Competitive snowboarders rely on a slim piece of fiberglass and some plastic strapping to ride down the sleek, often precarious slopes like the Colorado Rocky Mountains. In stiff competition, snowboarders must trust the equipment they bring to the slopes to keep from breaking in harsh conditions. Especially when the boards are tested in extreme conditions like the high intensity rides, the Superpipe, BigAir and Snowboarding X events, during the ESPN Winter X-Games. This year’s events will take place in Aspen, Colo., starting today through January 29, 2012, and new snowboard advances thanks to composites are expected to raise the level of competition.


Inside the K2 research facility, an employee removes excess material from a prototype board.

K2 Sport based in Seattle has been engineering snow skis with composite materials since the company was founded exactly 50 years ago in November 1961. Bill Kirshner is the original founder of the company and a pioneer in the market for fiberglass manufacturing in winter sports equipment. Previous to his work in the 1960’s, most ski manufacturers were making components out of wood or metal. Kirshner, a manufacturer of fiberglass cages, knew that composites would be the future of winter sports equipment design because the use of fiberglass could prevent wood rot and other corrosion issues associated with traditional winter gear.

Today, K2 Snowboards, a branch of K2 Sport exclusively focused on manufacturing composite snowboards, still uses hand lay-up to handcraft high-performance winter sporting equipment. It stays ahead of the curve by investing in snowboard technology research and development at a state-of-the-art facility capable of building 100 percent production level snowboards in four business days. “We can concept a design on Monday, have the board ready on Thursday, test it out on Friday and potentially tweak it on Monday if we want to,” says Doug Sanders, global product director of snowboards at K2.

K2 manufactures thousands of snowboards a year and prototypes approximately 200 boards. “That mathematically works out to be about one board a day that we mold to ride, break and make it better,” says Sanders. “When it comes to manufacturing snowboards, there’s only so much engineering you can design in the board before you have to just go out and test it. Our research facility gives us that opportunity.” Some of the low end snowboards have started to implement closed molding technology like compression molding on preforms to increase the production speed, but hand lay-up is a must for the high-performance boards. “In composites, you can’t just have all hard structural layers, you need sheer layers to allow the product to flex and stay together under the enormous stresses our products go through; especially since we have to perform at cold temperatures. A lot of little components need to be put into the board and the only way to do that is with a skilled craftsman and not an assembly line. It’s the only way to get the quality we want,” says Sanders.