Weston Backcountry | The Minturn Mavericks Bringing Pow(d)er to the People
A weekend with the Weston crew sampling Colorado's finest powder boards, pillow lines and double IPAs
Five miles outside of Vail, you’ll find the small mountain hold-out of Minturn – a sleepy, old mining town with a population of just over 1,000. It was here, out of his snowboard shop, that Barry Clark set up Weston Backcountry. With its roots firmly planted in the community and a desire to build a company driven from the local riding scene, the beginnings of a new, backcountry snowboard brand was born.
Fast forward eight years and Weston has become a force to be reckoned with. An unlikely success story, for sure, but one that’s a testament to the passion and energy of the people behind it. Five years ago, Weston was selling less than 200 snowboards a season; today, their popularity continues to snowball and gather momentum, picking up some of the industry’s most coveted awards, with ever-expanding legions of loyal shredders across the world.
“Their success continues to snowball and gather momentum, picking up some of the industry’s most coveted awards, with ever-expanding legions of loyal shredders across the world”
Earlier this month, we had the chance to meet up with the Weston family to ride in their own backyard at Vail Pass, sample their coming season’s snowboards, and find out how they managed to go toe-to-toe with some of the industry giants and forge their own path to success.
Driving West out of Denver on the I-70 during Friday’s rush hour is a trip nobody wants to make. Even less so when almost every snowboarder in the country is leaving from the OR (Outdoor Retailer, North America’s largest snowsport trade show) and heading in the same direction. Fortunately, for us, it was a journey that proved it’s weight in white gold.
Arriving in Minturn after dark, we were welcomed by Weston’s owner (since 2016), Leo Tsuo, marketing manager, Sean Eno, resident photographer Jacob McEachern, PR, Alex Showerman along with Backcountry and Outdoor Mag’s writer Drew Zeiff, to the all American culinary spread of pizza, chips, and a deceptively lethal IPA known, ominously, as “Whumpf”. Probably should have seen that one coming.
“With some of the proposed zones given names like Machine Gun Ridge, Boss Basin, The Claw, The Boiler and The Pinch, we started to question what we’d got ourselves into”
Sat around the table we pulled out the map and began to make plans for the following day’s riding. We were headed out to Vail Pass, a vast expanse of land, run by the USDA Forest Service, for motorized and man-powered backcountry access. In other words, a virtually unlimited playground for powder hounds and petrol heads looking to pick whatever line they please. With some of the proposed zones given names like Machine Gun Ridge, Boss Basin, The Claw, The Boiler and The Pinch, we started to question what we’d got ourselves into.
However, from chatting to Sean, it was clear that the Weston way wasn’t about scaring the shit out of the newcomers or dick-swinging at the top of a 45° drop in. “Our ethos in the backcountry, and just riding in general, is centred around three things: community, safety and sustainability,” he explained to us. “There’s a huge barrier to entry in backcountry riding, not just from a financial point of view, but in terms of safety and education, too. As we’re growing, we know it’s partly our responsibility to keep people safe out there.”
““They’re members of 1% for the Planet, too. But while some brands preach this from the rooftops, it’s merely par for the course for Weston”
Bold words, but backed up with even more impressive initiatives. This year, Weston launched a scholarship programme with Backcountry Babes, helping them develop a programme to support avalanche education for women. Additionally, a whopping 10% of the profits from their women’s boards, the Riva and Rise, have raised around $6,500 that directly funds those scholarships.
Beyond the immediate snowboard community, Weston continues to generously support causes close to them. Both the Backwoods and 10th Mountain snowboards also donate a staggering 10% of their profits to their respective organisations, the National Forest Foundation and the 10th Mountain Division. The latter of these supports local veterans from the Second World War civilian-military division and their families, many of whom were ski patrollers from the area.
Of course, they’re members of 1% for the Planet, too. But while some brands preach this from the rooftops, it’s merely par for the course for Weston. This is a brand that doesn’t just show the token support expected from within the outdoor industry nowadays, they proudly champion multiple causes at the heart of their community. Charity begins at home, right?
A board that helps to save the world is one thing; a board that can bring an entire crew of riders to a fit of childlike giggles and screams at the bottom of every run is quite another. That following morning, driving up to Vail Pass, the Weston crew had a few surprises in store for us.
We piled into the 1979 Tucker Sno-Cat and were driven up the pass by Weston Guides Nate and Ben. These guys were the real deal. Picture an amalgamation of beards, Gortex and engine oil, accompanied by a Creedence Clearwater Revival soundtrack and multiply the result by a factor of seven. If those guys didn’t just spontaneously metamorphose out of snow, rock and sub-zero temps, somewhere on an alpine summit in the darkest depths of winter, then you’d assume they’d at least spend the best part of their lives growing up in that environment.
“These guys were the real deal. Picture an amalgamation of beards, Gortex and engine oil, accompanied by a Creedence Clearwater Revival soundtrack and multiply the result by a factor of seven”
Despite Nate’s warnings of the somewhat temperamental nature of the beast (the Sno-Cat, that is), we steadily trundled our way up to an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet. It was around then that it became apparent just how well the day had shaped up for us. Not only did we have a near unlimited range of Colorado’s finest tree lines, bowls, pillows and chutes to lap up, we also had the pleasure of being among the first to try out their latest trio of boards.
New in the line for next season is Weston’s Pow-Slayer Series; a volume shifted, powder focussed range of boards, all beautifully designed by Colorado-based artist, John Fellows, with each depicting a part of Weston’s story. A series of decks, that, as Alex commented, “look as good hung on your wall as ride strapped to your feet”.
It sees the immensely popular Backwoods and cult-favourite, Japow, get the ‘shrunken down, stiffened up, and pulled out’ treatment, along with an entirely new model brought into the fold, the Hatchet. The goal with the series was to create some of the most solid, reliable and stoke-inducing mountain vehicles, with a penchant for powder, but the chops to take on the whole mountain.
“The Hatchet[…] offers that most elusive of things, a board that transcends categorisation”
Where the Backwoods follows somewhat of a more conventional freeride shape, the Japow offers that special something for those cold blower days, darting lines through the trees, or cranking up the edge when the groomers are firing. Both have had their running length shortened, with that reduction in length being displaced in the waist width. It makes them primed for those super fun, slashy runs in the backcountry, but agile enough to chuck around back on the pistes.
The Hatchet, Weston’s brand new design for the Pow Slayer Series, offers something pretty special. It’s that most elusive of things: a board that transcends categorisation. It handles and rides like a true twin, with all the credentials of a powder juggernaut, ready to send or stomp every drop and pillow in switch just as easily as it does going forwards. It was undoubtedly the board that generated the most buzz amongst the riders that day, confirming its claim as a Weston’s “most versatile weapon of pow slaying destruction.”
Looking at Weston’s entire range, it becomes clearer what it is that has made them a brand that continues to go from strength to strength. They’ve done away with the expensive business of supporting a top-tier, elite athlete team and, instead, invested a wider community of ambassadors, guides and local riders. By fostering this ground-up approach, they’re able to take feedback directly onboard from riders who, let’s face it, are far closer to the realms of how us mere mortals ride a snowboard than the Jeremys and Travises of this world.
“We don’t have one or two huge names in a team,” Sean explained to us. “We have about 40-50 local grassroots riders who form most of our roster. I think it’s been a blessing. It has allowed us to grow that grassroots community and have a more close-knit connection to the people riding our boards.
“By fostering this ground-up approach, they are able to take feedback directly onboard from riders who, let’s face it, are far closer to the realms of how us mere mortals ride a snowboard than the Jeremys and Travises of this world”
This feedback has been most apparent in their women’s line. Sean told us how, “three seasons ago, our women’s lineup consisted of the Riva and the Spruce. We were hearing from our women ambassadors ‘Hey, we’re here too, you guys have a lot of models available for the men’s side, we aren’t getting the same diversity in the lineup’.”
Unfortunately, it’s hardly a story that’s unique to the sport, or wider society in general. Weston’s response, however, was just that. “We took that to heart,” Sean told us. “Even though the snowboard community is about 80% male we thought – we do wanna make it equal.” After taking on a lot of feedback on their women’s boards, they trialled out five new shape iterations over the course of a season. Next winter, Weston will launch three new women’s specific models, in both split and solid versions, making them one of few (perhaps only?) brands to have a completely even offering between the men’s and women’s categories.
It’s worth mentioning that all Weston’s snowboards come with an almost unrivalled four-year warranty, too. “A broken board in the backcountry can be pretty catastrophic”, Sean says. “We want the product to be bomber, and hold up to some abuse. We’re working out of one of the most sophisticated snowboard factories in the world.” But, for those with the self-preservation of a ballistic missile, they’ll still offer a 30% discount on your next board if the breakage isn’t covered by the warranty.
Weston are shaking the tree. They’re challenging conventions both in the confidence of their snowboards’ production and their approach to working with and supporting the wider snowsports and outdoor communities. They’re harnessing the momentum of a grassroots community that started out of their hometown, tucked away from the bright, shiny lights of Vail, and are spreading that passion and love for the backcountry to all corners of the world, including Japan, New Zealand, and now Europe.
“They’re harnessing the momentum of a grassroots community that started out of their hometown town, tucked away from the bright, shiny lights of Vail”
Even more surprisingly, they’re doing this out the back of their very own ‘Tiny House’ – a portable office-cum-showroom which they often take to the road and park up directly at the base of resorts or mountain towns.
Then again, maybe that’s not so surprising. After all, it kind of perfectly embodies the very nature of who the Weston family are – a company that are still grounded in their humble origins, showing the rest of the industry that with the right foundations, message, and loyal following of shredders, it’s possible to break trail on your own and enjoy a different kind of success. The real, tangible impact of what Weston is doing happens far beyond those four, tiny walls.
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