When you own a company that designs and builds terrain park features for ski resorts, research and development can be a grind. Or a jump, or a jib.
No question it'll be better than a day at the office, which is why BOARDSPORT Terrain Design owner Brian Snabes is always happy to "research" new terrain park features or test the equipment his company installs at resorts around the state.
"That's why we do what we do," said Snabes, 29. "It's really, really something to build a park from your imagination and be able be first ones to ride it."
Terrain parks – slopes dotted with what amounts to playground equipment for snowboarders and freestyle skiers – have changed the face of ski resorts in the last half-dozen years. Snabes and his crew are leaving their mark – from individual rails to entire runs – on almost every terrain park in Michigan, and a few out of state as well.
"It's nice working with Brian because he rides, first of all," said Alpine Valley Ski Resort owner Brian Stoick, who agreed, seven years ago, to let Snabes install his first two rails at the ski resort in White Lake. "He and the people he works with go to competitions across the nation and find out about the latest types of rails and boxes, and then they come back to the shop here in Michigan and put them together. He keeps track of the latest fads, and he puts our parks together and builds our rails with our hill in mind and our terrain area in mind. And he knows our riders' abilities and tries to design based on their needs."
BOARDSPORT Terrain Design's shop, in a garage at Alpine Valley, is filled with the spark of welding and the scrape of grinding from November to mid-January. Snabes and eight employees build rails and boxes almost non-stop to fill orders for resorts that want this stuff on the hill as soon as the snow conditions are right. BOARDSPORT Terrain Design can also install, refurbish adjust, and take down the equipment.
The terrain design business is a subsidiary of BOARDSPORT, a company that grew out of Snabes' love for wakeboarding and snowboarding.
Snabes started his first business, WakeBoard Clinic, when he was still in high school. It earned him about $10,000 that first summer and has grown steadily, supporting him through college at Western Colorado and several years of hand-to-mouth existence as a professional snowboarder and wakeboarder. In 2005 he started another wakeboard venture, Boyne Wake Camp, and he sponsors a snow-and-wake team/film company called Midwest Progression, all under the BOARDSPORT umbrella. But Snabes' terrain design business is quickly outgrowing its siblings. BOARDSPORT Terrain Ddesign grossed about $15,000 its first year, more than tripled that the second year and hit six digits in 2007.
It began in 2000 when Snabes retired from professional competition and came home to Bloomfield Hills. Aside from a job coaching a young professional snowboarder, Kyle Mack, he had no real direction or winter income, so he spent a few months making sales calls for a staffing company.
"That really helped motivate me to get something going for the winter," he said.
A regular at Alpine Valley, Snabes convinced Stoick to let him design and build some rails for the hill.
"Our customers were real enthusiastic about it," said Stoick, who also hired Snabes to build the terrain park at his other resort, Devil's Head Resort in Wisconsin. "We got a reputation at Alpine Valley for having one best terrain parks in the area, and we drew the best riders in area. We've had a lot of really good riders come out of Alpine Valley, some competing nationally and doing quite well.
"I'm still amazed at the popularity (of the terrain parks); I would have never guessed it in a million years. It's totally changed our sport."
After a couple of years Snabes landed jobs at Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands. That, in turn, may open doors at Boyne's other resorts – in Montana and British Columbia.
"Once a couple of the guys who are working for me now are on top of things in the shop, I'll be able to spend more time going to resorts around the region and selling what we do," Snabes said. "…The whole goal is to try and bring the standard for terrain parks in the Midwest up to par with what's going on out west. Terrain parks are one area in our resorts where we can compete with the western states."
As for those western states, Snabes has been to plenty of places he wouldn't mind living. Some are beautiful and very vertical. But none are home, which is why BOARDSPORT is likely to stay a Southeastern Michigan company.
"Really it comes down to where your family is and where your infrastructure for your business is," Snabes said. "When you're an entrepreneur it's about who you know, and you start building this network of relationships, of people who help you get things done. That would make it hard for me to start over somewhere else.
"Besides, I like the idea of starting from scratch in the Midwest and being the guy that did it."
In case you were wondering….
Rail – Think a handrail next to a flight of stairs
Box – Similar to a rail, but with a flat surface on top
Jib – Anything you jump over and tap with your board is a jib or a bonk.
Amy Whitesall is a Chelsea-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the Ann Arbor News, the Detroit News and Seattle Times. Her previous article for metromode was The Art Of Community Building.
courtesy Brian Snabes