With the growing number of snowboarders joining us each year at Northern Escape Heli Skiing (in BC, Canada), we are yet again expanding our snowboard fleet. We have been using Prior Khyber and Prior Spearhead snowboards for a few years now and have heard nothing but good feedback from the heli boarding guests who have used them. Both Prior snowboards are designed to excel in powder while still being versatile enough to take on windblown peaks and tight trees, which is what makes them perfect for our British Columbia heli boarding company.
While ordering the new boards, we decided to take the opportunity to really explore one of the unique features of Prior Snowboards. The fact that each snowboard is fully handcrafted from start to finish in Whistler, BC resonates with our boutique style and we thought it would be neat to drop into the Prior ski factory and observe the process used to produce the handcrafted skis and snowboards.
Arriving at the factory we were met in the showroom by Matt Dussault, the Sales & Marketing Coordinator, where he began by giving us a little background on the Prior ski company.
Matt shared how, in 1990, Chris Prior started making snowboards in his parent’s basement in North Vancouver as a compliment to his well-known sailboard manufacturing business. After several athletes riding Prior boards won World Cup events in 1996, Chris made the decision to focus his energy on making snowboards full time.
In 2001, Prior moved production and manufacturing to Whistler, BC after a complete lineup of snowboard success including:
- World Cup Race
- Men’s and Women’s Freeride and Freestyle shapes (in several widths and lengths)
- And more than ten podium finishes
In the years that followed, the Prior ski factory switched their focus from Alpine Race snowboards to Big Mountain and Backcountry snowboards and skis, quickly becoming a household name in the snowboard and ski industry. Matt explained how in a market where their competitors mass-produce snowboards and skis, Prior stands out with their commitment to the production of quality, handcrafted skis and snowboards.
Having given us an idea of the company’s roots and values, Matt leads us from the showroom down the stairs to the ski factory floor. On the way we he pointed out some of their earlier boards mounted on the walls alongside some ‘old school photos’. He jokingly calls this the Prior Hall of Fame.
When we reach the factory floor, and Matt explains that this ‘expanded’ space is where the Prior ski factory has been manufacturing skis and snowboards since 2004, it is hard to imagine what the smaller original space would have looked like. As it is, the space seems to have just enough room for all the jobs needing to be completed in order to produce the Prior handcrafted skis and snowboards we love so much.
Building the Snowboard Cores
We start off in the back right corner where shelves of wooden snowboard and ski cores reach to the roof. Matt explains that a company just down the street manufactures the cores using vertical lamination. They take several plys of wood, aspen for snowboards and maple for skis, glue and press them together to produce a large block. They then cut the block vertically resulting in 12-14 cores per block.
The next step is to shape each snowboard core according to Prior’s specifications and glue the sidewall material to the cores. The sidewalls are made out of UHMW, a type of plastic that helps to cut down on vibrations and keep moisture from getting to the core once the construction is finished. As he shares all this, Matt passes around a core to demonstrate the structure.
Snowboard Top sheets
Next Matt pulls out some top sheets. He explains that they are made from a nylon-based material that has been specially chosen for its durability and resistance to chips but is still thin enough to not add any unnecessary weight. To demonstrate this he shakes the sheet vigorously.
“Next let’s talk about customization,” Matt says. The ability to produce custom snowboard top sheets is where the Prior ski factory really sets themselves apart from their competitors. Matt excitedly tells us, “There are virtually no limitations in terms of design.” Customers can either submit their own artwork or work with the in-house designer to produce their custom top sheet design, which is then printed in Vancouver and shipped to the Prior ski factory.
Grabbing some snowboard bases from the next shelf, Matt tells us that custom bases are also an option. However, due to the material used, the designs are limited to 2D blocks. He explains that the bases are made of a high-end sintered p-tex material that can only be sourced out of Europe, and are die cut with a laser by a company based in Washington before being shipped to Whistler. One of the interesting things about the snowboard bases produced by Prior is that in order to use 100% of the base material, they use the inverse of the cutouts to produce additional bases in opposite colors.
Edging and Creating Packages
In order to see the next step of production, Matt directs our attention to a small area in the back of the factory where two guys are working. “These are the two Doms,” he says, “Dom one edging the bases, Dom two is creating packages.” Edging consists of using the wooden templates to cutout bases and top sheets to match the cores, and then using a fast drying adhesive to tack the metal edges in place on the underside of the snowboard base. Packages are stacks of materials ready to be pressed. A package will have a base with edges attached, rubber dampening tape, core, top sheet, hardware for snowboards and either quad glass fiberglass or carbon fiber, depending on the order.
Pressing the Snowboards & Skis
From here the packages are taken to the pressroom where they are pressed and transformed from a pile of materials into snowboards or skis. Matt allows us to look in the door to the pressroom but tells us that unfortunately, we aren’t able to enter. He promises he will explain the process from the outside and grabs a metal piece of equipment resembling a tiny skateboard ramp to show us.
“This is what gives a snowboard or skis their profile.” He goes on to explain how all the materials come into the pressroom flat and the ramps are used in conjunction with heat and pressure to produce the shape of the tip, tail and camber of the Prior snowboards and skis. Based on a calculation factoring in the temperatures inside and outside, the materials are left in the press for 30 to 45 minutes.
“The pressroom is where the guys have to really pay attention to the orders,” Matt explains. “They have to make sure each profile is correct.” Unlike large ski and snowboard manufacturers that produce large product runs of 5000 snowboards or skis with the same specifications, each Prior snowboard or ski set is made to order and therefore the press bed must be changed for each. With four press beds and two benches for set up, the Prior ski factory is able to produce 10-12 boards per day.
Trimming and Sanding
After being pressed, Prior snowboards and skis are left to cure for 8 hours. The next step is to use a band saw to cut away the excess material. At this point they are beginning to resemble the finished product but there is still a lot of work to be done.
“The next step is ‘big time’ sanding,” Matt explains with a laugh. First the edges are cleaned up. Then they move onto the bases. Through a series of base grinds with steadily finer belts, the bases are flattened and smoothed. Next the Prior snowboard or skis are moved to a machine called the Montana, which puts very small uniform grooves in the base to direct water to reduce friction and improve glide. This is called structuring the base.
Snowboard and Ski Finishing & Shipping
Finally the Prior snowboard or skis are ready to be moved to the finishing and shipping station near the front of the factory. “This is where we ensure that quality is top-notch,” Matt explains. The workers use a variety of sandpaper, files and scotch-brite pads to make everything smooth. The hardware is inspected and the specifications are checked one last time.
Just before shipping, the protective top sheet layer that has been kept on during the entire production process is removed. “That’s the end of the line,” Matt says with a smile. “In an average of 3 weeks from ordering to shipping, the new Prior handcrafted snowboard or skis are in the customer’s hands.”
After literally seeing the Prior snowboards and skis being made in front of our eyes, and noting the level of care and dedication the staff at Prior put into each one, we are proud to offer Prior snowboards and skis as part of your heli skiing package. Book your next ski trip in Canada with Northern Escape Heli Skiing here in Terrace, British Columbia.
And next time, consider skipping the hassle of traveling with a snowboard or skis and instead, enjoy ripping up the mountains on a piece of equipment that was expertly handcrafted for the Canadian skiing conditions.
Northern Escape Heli Skiing is family owned and operated, offering small group heli skiing and heli boarding in British Columbia Canada, with cat skiing backup and an unlimited vertical option!