This first appeared in WL114.
Winter has just about wound down for most of us: lifts have slowed to a halt, snow parks are turning to streams and the sensible ones among us are applying heavy coats of wax to their gear to try and eke another week’s use out of it next year. It’s also about now that, even as we replay the highlights from the winter just gone, we start to look toward the horizon, dreaming of new snow and the next powder day - snowboarders glorify the future just as much as they do the past.
But rather than just looking as far as the next holiday or season, where does the future of snowboarding as a whole lie? Much has been made of this recently, from trick progression to the future of snowboard movies, but what about snowboards themselves? Listen to the media (including us) all you want, the dirty secret about snowboard design progression is that there hasn’t been any, at least since the invention of the strap-in binding in the eighties, the original way to feel ‘truly connected’ with your board. Basic snowboard design has barely changed, the rest is just fashion.
Stuff of the future? My friend, the future is already here.
I’m not saying there haven’t been advancements; rockered boards, twin shapes, new colour schemes... Just nothing totally groundbreaking, nothing that won’t be called out as a fad ten years down the line and then re-instated as the ‘new must have for 2034.’ For total revolution take a look at Dual Snowboards, and then swiftly look back. Even snurfers are likely to make a comeback next season if recent tradeshows are anything to go by, true full circle.
No, snowboarding in essence is simplicity. A board, boots, bindings and clothes to keep you warm and dry will always be all you really need to enjoy the hill. I’m predicting the game-changer over the next few years will not come from product, but more the way it is distributed. The internet already put a spanner in the works last decade - you can now buy your complete set-up from Amazon rather than your local shop - but the next big hit to the industry is going to be 3D printing.
Stuff of the future? My friend, the future is already here. Forget Signal Snowboards’ comical attempt at a printed board, the bigger binding companies are already developing new gear from in-house printing suites; the time-consuming and costly process of designing and ordering parts can now be done overnight in the office, new components ready to be trialled the next day. But the real change will be when consumer printers come into play - imagine breaking a buckle or a heel cup and being able to download and manufacture your own replacement part? You’ll be able to buy designs and print entire bindings, even tweaking them to suite to your style.
And that’s just with plastics, pretty soon fabrics will be able to be ‘printed,’ allowing you to create custom boots and outerwear. If you can print a burger surely your own pair of ‘signature’ Nikes isn’t too difficult? And who said anything about buying them anyway? If its digital, somewhere it’s available for free. Torrent-able snowboards, they’re on the way.
Hey, we’re as fickle as any consumer group, why support ol' buddy at your local shred shop when you can shred for half the price online?
Snowboarding has already felt the first two ‘shock waves’ of the internet: pressure on independent retailers and a slow decline of the VHS/DVD. Hey, we’re as fickle as any consumer group, why support ol' buddy at your local shred shop when you can shred for half the price online? But if you take the music industry as an example, online stores only affected small physical shops, the ‘second wave’ was when music became downloadable - the same in snowboarding could be catastrophic for the current industry model.
If everyone can make their own gear then branding becomes obsolete. Remove logos and labels and you can pretty much scrap advertising and everything that it supports: sponsorships, magazines, videos, competitions, all gone. All that will be left will be the now country-sized titans of Red Bull and Monster battling it out because, surely you can’t print a soft drink?
But for the optimists amongst us, this could mean the start of a whole new utopian era of snowboarding; grassroots zines and comps made just for the love, pros-turned-hobbyists swapping board designs over Facebook and more money to spend on holidays and heli-trips rather than just gear. But the truth is that old cliché; no one can see what the future really holds, all I’m counting on is that I’ll carry on being able to get some laps in on a powder day. And hopefully still have a job in snowboarding. That would be nice.