Looking back on splitboarding’s timeline, there were only but a few smaller brands who developed products, which filled the void in our little market. From Voile’s DIY kits and hardware to Spark R&D’s pin-less bindings, these smaller brands have shown a high level of commitment to splitboarding which has resulted in innovations that have evolved splitboarding as a whole. Not only were these brands developing amazing tech, but they were also the guys you were able to chat with in the forums, or hang out with at the Splitfests. These open lines of communication and camaraderie helped foster relationships with many individuals within the splitboard community.
If you’re looking for a brand where you can talk the person who builds, or even designs your splitboard equipment, and has the freedom to be creative, then you’ll want to look towards the smaller brands. In an effort to spotlight some of the smaller splitboard brands out there, we will be doing a monthly series called “Behind the Brand.” Follow along as we learn about these brands, who’s behind them, and what they are all about.
In the first offering of the “Behind the Brand” series, we hit up Abe Greenspan and Lee Collins to learn more about their South Lake Tahoe based company TahoeLab.
-Abe and Lee, where are you guys from and how did you guys start snowboarding?
I am from South Lake Tahoe, CA. I started snowboarding at a very young age. Growing up in Tahoe gave me the opportunity for endless time on a board. There were so many programs specifically catered towards up and coming athletes. I spent all of my teenage years competing at the regional and national levels. I won a national championship in 2003 and was invited to train with the U.S. snowboard team. For the the next half decade I was competing for the U.S. team. I was blessed to travel all over the world racing Snowboard Cross. Lee grew up ski racing at a tiny mountain called the Wisp in western Maryland and switched to snowboarding in the early 90s. After going to college in Connecticut and riding in Vermont for four years he finally made his way to some big mountains in 2000 and has been living in Tahoe ever since.
-What lead to your paths crossing?
Lee and I originally met at Kevin “Coop” Cooper’s Cutting Edge Sports in South Lake. I was just a mini-grom vacuuming the carpets and getting influenced about mountain culture, probably while I was a little too young. I eventually left for college and Lee and I reestablished our relationship when I returned home after spending 5 years in Salt Lake City. During that time in SLC I fell in love with bigger mountain objectives and spending as much time splitboarding as possible. When I came back to Tahoe splitboarding was relatively new and there weren’t that many people doing it in the Sierra. Lee and I became solid touring partners and spent as much time getting out as possible. During my time away Lee had secured a full time job in the ski/snowboard industry and we both noticed that the backcountry was filling up with new and excited people. At the time I was working at a local shop and sawing a lot of boards in half for people. I was sorta bummed on what I was creating because it was sort of a half-ass way to make a splitboard no matter how you do it. Lee and I were touring all the time and just started talking about how cool it would be to start making splitboards the right way. Little did Lee know, I usually follow through on ridiculous ideas! We both had the passion and motivation to start pressing boards. The idea was easy but building all of the tooling to actually make snowboards was super complicated. Without Lee there is no way TahoeLab could be where it is today! He is an amazing engineer who has endless creativity. There isn’t one piece of tooling in the shop that we haven’t created. Obviously we didn’t build the sanders and saws but all of the snowboard specific tooling has come from us.
-With the number of brands out there, what pushed you guys to start TahoeLab? What sets TahoeLab apart from the other companies out there?
This is a question that we get asked frequently as there are a ton of snowboard companies. Yes the market is probably saturated and yes, since our inception many more companies have popped up and companies that weren’t offering a splitboard now are. Lee and I both believed that opportunity existed in the splitboard market when we started TahoeLab for a high quality splitboard that could handle any condition the mountains could dish out. LIving and riding in Tahoe we experience a huge variety in the snowpack and wanted a board that wasn’t just designed to ride powder. Our initial goal wasn’t to sell thousands of boards. Our goal was to make a unique, long lasting, high performance, yet beautiful board. We started by learning about board construction, what was the industry using for materials and how can we make that better… We learned that as a whole boards being constructed overseas were made as fast and as cheap as possible. After finishing all of our tooling we started pressing boards. It was painfully slow and our process was full of mistakes. With anything, the more you do, the better you should get. That is if you’re paying attention. We stayed focused on improving our process and with time our product became better and better. By always scrutinizing what we were putting out and what feedback was being thrown at us we have been able to tweak and adjust little nuances that could come to plague TahoeLab. Due to our small size we are able (forced) to carefully examine each board that leaves the shop and make sure each one is of the highest quality. We have an amazing team of riders (three of which will be competing on the Freeride World Tour this season) who are constantly giving valuable feedback. Many times the venues on the Tour are full of rocks and these guys are literally riding down and landing on them. Their boards are taking more abuse than anyone I can think of so it’s been amazing having such great representation and feedback. Look out for John Penfield, Blake Hamm, and Audrey Hebert on the Freeride World Tour this season!!
-How have things changed over the first five years at TahoeLab?
Things are always changing for the better at TahoeLab. We have been slowly tweaking our process to become more precise and efficient. In the beginning it took days for us to complete a board. We are doing things in a bigger way. We are actually manufacturing! I can go in there now and just put my head down and work because all of our tooling works time and time again. We have made the manufacturing process more dummy proof. Someday we will have employees!LOL For now I can bust out about 5-7 splitboards a week. We are growing and it feels great!
-What does the board design and prototype process look like at TahoeLab? Are ideas drawn up on a computer, or are doodles, thoughts and notes scratched out on paper?
By drawing on our combined fifty years of snowboarding experience we can start the design process with a pretty good idea of how a board will ride just from the geometry – waist width, sidecut radius, etc… From there we tweak the design on the computer and then Lee and I each make a board for ourselves to test out. Fortunately we don’t ride the same size board so we can test a new shape in different sizes and flexes right out of the gate. In the beginning we shaped our templates and molds by hand, which wasn’t easy but was fun in that it made us feel like we were surfboard shapers. Two seasons ago Lee built TahoeLab a really cool and custom CNC machine. This thing cuts out all of our templates and cores with the precision needed to ensure every board will be exactly the same. By having all our manufacturing equipment in house we can quickly create new shapes for ourselves or custom shapes for customers. If someone has a new idea we can have it on snow in a week or two.
-Tahoelab is currently offering three different splitboard shapes, tell us about the current shapes and profiles.
Twin- We started the business with our original 6 sizes of twin boards. Those twin shapes were a great way for us to get comfortable with our construction process. We also needed to make sure that all of our tooling was working time and time again. Our Twin boards are super fun and also a bit unique. We construct twin boards that are wider than industry standard. They also have relatively long running lengths and blunt nose and tails. This allows people to size down but still have all of the surface area of a bigger board. We also designed the boards a bit wider for confidence on steep terrain. There is virtually no heel or toe drag on any of our twins when sized properly, just amazing edge bite!
Directional- We then wanted to make a more all mountain shape that was good not only in deep powder but also super capable on hard pack and throughout the entire mountain. Our directional boards use the same construction as our twins but offer a more setback and tapered feel giving more maneuverability in the trees or tight chutes and more effortless float in deep snow. They truly give our riders a one board quiver and have become our most popular shape. We run similar sizing for both twin or directional, split or solid. We offer 148, 153, 158, 163, 168 in both twin or directional. We offer a 143 directional and a 173 twin as well.
PowFish- This board has surprised us time and time again. This board was created for the deepest of days and it truly excels at that. The surprising part about this board is its versatility all over the mountain. It handles hardpack, ice, chunder, and really everything in between. This is by far the most fun board we make! It just makes you smile!!
-What’s the reason for TahoeLab’s utilization of carbon construction over a typical glass construction? What would you say to riders who have never used a carbon-constructed board?
From the beginning we have felt that carbon is a superior product for splitboarding. The first board we ever made had carbon in it and it took us a while to dial in the right type of carbon and how to best incorporate it into the board. Carbon offers a better strength to weight ratio over glass and it doesn’t break down the way glass does after being ridden for a season. We want our boards to maintain their stiffness and pop for the lifetime of the board, even if that’s two hundred days. Our Traditional construction combines two full sheets of carbon with two sheets of triaxial glass. We found that this combination gives us a great mix of liveliness and durability and we offer this construction for our solid or splitboards.
This production season has been very exciting for TahoeLab. We started producing some splitboards with our new Phantom construction. This all carbon fiber layup reduces previous splitboard weights by up to 20%. The Phantom construction uses the same super strong and really durable bamboo core that is found in all of our other splitboards. Instead of using two sheets of fiberglass; two lighter and more beautiful sheets of carbon are placed on their 45 degree axis and replace the heavy glass. In total the Phantom construction uses 4 full sheets of carbon fiber. We’ve also eliminated the topsheet on the Phantom construction. At first all we thought this would do was reduce weight. After testing the all new carbon layup we realized the the missing topsheet created something so much more valuable than we thought. The top surface of the Phantom boards are nothing more than a smooth layer of clear epoxy that helps the carbon shine. What we didn’t plan was the ability of that epoxy layer to shed snow off the top of the board. When spending tons and tons of time on the up-track we realized that the absence of snow and ice buildup on the top of the splitboard was monumental in energy savings especially while breaking trail!
-With the wide body design of the boards, should riders expect to size their boards any different from their current boards?
That is a great question – yes, the twin boards should be sized down if someone is debating between two of our sizes. In general our directional boards should be sized normally. This question can also be related to buying a surfboard. Many people look at the volume of a surfboard to help make their choice. It is similar with our boards in relation to the surface area. Our boards are in general wider than industry standard. That means for example that our 158 twin may have a similar surface area of many mainstream boards around 160-162 so we suggest sizing down. It does take a few rides to get used the wider board but once riders get comfortable, the advantages of the shorter and wider board are realized and people won’t want to go back!
-Are any of the TahoeLabs splitboards built or recommended for female riders?
We definitely build a few of our models and sizes with women in mind. With that said we still keep the same mindset for building women’s boards as we do men’s boards. There are plenty of women out there that totally rip! For men or women TahoeLab builds a durable, long lasting, performance oriented splitboard. We offer a couple really small sizes down to a 143 directional. The customer also has the ability to talk directly to us and if there is nothing in our current inventory that totally excites them we have the ability to custom tailor one of our shapes to their needs. i.e. flex pattern, camber profile, and stance width.
-It was a nice surprise to recently see some TahoeLab splitboards at The Backcountry Store in Truckee. Where can riders go to check out TahoeLab splitboards?
We are really excited to be partnering with the Backcountry in Truckee. They have a great core shop with amazing knowledgeable employees who actually practice what they preach. There is a full size run of demo boards up there so for customers on the north side of the lake The Backcountry in Truckee will be the easiest way to demo a board. If the Backcountry isn’t super convenient we suggest directly contacting TahoeLab. We will have some full setups for demo that go directly out of our shop.
We have to say that we love the dawn to dusk (or later) TahoeTen videos! Any plans for a new linkup this season?
You never know! The TahoeTen videos have been a huge success. Josh Daiek and I are always talking about the next major link-up. I think it has been amazing to blend the backcountry ski culture and splitboard culture into a shared project. Our goal is for the newest video to be better than the last. Kirkwood to Hope Valley came out pretty good so it’s gonna be tough to top that. When planning these link-ups there are a few criteria I try and keep in line. The scenery has to be amazing, the lines being skied need to be badass (it’s gotta look tough LOL), and our film crew has to be on the same page. Last year we worked with Deep Roots Media, and in my opinion the project couldn’t have turned out better. Dane Henry and Bligh Gillies are some of the best videographers in the business. Josh and I were able to go about our day in our own terms. They didn’t slow us down. There is so much involved with timing and safety on a major link-up like that. I think that both Josh and myself feel really comfortable with those guys, that is super helpful in the project’s success They are super busy with real paying projects so lining up the timing when Josh, DRM, and myself are in town and conditions are perfect seems to be the real challenge. Safety is always number one priority. Coming home at the end of the day is much more important than getting the shot or releasing a cool new project. We will just have to wait and see what options Mother Nature gives us this season!!