Even though Kirsten Kolter and Ana Van Pelt met while working for a company to develop a new type of horse harness—Kolter in product development and Van Pelt in design—neither of them actually rode horses. They discovered, however, they both rode powder.
“Snowboarding was our community,” Kolter says of their meeting 15 years ago. “There weren’t as many female boarders out there, so we became fast friends.” That chance meeting would forge not only a friendship but later a business partnership pioneering hand-crafted, environmentally-friendly, zero-waste snowboards bearing the name Niche.
As a New York transplant who came out west a few years before attending the University of Utah, Kolter says she found solace on the slopes. For Van Pelt, who grew up in California and moved to Idaho as a teenager, she credits snowboarding with saving her life.
“I was suffering from a severe eating disorder when I first strapped on a board and realized, ‘Whoa, I love this…I really love this,’” says Van Pelt. It struck her that great snowboarders were strong, athletic and took care of their bodies. “That motivation just changed me. I knew I needed to get healthy—and after a lot of hard work, I did.”
After their first foray working together, an acquaintance looking to invest in a custom-graphics snowboard company asked the two women to sit in on the pitch. “We came out of that meeting and said to ourselves, ‘We could do this better. We both know the industry and each of us has a set of expertise it needs right now,” says Kolter. “More importantly, we felt we could bring something new to the table that existing board companies were overlooking.”
That “something” was environmental responsibility. Both women shared a grievance regarding the industry’s harmful environmental practices, describing the toxic resins and non-recyclable plastics that make up a typical board. They thought it ironic that, while celebrating the outdoor lifestyle, most snowboard companies seemed to care little for their impact on the planet.
“We knew our boarding community was made up of many like-minded people who were passionate about the environment and the outdoors,” says Van Pelt. “So why were big-name snowboard companies unapologetic about the war they waged on the environment and why was no one looking to do it differently?”
They went back to the investor with their own proposal, and in 2010, Niche Snowboards was born. With help from Van Pelt’s husband Todd Robertson, creating zero-waste prototypes of an eco-friendly snowboard became “a real family affair,” says Van Pelt. They used recycled bases and sidewalls and edges. They replaced carbon fiber with basalt fiber, created sustainably sourced wood cores, applied bio-resins and used hemp composite instead of carbon fiber stringers for reinforcement, springiness and pop. The final touch was lacquer-free, beautiful graphics made from non-toxic, water-based inks and environmentally friendly printing methods.
“Our initial aim was to ensure performance every bit as good as the competition without the waste and toxins,” says Van Pelt. “We weren’t expecting the alternative materials to actually feel superior and outperform—but that’s exactly what happened. They’re lighter, snappier and more durable than most traditionally-constructed decks.” She admits to skepticism, confusion and “more than a few side-eyes’’ from folks when Niche was starting out. The sustainability “trend,” as she calls it, wasn’t yet in full swing. Thankfully, their silent investor wasn’t among the skeptics.
Eleven years later, Kolter and Van Pelt are thrilled at the success of Niche Snowboards. As the world’s first and only completely zero-waste snowboard company, it has gained serious traction, selling globally through a network of retailers from REI to backcountry.com to specialty boutique shops like Milosport, with a list of big-name riders like current Freeride World Tour athlete Erika Vikander.
The plan for Niche over a decade ago was simple: make boards that perform, look beautiful and love the planet. Niche has never graced the Olympics or sponsored XGames, yet this Salt Lake City company has carved up the snowboarding industry by setting the standard and forcing even the giants to answer for—and improve—their practices.
“Some of the response is, of course, greenwashing,” says Van Pelt, who adds that despite this, she sees it as a “win” any time a beneficial technology becomes trendy and inspires change.
“Ultimately, it’s a great thing. Even if it’s driven by money, it doesn’t matter where their heart is. If the demand for more transparency in manufacturing is there,” Van Pelt says, “we are making a difference.”
Available at nichesnowboards.com
The super lightweight and poppy Minx is the perfect freestyle board for all-day sessions on and off the park. It floats well in powder, is soft enough to press, yet stable enough to hit jumps. Plus, the flat camber makes it virtually impossible for you to catch your edge.
Not bound by resort operating hours, the classic all-mountain shape of this splitboard works for any conditions and every rider. Plus, it’s the only zero-waste splitboard on Earth.
Taking snowboarding back to its roots with traditional edge control and a tapered, directional, camber, this board features new-school twists like edge-tracing traction bumps and a hybrid directional camber profile. Cruise, carve, float and charge with ease.
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