Smaller is better for 'microbrew
| Venture Snowboard’s
Klemens Branner makes a cut on a core for one of his
boards in his Bayfield shop on Monday. The procedure,
called “bookmatching,” ensures symmetry
(below) and lends Venture boards their unique look.
The wood is certified by Smart Wood, a program of
the Rainforest Alliance that certifies wood as sustainably
harvested./ Photos by Ben Eng.
Klemens Branner has always been inventive.
Intrigued by a snowboarding scene in a James Bond movie
in 1986, the financially strapped 15-year-old fashioned
his own board using his father’s tools and a piece
“I spray-painted the bottom pink because it was
the only paint we had and put some junkie rubber straps
on to keep my feet in,” he said.
Despite its crude design, the contraption was an instant
hit among the kids at a park in Denmark, where he grew
up. And Klemens, for one, was instantly smitten.
“It was a little rough, but we had a good time,”
Today, the love affair with the sport has taken Klemens
from that small Scandinavian sledding hill to the base
of the San Juan Mountains. And although much has changed
since those early plywood-and-spray-paint days, “Klem,”
as his friends call him, is still turning out handcrafted
boards, albeit with a higher level of sophistication.
joke around and call ourselves the microbrew of snowboards,”
said Klem’s wife, Lisa, who is the management and
marketing end of Venture Snowboards, the couple’s
Bayfield-based company. The couple moved from Fort Collins
about a year ago in search of a simpler, less hectic lifestyle.
“We were fed up with the city and the Front Range,”
As big fans of Wolf Creek, they had become familiar with
the San Juans and decided rural La Plata County suited
their needs. Indeed, the rustic setting of the couple’s
home and workshop – nestled along a rutted dirt
road in a small canyon north of town –seems an ideal
setting for the company, which eschews the ideals of mass
production in favor of small batches of boards, created
with an eye toward simplicity and sustainability.
“We like to cater to the older riders, people who
aren’t going to buy because of its graphics,”
said Klem, who at 32 has been riding for more than half
In fact, the current line of Venture boards (there are
three models that come in varying widths) come in only
a few solid colors: red, green, blue, black and orange.
“I think they look like Jolly Ranchers,”
said Lisa, whose production duties include cutting the
Venture logo into each base.
To borrow a cliche, they care mostly about what’s
on the inside: a laboriously handhewn wood core. Klem,
who worked several years for a snowboard manufacturer
near Denver before branching out on his own, cuts each
core himself, using a woodworking technique called “bookmatching,”
which ensures symmetry. Stacking two different kinds of
wood (ash for the edges, softer poplar in the middle for
flex), he cuts each block lengthwise, producing a carbon
copy of itself. The two identical pieces are then placed
side by side, making up the core.
Klem, who holds a master’s degree in mechanical
engineering, is happy to offer up a lengthy explanation
for the technique – not to mention the entire snowboard-making
process. But in the end, he says it just makes for a better
“It corrects for wood’s natural variations,
so your board responds the same on both its right and
left edges,” he said.
Sure, some (including his wife) may accuse Klem –
whose workshop floor is clean enough to eat off of –
of a slight proliclivity toward being anal. He prefers
to think of it as attention to detail – a “do-it-right-the-first-time”
“You end up with a much better product,”
he said. “In the end, I think it’s worth it.”
|Lisa Branner pops plastic
letters for the logo into the base of a board. The
process not only creates a twotoned logo but cuts
down on waste, she said./Photo by Ben Eng.
The process also makes for an interesting visual –
which in a roundabout way has become Venture’s trademark.
In an effort to cut down on the amount of plastic used
in its boards, Venture uses epoxy-soaked fabric as the
protective covering, or top sheet, of the board. The result
is a translucent effect, which allows the core to show
through and gives the boards an old school look more reminiscent
of fine cabinetry than a piece of outdoor equipment meant
to be used and abused.
At first, the Branners were unsure if the approach would
“We wondered, ‘Do people really want to see
the core?’” said Lisa. “But then we
figured, we put so much time and effort into it –
that should be what people see.”
So far, the approach seems to be working, with all of
last year’s stock of boards selling out by Christmas.
In fact, Venture has even caught the eye of a Hollywood
celebrity – Seal – who called last week to
have a board overnighted. He called back the next day
to order three more.
“He said he had to have one for a friend, and a
powder board and an all-mountain board,” said Klem.
Despite the brush with stardom, Klem and Lisa remain
very much rooted in their grassroots, low-key approach.
For the most part, their marketing consists of word of
mouth, relying on a handful of dedicated riders throughout
the West to talk up their boards. And rather than paying
for a team of sponsored riders, they have amassed a small
group of homegrown local riders.
“None of these people get paid to ride for us,”
said Klem. “They just do it because they live to
Venture also takes a low-impact approach to production,
which involves the use of sustainably harvested wood and
organic fabric top sheets (yes, there’s even a hemp
For the Banners, the decision to run a green company
was a given.
“Obviously, the connection is, we love to be outdoors,”
said Lisa. “Here’s a piece of equipment that
we’re going to be using outdoors, it just makes
sense to be sensitive to wanting to preserve that.”
|Erik Mishker, a rider
grassroots local team, conducts a
little R&D at DMR’s terrain park
last year./Photo by Ben Eng.
And as the first snow of the season fell outside their
workshop window, the Branners were cautiously optimistic
heading into another season. Since beginning five years
ago, they have doubled production each year and have now
landed a spot on the shelves of Bubba’s Boards,
which will also carry their demo boards. And with the
addition of a press for laminating the boards this summer,
which Klem made from the ground up and considers to be
his trade secret and “pride and joy,” Venture
now has more flexibility in its production.
“We’ll see what kind of demand we have,”
said Lisa. “We have the capabilities to build midseason.”
Of course, with each board taking more than four hours
to produce, this could cut into their riding time. But
next to being knee-deep in powder, there’s only
one other place Klem would rather be: in his workshop,
with Zappa blaring (the only place in the house where
he’s allowed) and the power tools buzzing.
“When I’m covered in sawdust and my hands
are all glued up – that’s when I’m the