town of Silverton, CO finally lured them in with promises of uncompromising access to even better snowboarding with bigger lines and deeper snow… and an inescapable feeling that Lisa described as:
That huge lump you get in your chest when I’d get a first glimpse of town from the highway. It’s hard to explain but it’s a really magical place. Especially at night in the heart of winter when it’s snowing like mad and everything is totally silent. Literally makes my heart go pitter-patter.
This, what would become their final move, was more about them following their hearts than anything else. The first 3 years living out their dream in Silverton were tough. They had to move into an RV type travel trailer which was quite literally the, “size of a shoebox” and didn’t have either running water or bathroom facilities. They did this not for 1 summer, not for 2 summers, but for 3. And in winter months the couple would survive via the good graces of their neighbors by house-sitting from one mountain property to the next… a few weeks here, a couple months there. They eventually became pros at the art of house-sitting; building up ways to make the transitions efficient and easy.
The whole house sitting saga is also illustrative of what’s so incredible about Silverton. We were courted and embraced and supported. We could never have made this happen without tons of generosity and support from the community. They wanted us here. <It was> very cool that the community recognized our vision and did whatever they could to help us realize it.
6 years into the mountain town now, Venture Snowboards has entered a symbiotic life with the super rugged and innovative Silverton community and Silverton Mountain Ski Area. The town itself is situated at 9,318 feet above sea level and surrounded by the rugged peaks of the San Juan Mountains, Colorado’s largest mountain group. Outside of Alaska, no other mountain range in the U.S. has a higher average elevation. Combine that with nearly limitless backcountry access opportunities, and Silverton would quickly become the perfect laboratory for Venture’s R&D. Ultimately, getting Venture off the ground became a Labor of Love for the duo – moving from place to place tested them, their resolve to succeed, and ultimately ended up shaping the aesthetic & purpose of the brand.
Here’s the breakdown from their website if you’re unfamiliar with Silverton Mountain Ski Area,
Imagine a place where the average total snowfall of over 400″ exceeds the amount of daily visitors. <We offer only> Advanced and expert only riding, no groomers, no clearcut runs and a real mountain experience with plenty of adventure on tap. All thrills no frills.
Venture has also been able to make a tangible and positive difference in the lives of Silverton locals. Venture, she noted, is one of the few businesses that brings in “new” money to the San Juan County economy. With each sale of a snowboard or splitboard, Venture brings in new resources from around the world and enables the company to hire more and more locals for manufacturing and sales. When Lisa thinks of what’s next for Venture, she mentioned the brand’s building need to eventually expand and move into a sustainably built facility.
Other Venture Notables:
- (2002) Venture receives certification from SmartWood, a program of the Rainforest Alliance, for its exclusive use of sustainably grown and harvested woods – a first in the snowboard industry.
- (2003) Organic cotton and hemp fabric topsheets introduced into the Venture lineup.
- (2004) Venture becomes the first wind powered snowboard factory in the industry.
- (2005) Venture recognized internationally in the book Experimental Eco Design.
- (2006) Venture joins 1% For The Planet, pledging 1% of its annual sales to environmental causes.
And Now For The Goods
Venture builds every handmade big mountain snowboards in both “split” versions for the uphill loving backcountry folk and “non-split” versions for more “inbounds” focused riders.
Over the years, they have bounced back and forth between Rocker and Camber designs, but have settled on a custom rocker build that plays well in the steep and deep.
They make five main boards plus a handful of specialty sticks designed in their innovative “ShapeShack” laboratory. Their 2012-2013 bread and butter boards are:
- Euphoria – The powder surfer. It’s a graduate from the ShapeShack and is the only “Split-Pow” board sold on the market. It’s got a lot of rocker and a swallow-tail that puts it in a league of its own on those genuine deep powder days.
- Helix – A traditional twin tip whip
- Zephyr – An all-star all mountain performer that made Backcountry Magazine’s Editor’s Choice award 2011 and twice named Future Snowboarding’s “Most Valuable Product”
- Storm – a freeride board with a big nose and a softer tail for pop in the pow. There’s a lot of Silverton Mtn. in this board with collaborative influences exerted over much of the design.
- Odin – This is legendary rider Johan Olofsson’s signature board. It, like him, is built for big mountain riding and features a smaller & stiffer tail section. It was named Backcountry Mag’s Editor’s Choice in 2012 and Outside Magazine’s “7 Best Boards” of 2012.
For 2013-2014, they’ll shift the lineup around some and introduce:
- The Zelix – Also a ShapeShack grad. The Zelix is a combination of the two most popular boards, the Helix and Zephyr, both of which it will replace. It is a directional twin tip with 20mm stance offset – giving its rider good float in the pow and smooth switch riding.
I took their new 2013-14 Odin for a spin in both split and non-split formations during the #SIA13 OnSnow event at Winter Park. Before we dig into the eval, here’s a quick note about me – I’m an all mountain type rider with an insatiable penchant for steep terrain, trees and powder so the Odin played to my strengths well.
- Bindings: (Split) Spark Burner, (Non-Split) Burton Custom
- Angles: +- 10 degrees on both front & back
- Boots: my historic but unbeatable original Burton Performers ca. ~1995.
- My Weight: 170lbs.
- Conditions: Mostly PP and typical inbounds ice and chunder with heavy-ish powder in the trees.
- Flex: It’s solid in both split and non-split varieties with no noticeable difference in between the two. The nose does chatter a slightly at speed, but it’s insignificant to the board’s overall performance and less than I’m used to seeing given the board’s intent.
- Stability: The Odin is super, super stable and deftly inspires confidence, especially when the speed really builds. Put simply, this thing loves to go fast.
- Agility: The Odin performed great in the trees. It was quick to react to rider input and despite the longish sidecut, it remained nimble enough to thread through the trees popping in and out the thick powder during the turns.
- Length – 164cm Width – 25cm
Johan and Klem have put together a well-rounded big mountain performer and wrapped it in some purdy blue snowflakes. The Odin’s mild rocker underneath the tip and tail and its flattened midsection combine well with the 40mm stance offset and moderately long sidecut to deliver confidence inspired cruising. The Odin is aggressive but comfortable and enables wide arching turns but not at the expense of the board’s tree flossing agility. I’d also attribute the board’s performance to the quadratic sidecut which brought in plenty of grip on the packed powder conditions I came across most often at Winter Park. Overall the board made for a perfect power-cruiser in the pow (when I found it) but also a stable high-performer when bombing the chunder.