Peter Bauer’s never-ending search for the best snowboards money can buy
Controversial opinion alert: influencer marketing is shit. At its worst it’s a grubby, cynical business based, as comedian Bill Maher put it recently, on the notion “that you really will buy stuff just because some ding-dong holds it up on Instagram”.
While most of the snowboard socialsphere remains untainted, it’s far from immune. Even riders with glittering pro careers are putting out paid-partnership ads for coffee, gas guzzlers, teeth straighteners and even bathroom tiles. The case for the defence has been well-tread – it’s a short career, so make hay while the sun shines – but if nothing else, it makes the supposedly legit shout-outs to board sponsors that much harder to swallow.
“What he doesn’t understand about snowboarding simply isn’t worth knowing”
In a different age, Peter Bauer might have racked up a truly monstrous follower count. As a multiple world champion and Burton team stalwart with serious freeride chops, there’s every chance he’d be doing Mark McMorris numbers. Of course, that all happened in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when Mark Zuckerberg still had his baby teeth and the only place you saw a # symbol was on a payphone.
Nowadays he’s 54, and looking like he could do with a slap of whichever rejuvenating jojoba scrub the winners of Love Island are flogging this week. But for every line on his face, he’s marked a thousand more on the mountains of Europe, North America and beyond. What he doesn’t understand about snowboarding simply isn’t worth knowing – and in the age of the influencer, his approach to making and marketing snowboards is just the tonic.
After hanging up his World Cup bibs and hard boots, he remained with Burton, moving into the R&D side at the brand’s European base in Innsbruck, Austria. While he stresses that they were good years, it wasn’t long before he developed an itch that the day job couldn’t scratch.
“When you design a snowboard for a big brand, the approach is completely different,” he explains from his home in Germany. “You need to cater to a very big clientele, and you can’t make it edgy. If it has too much power, if it’s too responsive, people won’t ride it. But for me, I always wanted to make boards with character.”
He parted ways with the big B in 2002, and the inevitable happened two years later when he started Amplid. Now he was calling the shots, with a focus on lighter and more responsive decks with fast bases. But it wasn’t just about upping the quality; in his eyes, the entire industry had got itself stuck in a cul-de-sac.
“I always wanted to make boards with character”
“In the 90’s everything was about urban riding. When you opened up a snowboard magazine, you only saw people on a rail in town, or in the air. Just doing a turn in powder was considered kind of lame, and doing a carve on corduroy was culturally not acceptable. But if you ask ten of your friends, ‘what’s your wet dream when they think about snowboarding’, it’s all about making a turn in powder. Maybe one out of ten dreams about doing a railslide and wakes up with a hard-on…”
He was proven right in due course, when eventually the industry as a whole fell back in love with the art of turning. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Peter’s fledgling brand. “This is where we were coming from, and this is what we make boards for.”
The new thirst for innovative freeride shapes has played in Amplid’s favour, but any small company still has a fight on its hands to cut through the infernal noise of Insta-posts. The era of the Forum 8 may be long gone, but a stacked team is still one way to get noticed. Despite Amplid’s substance-over-style approach, Peter’s not naive to the challenges of 21st-century marketing.
“Yeah, we have ambassadors, because first of all it’s a good social media content supply, right? It’s an important source. But Amplid is not a brand that is buying into world champions, putting them out there with a cookie-cutter product next to them, and trying to sell it there.” Rather the Amplid team is a carefully-selected band of riders, most of whom you’ve never heard of (ex-Forum man Mario Käppeli probably has the biggest name recognition out of the bunch). They don’t top podiums or film enders, but their combined knowledge and experience feeds into Amplid’s board design process. “The investments marketing-heavy brands do on the team side,” explains Peter, “we put it into R&D.”
The team feedback is important, but only one piece of the puzzle. “It’s this triangle; team riders, the consumer, and me.” This brings us to the ‘Test Pilot Program’, now in its second winter. Anyone who has bought an Amplid in the last five years can sign up for a chance to be one of ten riders selected to test new prototypes fresh from the factory, in exchange for their detailed feedback on what it’s like to ride.
“The new thirst for innovative freeride shapes has played in Amplid’s favour, but any small company still has a fight on its hands to cut through the infernal noise of Insta-posts”
One such golden-ticket winner is Mattias Lanckman, based in Austria’s Zillertal valley. He threw his hat into the ring after buying an Amplid splitboard, and was soon invited to take ownership of an Amplid Morning Glory prototype. “I literally rode it everywhere,” he remembers. “Even with the more freeride orientated shape I took it to the park, but I rode it mostly in the powder, and the groomers for carving. It was my go-to board for all conditions, so I rode it about 40 days”.
And as for the reporting part of the deal, he says Peter operates a “no-bullshit” policy. “If the board has weird behaviour or bad materials, just say it! He would always respond personally, and in no time. It’s great to talk to a guy that has decades of experience – and if every snowboarder is honest, it’s nice to get gear…”
Then there’s part three: Peter himself, who combines an immense breadth of knowledge with a meticulous eye for detail. It’s only natural that his own thoughts and theories are all over the R&D process. After so many years in the business, and having seen it from all angles, where does he get fresh ideas from? For example, what about Antiphase, Amplid’s proprietary vibration-cancelling tech?
The answer will reassure anyone who has ever felt pangs of guilt as they descend further and further down a wiki-hole when they’re supposed to be working. Watching some videos of non-Newtonian liquids on YouTube (the ones that solidify on impact, allowing you to run across a swimming pool filled with the stuff, but sink into it if you stop moving) eventually led to the world of acoustics – specifically, an Australian professor who had cracked ways to prevent the vibration of a piano or drum travelling through a stage, or that of a monitor speaker pulsing along the walls of a recording studio.
In a lightbulb moment, Peter sensed that similar principles could be used to stop the spread of unwanted vibrations through a snowboard. After a bit of tinkering in his carpenter father-in-law’s workshop, he’d made the prototype (which he still has to this day): strips of carbon laminate that could be milled into the core of a snowboard’s nose, where chatter begins. These inserts create their own vibrations at a different frequency to that found in the rest of the board’s fibreglass, with the two waves effectively cancelling each other out. In practical terms that means more stability at speed and less foot fatigue.
As much as Peter values the anecdotal evidence of riders whose opinions he trusts, he’s got more than that to back it up. “We can measure in a laboratory. We can measure how quickly it stabilises, the height of the aperture, the wavelength, and the time that takes to stop. And it’s a huge difference.” If anyone still needs convincing, one of snowboarding’s biggest players has stepped in to help. Peter used to compete against Nitro founder Tommy Delgado decades ago, and as such the two brands have a pretty chummy relationship. For 2021/22, Nitro has licensed the Antiphase technology for a couple of its boards, and produced a simple side-by-side demonstration tool that shows the difference that Antiphase makes when compared to a standard laminate. Look out for it in snowboard shops this winter.
“It derives from a just simple desire. If you have a better snowboard, your day will be better, you will be happier”
That’ll definitely help the cause, but Peter’s preference will always be for snowboarders to feel it for themselves on the mountain. “I really dig it when I go ride with people and we swap boards and they start to say, ‘fuck, this is crazy, it’s much better than mine!’” That’s the driving force behind all of this science-ing. “It derives from a just simple desire. If you have a better snowboard, your day will be better, you will be happier.”
One problem with taking the tech side so seriously is translating that information to the layman. Simply telling potential customers that ‘it makes the snowboard better’ isn’t enough obviously, but there’s a real danger in getting bogged down in the details. “You know, ‘ze German engineering!’”, hoots Peter, turning his Bavarian accent all the way up to elf. “You don’t want to come across like fucking BMW.”
Fortunately for him, there’s now a widely-understood shorthand available for Antiphase’s benefits – noise-cancelling headphones. Even if they don’t own a set themselves, most people know what they are, and – in broad strokes, at least – how they work. “You explain that Antiphase is vibration dampening, and that it’s similar to what headphones from Bose are doing, right?”
Another antidote for the tech talk is a healthy lack of pretension when it comes to slapping a name of the finished product. Spray Tray, Snomellier, Surfari, and of course, Morning Glory – the names of most Amplid boards feel like they were conjured up not in a lab, but in a pub. “We try to balance out the nerdy engineering stuff with a certain humour,” explains Peter. “It’s sometimes not so easy when we don’t speak English as our mother tongue, but we try to be very human with the way we talk.”
That authenticity, sorely lacking from much of modern marketing, has played a big part in earning Amplid its reputation – and with splitboarding enjoying new heights of popularity, it’s a good time to be a tech-first brand that can justify every feature in the product without getting a slap on the wrist from Ofcom.
Take, for example, the brand’s ‘Stratospheric’ topsheet, which prevents snow from sticking to the splitboards and making it heavier on the ascent. Borrowing tried-and-tested technology used to keep the greenhouses of Sicily and Morocco cool enough to grow tomatoes under an unforgiving sun, Stratospheric gets results without the need for environmentally damaging additives. “You can treat the topsheet with silicon or oil, but it’s all gonna end up in the river – and in the end, our coffee. So we found an optical way.”
“That authenticity, sorely lacking from much of modern marketing, has played a big part in earning Amplid its reputation”
This eco-friendly approach confirms Peter’s claim that he’s listening to customers – but again, making good boards remains the priority. One of his recent prototypes saw 50% of the fibreglass replaced with a sugarcane weave, with mixed results. “It works really well, but bonding is a nightmare – so far we haven’t found out the right treatment to work with an environmentally-friendly epoxy. Eco is nice, but it’s got to work, right?”
So the quest for perfection continues, but it’s one he’s happy to be on. Contrary to what your feed might be telling you, there are no easy solutions, and progress is only possible when people like Peter put in the hard yards. The influencer game may be rotten, but there’s a lot of value in being influenced – provided you’re looking in the right places, and with a sense of purpose. For Peter Bauer and Amplid, it’s something that ironically sails dangerously close to a sunset-background inspirational Instagram caption:
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