Friday, January 13, 2017

Board Brands to Watch: Franco Snowshapes

Sometimes I get tasked with a job that requires me to distill the essence of a thing into not nearly enough words to do that thing justice for not as much pay as I would hope for. Recently, Transworld Snowboarding gave me just such a task and it was published on their site as Eight Board Brands to Keep an Eye On.

Transworld graciously allowed me to share the interviews and pictures that I drew from on my humble blog. Here is part two, master crafter Mikey Franco of Franco Snowshapes, edited sparingly for spelling and clarity.

Yak: How would you explain your brand to someone stumbling across it for the first time?
Mikey: Franco Snowshapes was started to represent what snowboarding means to me. It's been my life for over 30 years and I wanted to create boards for myself and others that represents our lifelong passion and commitment to riding.

How did you get into the whole snowboard manufacturing game?
First, I was in Japan doing work for Burton. I was injured and couldn’t ride. The president of Burton Japan at the time felt bad so to cheer me up he took me to meet Taro Tomai of Gentem. It just so happened that my best buds from high school ran Igneous Skis in Jackson. They encouraged me to come in and make a board. My injury ended up taking me out for the season so that was a needed uplift. Combining what I learned from Igneous and what I saw at Gentem, I felt there was a missing link between the two: The functional, aesthetic shape of Gentem with the beauty, craftsmanship and hand-made aspect of Igneous needed to meet. That's when I chose to start Franco Snowshapes.

Mikey Franco at work.
What separates you from other brands on the market? 
There are so many great brands on the market and I have great respect for all of my mentors and inspiration. What separates me from most is that I look at building boards much like an organic farmer looks at growing produce or a craft brewer brews beer. My first priority is not cutting costs. It is using the best possible ingredients, the best possible methods and most important of all, listening and truly understanding each and every client I shape a board for.

Where or what do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from so many places! One board was designed from a radical fairing I saw on the front of a vintage Harley. It looked sort of like a cobra, elegant yet deadly in an instant! I also get inspiration from surfing, from the snow conditions and terrain features a client is intending to ride on. I get inspired from so many of my peers in the snowboard industry as well. Design inspiration is everywhere if you look!

What is essential to snowboarding for you?
Style. Beauty. Fresh air. Being a part of a community. Knowing that what you are riding was built with intention. It was built with passion and with pride.

Where and how are your boards made? Are you seriously the only guy involved!? You must have a team.
Its just me! I wish I had a team… I make my boards from scratch at my shop in Jackson Hole. I order materials like base material, edges, etc. from various suppliers but I also handcraft parts as well. I harvested a couple of beetle-killed whitebark pine trees from Casper Bowl within the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and sliced them into super thin veneers for top sheets (each board made with the whitebark pine top sheets comes with a GPS code on it so you can go find the spot where your board's topsheet was harvested). I have some beautiful ash stock for core material I harvested from my brother's property in Pennsylvania. The trees were killed by the emerald ash borer. I then had a nearby Amish farm mill them into core material and will then make custom cores out of a mix of ash, hemlock, maple, etc. And I do have a guy, Patrick Shehan, that does my website and helps me a ton with PR stuff. He has been a great help.

Where, here!?
How can the public get their hands on your boards?
Right now, direct sales are the only way, unless you are in Jackson Hole. I have a small showroom in Teton Village during the winter months we call “The Shack”. Its the only rustic, tiny log cabin at the base of the Tram. There you can demo boards.

Is there any chance they can ride one before they buy?
Yes and no. They can ride a few here in Jackson, but in reality a custom board will not ride like any board you’ve ever ridden before. Your board is something that doesn’t exist yet therefore a demo will only provide a certain amount of feedback. It will certainly give you a sense of feel but most of my customers rely on a great deal of trust in me and my experience.
Ultimately, this board will be the greatest snowboard you’ve ever ridden because it was specifically made for YOU, from scratch. From your head down to your toes. These boards are designed with every millimeter of your soul considered. We want to know what scares you, what makes you scream with excitement, where you ride, how you ride, and everything in between. I developed something called the Rider Genome Profile. It is a way for me to get to know you as if we have been riding together for years. Based on my 30 years of teaching, guiding, and training clients and instructors all over globe, the RGP has become an invaluable tool for me to fully understand who you are.

What do you see in your future?
I see expanding out from Jackson Hole in a slow, purposeful way. Having a small showroom in three to five special mountain towns in the near future is my goal. Just like the one in Jackson, it is meant to be more of a gallery, a place where you come in for a coffee in the morning and grab a board or come in after riding and grab a craft beer in the afternoon and admire some beautiful snowboards surrounded by equally beautiful photography. A place to be fully inspired to ride, not a place to be bombarded by 45 different brands, products, and POP displays. I also see creating some limited release lines - maybe one or two each season - that are limited in series like 20 per season. I know there are folks out there that have difficulty conjuring up a custom shape and this might be a way for them to ride something unique without the stress of going through the design process.

What else would you like people to know about Franco Snowshapes?
That when you call, email, or text Franco Snowshapes, it is ME you will talk to! And it is ME that will design, build and finish your dream ride.