How does a snowboard get made? That’s not usually a question that goes through people’s minds when they watch Shaun White boost 25-foot Method grabs and huck Double McTwists in the halfpipe. Instead, most people have much simpler, one-word queries popping up, such as “What?,” “How?,” and “Dude, seriously?” But the technology under Shaun’s feet is no joke, and as talented and hard-working as he is, at least some of the credit to helping him achieve his impressive win tally has to go to the tireless efforts of Burton to provide him with the best snowboards in the world.
It turns out that building a snowboard is not as simple as throwing some wood, metal, and fiberglass in a machine and having it spit out a finished product. Luckily, the guys at Craig’s Prototype Facility were gracious enough to invite us to the Burton headquarters in Burlington, Vermont to show us how it all goes down. They built one of Shaun’s personal boards in front of us so we could see just how much work, precision, and passion goes into making every single snowboard.
Everything starts with the core of the board. You might think that the core is just made of basic wood veneers like the plys in a skate deck, but constructing the core is actually an intricate process that lays the foundation for the rest of the board. To give you an idea of how complex these cores can be, Shaun’s board has a SuperFly II core which uses multiple types of woods with varying degrees of strength and lightness to make it as lightweight as possible without sacrificing durability in key areas. It also features DualZone EGD (Engineered Grain Direction) so that the wood grain along the toe and heel edges is perpendicular to the rest of the core for better edge hold. This requires a lot of time and assembly long before the board even starts to get made.
Of course, this is just the beginning. Now that they have the core, the next step is to profile it down to the right thickness throughout the board. First, the core is taken over to the ‘Green Monster’, a CNC machine that cuts the shape of the board and mills the Channel zone. After the ‘Green Monster’ is done with it, it gets fed into a belt sander that profiles the thickness down to 1mm at the very tips and gives it Burton’s signature SqueezeBox profile (thicker underfoot and thinner between the bindings). Another machine then measures the core to make sure it meets specifications, and it’s put back through the belt sander and the process is repeated until the entire core is within 2/10ths of a millimeter of spec.
Once the core is finally perfectly sculpted and ready to go, the next step is the layout, which is where everything really comes together. The board crafter places the P-Tex base of the board in a steel mold along with the metal edges. They then pour a two-part epoxy resin and spread it evenly. Little gummy strips are coated with the resin and placed near the edges to promote better bonding between all the different types of materials in the board. Once the resin is poured, the rest of the process becomes somewhat of a race against the clock because the resin will begin to set in ten to fifteen minutes. A layer of fiberglass is laid out, more resin is added, and then the core is placed, more resin gets added, and so on and so forth until the topsheet is laid down.
Once everything is in place, the board gets taken to the press to set the resin and give the board its profile, which for Shaun’s board is traditional camber. Hot water is run through hoses around the board to speed up the resin curing process. After thirteen minutes, the board is set and ready to come out. After leaving the press, a jigsaw is used to trim off all the excess material by hand.
The truly amazing thing about this process is that every board, from Shaun White’s personal ride to the average consumer’s price-point deck, is made in this same way in Burton’s factories in Vermont and Austria. Sure, many of the other boards have simpler cores or more basic profiling, but they’re all handcrafted with the same amount of care and attention to ensure that every board with a Burton logo meets the same standards for quality and craftsmanship.