The snowboard team sponsored by K2 is used as a research group to develop competitive snowboards for their personal use. The athletes typically use the boards they help to develop during competitions. One composite component that has recently undergone considerable amounts of testing is the material used in snowboard cores. In high-performance snowboards, K2 uses a mixture of different woods and bamboo to strengthen the board. “We use three different trees in the core to increase strength and durability on the outsides and down the center of the board. Then we mix in some bamboo for flexibility and strength,” says Sanders. Just this year, K2 developed a board using a laminated bamboo wood core that has been termed “unbreakable.” The snowboard has gone through multiple extreme tests and riders and has never broken. Bamboo is not the lightest of woods but it is easily available for snowboard construction. “Bamboo has huge weight to strength properties. In Asia people are using it to build scaffolding!” says Sanders.
The recent downhill economy has not impacted the popular downhill sport manufacturer. “We took the opportunity to capitalize on research and development opportunities at the height of the U.S. economic depression. We saw the dip coming but we didn’t take our foot off the pedal,” says Sanders. “Our new designs started coming out around that time. The entire time I’ve been involved in the snowboard industry I’ve never seen new technology move faster than it is now. It feels like it’s the first five years that snowboarding ever existed. Honestly, if you have a board older than three years, you’re riding old technology.”
K2 has one snowboard team member potentially competing in the Women’s Superpipe at the 2012 Winter X-Games, Gretchen Bleiler, who has won four gold medals at the Winter X Games and silver in the Winter Olympics. Bleiler uses the K2 Eco Pop 152, a lighter board construction she helped design and promote in 2010, built for women snowboarders and now the rocker, a snowboard shaped with a small upward curve rather than the traditional camber design, is for all terrains. The flatline rocker, a flattened rocker arch, uses “hybrilight” technology to use less material during construction. It also uses K2 patented Harshmellow dampening technology, a synthetic polymeric compound used to minimize vibrations and impact in newer K2 designs. The Rhythm WH4 core uses honeycomb on the lower surface, softer wood in the tip and tail, and bamboo throughout to create light, strong board. The triax fiberglass is also integrated with carbon for increased strength. According to a video released by K2, the Eco Pop is Bleiler’s “Go to power board. It feels like cheating.”
Doug Sanders, global product director of snowboards at K2, believes that the recent industry trend towards more rocker shaped snowboards is a result of the R&D efforts from the research facility developing the rocker design. “We’ve made tons of ineffectual snowboards at K2 to develop our rocker boards but they never make it to the customer. All of our advances come from concepts that occur when you experiment,” he says. He expects that the future will bring more advances for the rocker design, which has only recently gripped the industry, and more interesting competition thanks to the advances of snowboard engineering.