New owner, same backcountry tradition
February 16, 2016
MINTURN — Barry Clark started Weston Snowboards with heart, determination, a love of snowboarding and a little bit of beetle kill.
Many remember the local company's debut at the 2012 Man of the Cliff event in Red Cliff, where Clark awarded competitors with a simple board the Vail Valley could call its own — classic camber with really cool Red Cliff graphics on top.
Clark went on to experiment with a variety of different designs and materials (including beetle kill), and along the way he created one of the most attractive storefronts in town and ended up with what he says he can confidently call some of the best boards in the industry.
Last week, Clark sold the company with its full line of creative and rugged boards, including a splitboard that was rated among the best in the world by Transworld Snowboarding and a WinterWonderGrass 2016 board that once again pays homage to beloved region the company calls home.
"Between family, other endeavors and no longer living close to the business, I decided it was just time," Clark said of his decision to sell. "Our goal with Weston has always been to enable people to experience nature in a way that fundamentally changes them, makes them think bigger and makes them wonder how all of this beauty came to be. It's been an incredible education in the action sports world and one of the greatest rides of my life."
In his consideration of whether to keep it going or sell, he said he would not have thought about letting it go had the right candidate not come along at the right time.
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"I was really impressed with Leo Tsuo's knowledge of backcountry safety and his level of responsibility," Clark said. "He has a deep love and passion for the sport and will carry on the deep backcountry tradition I've started with Weston."
In looking back, Tsuo may think he's lucky to be alive, but what he was doing never seemed very risky at the time.
"In hindsight, a lot of the things we did were really stupid when it came to avalanche stuff," he said of his teenage years. "But we were young and dumb."
Tsuo grew up in Golden, and while the mountains were always near, he wasn't catching first chair on powdery weekends.
"My family only had enough money to take us out on a ski trip once a season," he said. "When I was maybe 9 or 10, the first time I ever remember being so stoked that I couldn't fall asleep was to go skiing."
Snowboarding for Tsuo became a backcountry endeavor, mainly for economic reasons.
"We were in the backcountry a lot because it was free," he said. "Loveland Pass, Berthoud Pass, that's where we would go. I remember the first time I really felt the float of powder was on Berthoud Pass. … That's when I really fell in love with powder, in the backcountry, in high school."
A skateboarder and breakdancer as well as a snowboarder, Tsuo set aside his hobbies for college and career, charging full on into a solar industry startup like it was a fresh line through a steep chute. He didn't let up for a decade or so.
"I continued to chase powder through this whole startup," he said. "Any time I was traveling out to the Pacific I'd stop in Colorado and go ride for a couple of days."
He continued competing in breakdancing competitions on the weekends, as well.
Life was good, but when Tsuo found out his father was dying of cancer, he gave it all up to come back home.
"Family and passion became my priority," he said. "And it all came back to Colorado."
He began teaching breakdancing classes in Denver, as many as 35 classes per week.
"It was hard work," he said.
Relaxing on a camping trip near State Bridge one weekend, he met Mason Davey. Fast forwarding to today, "I look at it as, essentially, Mason and I are taking over the business," Tsuo said of Weston. "Who better to take over the shop, than the people who've been running it?"
A few years ago, Davey had a moment when he realized he was rightly suited for a company like Weston.
A Vail Mountain Rescue volunteer and backcountry enthusiast, he had spent years managing a shop at the base of Vail Mountain, setting his own hours and living the life, before he decided to make a change.
"You can get caught up, living like the tourists," he said. "I realized I don't want to spend all my money in the bar, so I quit drinking. … I saved up enough money to travel and do a few of the dream activities I saw myself doing as a young man."
He never went back to the drink, but he did go back to the grind of hard work here in the Vail Valley, taking on the responsibility of helping a young snowboard company grow in Minturn.
"I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting on the couch and I thought, 'I can do this. I can help take this company to the next level,'" he said.
After making the change, he was spending a summer camping at State Bridge when he met Tsuo.
"I got the sense of what type of guy he was — a good guy working with inner city youth in Denver, as in love with the backcountry as I am and getting away when he could," Davey said of Tsuo. "He called me the next winter, we went sled skiing and built a connection being on the snow together, taking cool lines and trusting each other with our lives in the backcountry."
Tsuo started working at Weston when he could and saw what Davey was up to.
"He was doing everything underneath the sun," Tsuo said. "Running the shop, making deals, expanding markets, finding new and innovative ways to grow this brand, and was pretty much the face of this brand in the valley here for the last three seasons."
They have a solid staff in place, with Ben Hilley working full time and local halfpipe snowboarder Rakai Tait about to ride his Weston board in the world's most exclusive competition for juniors, the Youth Olympic Games in Norway.
Now charged with setting the company's direction into the future, Davey and Tsuo intend to look at where they've been in the past.
"Being in a couple accidents, knowing people who have had their close friends die in avalanches, getting caught in an avalanche … I realized that people shouldn't get into the backcountry like this," Tsuo said. "It's too easy to get into the backcountry the way that people do. You go to Loveland Pass, there's nobody telling you if you hike up this way and cross this line, you could die. There's something in our exploratory nature to make us want to seek that out, but I just realized that I had a passion inside me not just for riding but for trying to educate."
Davey said as long as the company continues to sell equipment that helps people get into the backcountry, they intend to follow through and do their best to ensure those people have the proper training to use it safely.
"Really, if there's going to be any new direction for us at Weston, it's going to be all about follow through," he said. "That much, we owe."