Backcountry snowboards and splitboards are multiplying on the Winter Market show floor. Credit the rise to more riders heading beyond the ropes, says Voile Manufacturing Sales and Marketing Manager Dave Grissom, who is less lonely in the category at Outdoor Retailer these days.
Since introducing the first DIY Split Kit here in the early 1990s, Voile has seen the number of splitboard designs — and brands — grow exponentially in the past few years, including big boys such as Burton.
We talk to Grissom to see if backcountry snowboarding can match the surge in backcountry skiing and understand what retailers need to look for from future generations.
For years, Voile was one of few or the only booth where we could count on seeing a new snowboard at Winter Market. Now there are start-ups and major brands such as Burton on the floor. What changed the landscape?
I think it’s a combination of things. No. 1 is that since we introduced our first split kit here the boards have only gotten better — and there are just that many more people splitboarding in the backcountry every year. Second is how much more exposure it’s been getting. You have to give Jeremy Jones credit for splitboarding in a high-profile movie undefined. Add in the growth of Spark R&D bindings and a more simplified splitboard interface and you’ve got a lot of the reasons why we’re where we are now. It’s because the market wants fresh tracks and brands are giving them the products to get them.
Is split-boarding really growing fast enough to warrant this many brands and boards, or is there the sense that brands are trying to position themselves for future market share?
There is definitely a bit of a gold rush going on. Backcountry travel and splitboarding is still very new to most snowboarders. There’s room for growth and product innovation and the sport still has a long way to go. It is growing quickly, but that’s because it is still in its infancy. We’re really close partners with K2 and are showing their new Kwicker binding in our booth, and we’ve talked with them about how we are all kind of watching and waiting to see what the market can bear. I think it’s a sizeable market, especially as kids are getting older and want to ride fresh lines all the time. And we certainly see it from a business perspective as we are opening and licensing hardware to new brands all the time. I do think we are just at the beginning of all of this, watching to see where it all goes.
Is this bringing a new kind of retailer to Winter Market, and if so, how is he or she different from the retailers you traditionally see here?
It is attracting more mainstream snowboard shop dealers. They all want in. The new accounts we are setting up are mainstream snowboard retailers who are putting splitboards and splitboard hardware in their shops. It’s not your Bent Gate or Wilderness Exchange, but snowboard shops that see an opportunity.
What do you tell a retailer who is still considering selling splitboards? What kind of customer do you think this will help him reach, and what else does he need to offer in his store?
Make sure someone on staff is a splitboarder and educate your staff. I think most snowboarders have heard about splitboarding, but may not completely understand the gear, the realities of backcountry travel, and how critical avalanche awareness is when you’re out there. You need to stock the bread and butter of avalanche safety gear. But we still do see a lot of retailers internationally who just want to stock the boards even though we do try to upsell them and stress to them the importance of also stocking things like our shovels and probes.
Where does the sport go from here?
I think it’s very interesting where it’s all going. I think it could eventually be a rival to AT in how much room there is to grow. Voile has been in the telemark market since Wally [Voile founder Mark “Wally” Wariakois] founded it, and that whole market is now about bindings and boots. There aren’t particular telemark skis anymore, and I would bet that way more than half of the skis we sell are mounted with AT bindings. I think that just like with alpine skiers who want to take their set-up into the backcountry, splitboarding has some similar opportunities. That’s why more brands are getting into it — they want to have a product in their line that gives snowboarders that option.
So where will the new riders come from?
I think the majority of the growth will come from the next generation of riders, from young kids. They are the kind of riders who come from a freestyle background and want to take that experience into the backcountry on a freestyle board. Like for all of the brands here at the show, it’s kids that are going to be our future.