If building your own snowboard was as easy as following instructions from a three-page article in the back of a magazine, a lot of people would be out of a job. Unless it’s an extruded piece of plastic snowboard found hanging next to tennis racquets, mini footy posts or the latest soon-to-be busted backyard game of the season, every snowboard is made by hand. That’s not just a Burton Snowboards thing either; that goes for pretty much anyone making legitimate boards.
Alex Dillenbeck is the Assistant Brand Manager at Burton Snowboards Australia.
While that’s not 100 per cent globally verified, if there’s a mechanised method of building the best snowboards you can, it would have likely been developed – and in operation – at Craig’s, Burton’s R&D facility located in Burlington, Vermont. The whole art of building a snowboard is called layup. At Burton, we liken it to putting together a sandwich, and of course, only the finest ingredients from the deli are used.
If a core is the meat of a sandwich, different types change the flavour of the ride. Burton has five Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC) certified cores across all our boards. Wood cores are one of the most important materials in our snowboards, so we’ve made sure that 100% of our snowboard cores are made from responsibly harvested wood. With the aluminium mould, the cut-to-shape base is down first, followed by edges trimmed and held in place. Base material ranges from fast and furious to long-haul durability – basically the bread.
Strips of gummy paper help the metal bond. In this case it’s the edges prepped for incoming layers.
Fibreglass makes up two layers of the snowboard with the wood core in the middle. The variations in “the glass” seem infinite when even the direction of the weave affect the ride. Add strands of carbon and things get even more tasty, depending what you like. The glass represents cheese and condiments.
Between each and every layer, is a hand-spread measure of epoxy. Over the past few years Craig’s has been testing the longevity of bio-based eco-friendly epoxy and introducing it to production. More than just glue, it brings a snowboard’s strength and character to life.
The core matches with the shape of the mould before layup. It’s been shaped and it’s been profiled for thinner and thicker sections (e.g. Pro-Tip™, Squeezebox, Off-Axis Squeezebox, Filet-o-Flex). The pattern in the wood is engineered grain direction, or EGD™ – just another variable.
After the second layer of glass is down (which becomes hardly visible once epoxy has been spread, the top sheet is ready. Although not the most tech piece of the process, it is arguably the most important.
Altogether from bottom to top, the aluminium mould has a lid to seal it up before the board goes to the press, where heat and pressure will act as the grill. The camber of the snowboard will take shape there. While Craig’s is more focused on perfecting and testing than mass production, a solid craftsman can turn 25 boards a day in layup. Give or take.
Putting The Boards To The Test
In a nondescript rental house at an undisclosed mountain location, there’s a scene that would make any snowboarder drool.
No less than 25 boards line the walls, mostly all-black prototypes. Dozens of boots, bindings, and boot and binding parts are lined up along the floor and tables. Turning screws and nerding out over the gear is a mix of our engineers and R&D types to Burton team riders. Danny Davis, Mark Sollors, Mikey Rencz, Zak Hale, Kelly Clark, and Kimmy Fasani all slide in and cycle through concepts on snow.
This is the scene at the Burton Development Camp. While the gear is tested around the clock, around the globe, 365 days a year, it’s here that the team riders and the R&D crew spend a week collaborating in close proximity, taking each concept for a test ride to see what works, what doesn’t and what needs tweaking.
The week gives birth to a full spectrum of new ideas and tweaks to existing concepts. From new core profiles and board shapes to new concepts in cushioning, boot liners, hi-backs, straps, space age materials, out-of-box ideas run rampant. Some of it will end up in-stores next season, other ideas won’t land for a few years.
The whole process is put on fast forward with each rider cycling through sometimes 6-8 different boards a day, and often just as many boots and bindings. Feedback is instantaneous, allowing engineers to take the refinement back to Craig’s. Since 1977, Burton has built snowboards with men's and women’s options for park, all-mountain, powder, freestyle and backcountry splitboards.