Mikey Franco's custom, eco snowboards use local wood, old school designs

Franco SnowshapesMorgan Tilton
Franco-Snowshapes_custom-eco-snowboards_4Snowboarders, picture this: taking deep s-shaped turns through the Tetons’ wild woods and discovering the tree—in the middle of thousands—that created your snowboard. With the thoughtful craftsmanship of Mikey Franco’s custom, eco-conscious snowboards, you can. In 2010, Mikey founded Franco SnowShapes, a company that hand-creates snowboards with an affinity for old school shapes, such as swallowtail and pintail cuts. Traditionally used for powder days, Mikey has pinpointed a way to tailor the sidecut, stiffness and taper so the swallow and pintail deliver just as heartily on firm slopes and at high speeds as they do in deep snow.  

Why eco snowboards

With the exception of the fiberglass, steel, and glue, Mikey makes close to all of his snowboard ingredients. He repurposes local wood to craft the topsheets, sidewalls, and cores, and sprays on a (pricey) clear coat finish to each topsheet. The boards are currently all sold direct-to-consumer, and while he incorporates any wood, based on request — he wouldn’t turn away someone who wants a bamboo, rosewood, or Mahogany top sheet — he prefers to utilize local resources, which lowers overhead costs and decreases environmental impact. Franco-Snowshapes_custom-eco-snowboards_2“We’d rather use a local resource—it doesn’t cost that much money and environmentally you’re not chopping down a tree in a rainforest and shipping it 5,000 miles,” Mikey said. Plus, the harvesting process of discovering a tree and uncovering the condition of the wood—the flow of the rings and pockets of knots—is a … magical process. There’s no way to predict the designs that will be revealed.  

Whitebark Pine Series

Most of Franco’s direct-to-consumer boards come to life from standing dead Lodgepole Pine trees. Midsummer, Mikey visits the lumberyard of a friend—a ski guide, retired Jackson Hole Resort ski patroller—on the backside of Teton Pass to pull from an already existing woodpile. However, for the 2015-2016 season, Mikey is creating an exceptional, custom treat: the limited edition Whitebark Series made from dead whitebark pine trees, which are estimated to be around 200 years old. Each snowboard is accompanied with the GPS coordinates of its birthplace, so snowboarders can personally find the root of their ride. whitebark pine tetons - Garage Grown Gear“These boards are not something to chuck into the garage after the snow melts. It’s not this year’s hot graphic or gimmicky shape. It’s something you hang on your wall or over your fireplace, waiting, for the perfect day to bring it back out. For some, that may be everyday they ride. For others, only the best days,” Mikey said.  

Environmental concerns

To some environmentalists, the idea of removing these rare, high-altitude, ancient dead trees is scold-worthy — one argument being that the tree still adds nutrients to the soil. Mikey agrees. An unyielding issue, for safety purposes Jackson Hole ski area mandates the removal of dead trees that stand within 100 feet of a chair lift or structure. A potential blaze-holder, standing dead trees increase the risk of catching or spreading forest fires, and spreading those flames to neighboring buildings. Locating and using “iconic dead trees also brings to light the problem we face with temperatures rising,” Mikey said. Historically, temperatures dropped to freezing enough times throughout the year to inhibit the survival of mountain pine beetles. Now, weather conditions are conducive to the beetle’s survival and habitation, which destructs varying species of high-elevation five-needle pines. The trees’ death also harms the food chain, because nutritious whitebark pine seeds are a food source for grizzly bears and the Clark’s nutcracker. Mikey decided to work within this system, utilizing a natural resource that was already destined to be chopped down. Teaming with the ski area, they located two spiraling whitebarks and cut 8-foot-long straight midsections out of each, leaving behind a large stump and crown to naturally decompose. From the pines, Mikey should be able to carve close to 30 snowboards (costing close to $2,499 each; other custom designs start at $1,099). Franco-Snowshapes_custom-eco-snowboardsAll of the scraps are reused to heat his woodshop, a space that he shares with his childhood friends, the creators of Igneous skis and snowboards. "Most ski manufacturers would not recognize our workshop as a ski manufacturing place,” said Mikey. “Everything we do is with wood: cutting, sanding, and trimming. It literally looks like an elves’ workshop. There’s wood everywhere and it smells so good!”   Editor's note: here at Garage Grown Gear, we're strong advocates for whitebark pines, so much so that we used the image of sapling whitebark pine for our logo. We're currently figuring out some small ways we can support the tremendous efforts being made to ensure the species survival.
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