Like pizza, music, architecture—anything defined by how one makes, or does a thing—snowboarding is done differently all over the world. And in recent years many small board brands have popped up in long overlooked geographical corners, offering unique product designed with the regional dialect in mind.
On the whole, North American snowboarding has long been defined by innovation and aggressive progression, powerful riding styles, and an endless variety of terrain, with some wacky creativity tossed in. In direct opposition to this, is Japan, a country long associated with some of the most consistent and high quality snow on earth, yet little industry influence. Though for decades a handful of OG surfers have been building an under the radar community around riding mountains like waves.
Snowsurfing is exactly what it sounds like—a fun-focused, slow-paced and soulful approach to snowboarding defined by effortless styles, surfy turns, and exaggerated carves. Beyond that Europe has a number of its own flavors too, focused on precision turning and serious manufacturing. All told, the following 8 brands make up what we feel are the most exciting snowboard brands in the intetnational scene right now.
Best Japanese Snowboard Brand: Gentemstick
Gentemstick is synonymous with Japanese snowsurfing, thanks in part to Orange Man, the Car Danchi movement, and founder Taro Tamai’s surprising support of Jackson Hole native Alex Yoder. Over the past 25+ years Tamai and Gentem have stayed true to snowsurfing’s roots, releasing classic shapes designed specifically for all-mountain riding—characterized by wood construction, radically short tails, and massive noses—while embracing modern technology and material innovations. It’s also pretty heady, referencing philosophy, Mother Nature, art, and creativity in every aspect of the brand.
This past month we spent a week riding a range of Gentem boards with team rider Junior in Central Hokkaido. And it all makes sense. There is no board I’d rather be on in chest-deep, light-as-air Japanese powder than a Chaser, or Rocket Fish. Rarely do Gentem board shapes change—each new year simply offers a refresh of the extremely minimal graphics, most often adding up to a simple color tint shift. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say.
Best Japanese Snowboard Brand (Part 2): Moss Snowstick
Moss Snowstick founder Shinzo Tanuma made his first “snowstick” prototype in 1971, and released the first line of Moss snowsurfboards in 1979. Three years later he helped found the Japan Snow Surfing Association to support the scene and host regional events, giving rise to the next generation of riders in the process, including Gentemstick’s own founder Taro Tamai.
Moss shapes and graphics draw directly from surfing, with a generous amount of color and creative experimentation. With this it's no surprise that Moss is the snowboard of choice for lifelong surfers (on our recent trip to Hokkaido we met countless Aussies and a handful of Hawaiians proudly repping Moss boards).
Best German Snowboard Brand: Korua Shapes
As one would expect from a snowboard brand based in Germany, Korua Shapes is all about serious efficiency, refined power, and design innovation. These boards are built to carve. And carve fast. Watch Korua’s excellent video series Yearning for Turning then say, “ah I get it!”
If Japan had mountains like the Alps, perhaps Gentemstick would have ended up like Korua. But it doesn’t—nowhere does. The extreme terrain Korua has been born from dramatically informs its identity. But that’s not to say these boards can’t be ridden elsewhere. In fact, Korua’s most shining attribute is its product versatility—from fresh corduroy in the Alps to East Coast ice runs and mystical Japow, Korua’s quiver of experimental shapes offers something to handle nearly every condition—and with three new splitboard offerings, deep out of bounds is within reach too.
Best Austrian Snowboard Brand: Äsmo
For Austrian heavyweight Wolly Nyvelt, riding massive backcountry lines wasn’t difficult enough, so he began experimenting with binding-less boards on mellow powder days. Many call it no-boarding—Nyvelt prefers pow surfing. In 2006 Äsmo(also spelled Aesmo) was officially born—the modern incarnation of the snurfer toy originally introduced in 1966.
The directional wood-based boards feature typical swallow and fishtail shapes and are roughly 3/4 the size of a traditional powder-specific snowboard, though the construction and base shapes draw more from surfing and skateboarding than snowboarding, relying heavily on concave and a carved center “channel” based on hydrodynamics to reduce drag and allow the rider to rail into turns. The top sheet features a custom EVA foam pad for traction—no snurfer rope, though oddly enough magnets are a suggested DIY addition to aid in keeping one's feet in place.
From backyard hills in Vermont and California to pillow lines in British Columbia and tree-less faces in the Alps, Aesmo seems a fine way to encourage looking at terrain from a fresh perspective.
Best Norwegian Snowboard Brand: Fjell^
Somewhere in between the two aforementioned styles sits Scandinavia. Thanks to the likes of Terje Håkonsen, Daniel Franck, Jussi Oksanen, Wille Yli-Luoma, and a handful of other hugely influential exports, Finland, Norway, and Sweden have long held close ties with mainstream snowboarding. For the sake of this article though, we'll focus on Norway alone. Fjell^ is a newer brand from the far north combining a superior design aesthetic with purposeful shapes and a modern outdoor lifestyle driven identity.
With just four shapes—two split, one fish, and one popsicle—Fjell^ adheres to the less is more philosophy of our old pal Mies. Why make a dozen boards with a single intention each when you can create two adaptable shapes for most all riding styles, then slice them in half to expand the line for backcountry touring enthusiasts? I’m sure there’s an answer somewhere, but right now we’re not finding one.
*Fjell^ also made some collaboration mittens with Japan’s Handson Gloves and they’re perfect.
Best of Swiss Snowboard Brand: WEST
The trend of indie board brands isn’t exclusive to North America—it’s catching on in Europe too. Switzerland’s WEST is now in its sixth season, but still hardly known outside the Alps. Founded by a group of industry vets with well over 25 years experience, WEST embraces the underground with artist collars and unorthodox initiatives like We Ride in Iran, a Swiss project to provide a snowboarding infrastructure in the Middle East.
At the core, the emerging brand is all about making ultra high quality snowboards with the latest technology—aka Swiss precision. This holds true across the collection, and reaches a point of near hilarity with their $2,000 La Supreme board. Either way, we’re down with WEST.
Best Dutch Snowboard Brand: Bataleon
Likely one of the most well known and widely distributed European snowboard brands, Bataleon has been exporting innovative board designs to North America and beyond for nearly two decades now. Founded by a 44-year old Dutch biophysicist back in 2000, Bataleon originated triple base technology (3BT), a unique base shape the brand is best known for.
By dividing an otherwise flat base into three tip-to-tail parallel bases with opposing camber, 3BT reportedly makes for smoother turn initiation, fewer edge catches, and more stability at speed. Some say it’s hardly noticeable, others swear by it. Regardless, the brand manufactures in Capita’s legendary hydro-powered factory in Austria, so top quality is assured.
Best Icelandic Snowboard Brand: Lobster
Hailing rather surprisingly from Iceland, Lobster Snowboards is a zero-fucks-given brand lead by infamous brothers Halldor and Eiki Helgason. Launched in 2011, when the brothers were just 20 and 24 years old, respectively, the brand follows the stylistic whims of its creators and their friends.
While majority of the other brands on this list exude a certain “soul shred” mentality, Lobster is focused on freestyle shapes made for fun-loving, raucous riding styles. To back up the big talk, Lobster also produces at Capita’s Mother Ship factory in Austria—and relied heavily on 3BT too—so each board is as high quality as it is loud. DIY is alive and well in snowboarding once again.