Snowboarding's Most Influential International Brands
Outside North America exists a wealth of creative, soulful, small brands redefining what it means to ride the winter wave
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 is 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—and the two most influential names in the scene are Gentemstick and Moss Snowstick.
Moss Snowstick : Japan
Moss 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 very 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).
Gentemstick : Japan
Gentemstick is synonymous with Japanese snowsurfing, thanks in part to Orange Man, the Car Danchi movement, and 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.
Fjell^ : Norway
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^ recently made some collaboration mittens with Japan’s Handson Gloves and they’re perfect.
Korua Shapes : Switzerland
As one would expect from a snowboard brand based in French and German-speaking Switzerland, 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.
Äsmo : Austria
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 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, Äsmo seems a fine way to encourage looking at terrain from a fresh perspective.