Unity Snowboards brings industry home to Summit County, Colorado | VailDaily.com

Unity Snowboards brings industry home to Summit County, Colorado

Caitlin Row
Summit County CO, Colorado
Summit County " The staff of Unity Snowboards in Silverthorne, from left, Taylor Rounds, Jimmy Hopkins, James Binette and owner Pete Wurster. Unity Snowboards started manufacturing snowboards in Summit County in 1995.

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” Thirteen years ago, Pete Wurster was a recent art school grad and snowboarding enthusiast who wanted to create his own brand.

Now, Wurster, the 36-year-old owner of Unity Snowboards in Silverthorne, designs all aspects of an ever-growing line of snowboards (and skis), has six employees, distributes his products all over the world and spends over 100 days riding the local mountains.

“We pretty much just went for it,” Wurster said of his decision to start Unity with his childhood friend, Paul Krikava.

“The fact that we’ve been doing it since 1995 is important,” he said. “There’s not a lot of companies in this industry that have been around that long. … And always in Silverthorne. We’re the only board company that actually makes their boards in the mountains. And frankly, we’re one of about four or five manufacturers in North America now. There’s not many left. Most everybody has gone to China or gone out of business. It’s a pretty unique thing that we’re building them ourselves here.”

In many instances, snowboarding brands have turned into marketing tools, instead of manufacturers, Wurster added.

What is now a busy (and dusty) two-room manufacturing company got its start when Wurster and Krikava, both originally from Appleton, Wisc., began building boards in the winter season of 1995-96.

“I got into it because a friend (Krikava) from high school had moved out,” Wurster said, “and he met a guy named Steve Link who used to make boards in Silverthone in the late 1980s and early ’90s. He had a company called Summit Snowboards.”

When Krikava met Link (known locally as a snowboarding legend), Summit Snowboards wasn’t producing boards anymore. But, Link had a shop and the necessary equipment, so Krikava worked out a deal with Link to make boards out of the shop, sell them around the county and then give Link a cut.

Wurster, at the time a fine arts student at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., asked Krikava to make him snowboards that were wider and bigger to accommodate his big feet.

“It was hard to find boards that were wide enough back then,” Wurster said. “He made custom boards for me. I loved them. When I graduated, we got together and worked out a deal for me to move out here and to rent Steve’s shop to start our own brand. So we rented Steve’s shop for the first two years, paid him rent to use his equipment and we started Unity.”

Over the years, Unity moved to a bigger shop, added employees and increased production.

And when Krikava moved back to Wisconsin in 2001, Wurster bought him out and became the sole owner of the company.

“It’s been (seven) years since he’s left and (Unity’s) grown a ton,” Wurster said.

Two top 10 Transworld Snowboarding Good Wood awards for the Unity Pride 159 in 2003 and 2004 helped put the small manufacturing company on the map, both nationally and internationally, as a brand.

“We’ve got distributors in Russia, Japan, Korea, Switzerland, France,” Wurster added. “The success overseas came about from the top 10 board review. A lot of people saw the Transworld internationally and e-mailed us to see if we had a distributor in that country, and we didn’t. So, we started working with different people.”

International sales now accounts for over half of Unity’s business which continues to grow.

“The whole niche that we have is that we’re like a microbrew of the snowboard world in a sense,” Wurster said. “We make smaller quantities. There’s a lot more attention to detail. They’re all handcrafted in the Rocky Mountains. We can ride 10 minutes up the road and ride Keystone or wherever. … All the boards have a two-year warranty. They’re super strong. … As far as the design goes, it’s just a lot of trial and error. Taking our original designs and then tweaking them over the course of 13 years. We’ve developed a really good line of boards.”

With a full crew of employees, Unity can produce 22 snowboards a day.

“It’s about three hours per board, start to finish,” Wurster said. “And everything’s done in a production-line type of style.”

“We train (Unity employees) here,” he added. “Nobody has any experience in making snowboards. We get a ton of people that want to work every year.”

But, according to Wurster, many of the guys working for Unity have been hired because they approached the owner at demos, saying they were interested in joining the team.

And training consists of hands-on work “building the boards, grinding them. We keep messed up boards around to train people with on the grinder so they don’t screw up a board. … We pretty much just throw them into it, to be honest. I’ll sit there and kinda watch over them and guide them through the whole process. There’s no real way to train them other than doing the job and actually working on the boards.”

“I do pretty much all the art work,” Wurster added. “I do catalogue design, snowboard graphics, stickers and advertising.”

For more information about Unity Snowboards, visit http://www.unitysnowboards.com.

Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at crow@summitdaily.com.

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