Snowboard History

Gus Gillard Obituary – ‘Roots’ Issue 65 (February 2006)

Gus Gillard 1965-2005

“I’ve been a minister for 18 years now and this is the first time I’ve ever been asked to play ‘Should I Stay or Should I go?’ by The Clash.”

So began the eulogy at Gus Gillard’s funeral on the 12th of December 2005. Gus – who sadly died in December at the untimely age of 40 – left his mark on UK snowboarding in a way that will remain for a long time. Along with Al Flemming they started the UK’s first ever snowboard brand, sponsored several of the first UK riders (and helped them push for professional careers), held some legendary parties and instilled a sense of fun into the UK scene. Without Gus, snowboarding in the UK would probably have ended up being a lot less fun. In this special edition of Roots we decided to change the format to include some stories from the people who knew this pioneering British rider and snowboard designer.

“There were quite a few unconnected snowboard scenes across the UK pre 1990 and Gus was one of those at the centre of the Scottish Eastcoast/Aviemore scene. Originally from down south somewhere, quite how he made his home in the Highlands of Scotland and how he discovered snowboarding was never clear to me but that’s what happened. Together with Al Fleming, they created The Acid Snowboard Company based out of a tiny farm at Laggan Bridge with funding from the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB). Showing an understanding of snowboard shaping and design undoubtedly ahead of its time Gus was the design/production department and Al the more business and marketing department. The Acid Snow Co made a number of development models starting about 1987 using the top riders of the time to test their product. Although they were based out of Aviemore (sort of) they spread there web way wider than their local area. Acid Snow had an impact across the whole country. They quickly realised the potential and future for snowboarding and worked to create a ‘proper’ production facility and marketing to match with the help of the HIDB. This they did with the release of the first model from their launch ‘Scientist/Philosophers’ range, the ‘Max Planck’ (Freeride/freestyle). It received unbiased good reviews. The other boards from the range included the ‘Voltaire’ (Freestyle), Lineweaver (all mountain carver), ‘Boltzman’ (race), and McWeeny (Groms). They basically had in place at a very early period, a complete understanding of what it was going to take to create a fully operational modern snowboard company. Design, production, marketing. Who knows what it could have grown to? Alas snowboarding was young, vibrant and highly pleasure orientated. The Acid boys showed all the hedonism you’d expect from this period. As a result – most of the $40,000 HIDB grant (which was a lot of money 15 or so years ago) ended up being pissed against the wall in parties of mega proportion either at the farm or the Laggan Hotel. Those were crazy crazy days. A little fuzzy perhaps but entirely memorable.”

– Eddie Spearing. Founder of the British Snowboard Association and Snowboard UK.

Rob Needham takes to the dryslope on the Max Planck model.
Rob Needham again, on another early Acid Snow model.

“My own experiences of Gus came from several trips to Aviemore in the early 90’s. Knowing that the house he (and several other luminaries from the growing snowboard scene) lived in had a virtual open house policy on visitors, I went with friends to find this legendary snowboarding hub. I remember getting there was slightly surreal. All we had were a few dodgy directions, written on the back of a cig packet. When we stopped at a petrol station in Aviemore to ask for directions, we were told to carry on just past Father Christmas Land, then down to the right until we arrived at his house, which was on a genuine road called Quality Street. True to form, not a word of it was a lie.

Gus of course was a perfect host and his house was a hive of snowboarding activity. He was fantastic company, enthusiastically showing us his cross-bow and Kalashnikov collection, telling us stories from days gone by and testing our knowledge of common ailments and diverse mental problems with his huge Reader’s Digest book of Common Symptoms. We laughed until the early hours when, because of space I had to sleep in my board bag. Gus loved that, and I remember thinking how cool it was to make such a legendary guy laugh. We were groms and he was the wise master.

Even though I only met him a few times, Gus came across as someone who had a wicked slant on life. Fiercely intelligent, he saw through much of the bullshit in modern living. I later learned that the Quality Street house had burnt down. Someone told me it was either that or pay the back rent on the place. I don’t know if that’s true or not and apologies if it isn’t but I loved the image of Gus standing laughing around the flames having gotten one over ‘the man’. I knew from conversations with him that he was a fanatical climber, and boasted of being able to do one arm pull ups like Ben Moon. He told me that he’d decided that a six pack would suit him, but rather than doing endless sit ups, had decided that if he starved himself enough, the pack would eventually reveal itself.

I never went riding with him, and to my eternal regret, never got to try an Acid Snow board, something I wanted even more back then than to do my first season. It’s a hope I still hold dear. But I was lucky enough to have met this godfather of British Snowboarding and on reflection, I was fortunate enough to see first hand that Gus and his contemporaries undoubtedly wrote the blue print to which all future British riders have since followed. A heady mix of anti-establishmentism, bohemian pleasure seeking and total disregard for ones safety. For some reason, it works.”

– Chris Moran, former Whitelines editor

“I met Gus in a caravan in Aviemore in the late 80’s. He was obviously stoked on snowboarding and it’s such a shame that Acid Snow never really took off because it would have been brilliant to have had a real UK brand up with there with the rest of them. His ideas were way ahead of his time, but for some reason the whole thing just didn’t line up. Did I ever try one? No, unfortunately I wasn’t that lucky. To be honest – they were a bit scarce even back then!”

– Al Green, director of A4 Distribution.

“I got to know Gus back in 1987 which was, for me, the golden era for British snowboarding. The scene was so new and so small that just to meet another person who was in to snowboarding was exciting. With that common interest I instantly formed a good friendship with Gus, who had moved to the highlands to make snowboards some time around 1987. Along with business partner Al Fleming, they set up the operation at a farm house in Laggan – the boards being made in a barn. I used to travel over from Aberdeen with my friend Steve to stay at the farm with Al and Gus – sometimes for weeks – helping them cut the fibre glass mix resin and press the boards. We received our wages in food and booze (mostly booze it must be said) all paid for from the grant they received from the highland and islands development. Needless to say the HIDB was our toast many a night , Gus was one of the most intelligent people I could have hoped to have ever met and his knowledge of snowboard design and construction was exceptional. He was so far ahead of his time that the rest of the snowboard world took about 10 years to catch up. I have great memories of sitting up in to the small hours of the night with Gus discussing the merits of elliptical side cut versus radial or quadratic, the difference between the contact edge length and the effective edge length and whether or not we should perhaps mix the vodka with ….. lilt. I’m still not certain about elliptical side cuts but I can tell you 100% that vodka and lilt is a great drink to share with a good friend till the sun comes up. I’m going to miss Gus on hell of allot. He was truly a gentleman a scholar and a true friend.”

– Mark Webster. Ex British Champion and director of Freeride Distribution.

A classic from the UK snowboard scene archives. The after party to end all after parties at the Scottish Sun Challenge (then the oldest event on the calendar). Left to right: Tony Brown, Sue Bailey, Jeremy Sladen, Allen Innes, Chod (head back), Rusty (poking over slabs), unknown eye under arm (!), Al Fleming, Mark Webster (thumbs up), Gus Gillard, Jonny Weeks, Stu Duncan.
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