Tucked away in a windowless warehouse on the west side of Silverthorne, the Unity Snowboards shop is part manufacturing hub, part history lesson. A few bygone boards sit on shelves collecting dust. New models rest adjacent to their predecessors, waiting to be packaged and shipped, usually to faraway places. On each board, a small decal reads, “Since 1995.”
That is no small claim to make in today’s snowboard industry. Undercut by discounted tent sales and waning retailer interest, small manufacturers like Unity are struggling to hold on. Venture, a popular boutique brand in Silverton, ceased operations this fall after 16 years in business. Pete Wurster, who cofounded Unity in 1996 with a high school friend from Appleton, Wisconsin, then bought him out in 2000, sighs when the conversation turns to the topic of longevity: it’s Unity’s calling card, but also a heavy reputation to uphold.
“I’m actually shifting my focus to direct Internet sales and custom orders,” says Wurster, who is 42 and stands 6-foot-5.
After seeing steady growth and peaking in 2005 with a production run of 2,300 boards, Unity now makes about 1,000 boards per year and sells many of them in Europe and Asia, where it does not advertise and employs no team riders. “They respect the handcrafted-in-the-U.S. thing more than people in the U.S. do,” Wurster says. “They’re able to sell them solely off the quality of the product. And there’s not a shop in the U.S. that can do the same thing.”
Since Wurster and his friend Pavel Krikava founded Unity—they apprenticed under Steve Link at Summit Snowboards, then rented Link’s shop for two years before buying their own—Wurster estimates Unity has produced 30,000 boards. Each summer, he and four part-time employees build 20 boards a day for five months. The work, he says, is brutal: “That’s why everyone makes ’em in China, because it’s super labor-intensive.”
Wurster’s affinity for satisfying customers and producing world-class snowboards keeps him going. Olympic halfpipe riders JJ Thomas and Taylor and Arielle Gold are among those who have ridden Unity’s boards on the international circuit, and Transworld has named Unity one of the industry’s top 10 manufacturers twice. “Pete loves snowboarding and really cares about making a top-of-the-line product,” Taylor Gold says, “and I think it’s natural for good riders to look for those qualities.”
By focusing on custom orders, Wurster—who majored in art at Lewis & Clark College—hopes to sustain his business. He points to five wooden templates on a shelf that he used to build custom snowboards for a Maui kiteboarder in his 50s who was headed to New Zealand for the summer. Such orders help make up for lost business due to fluky snow and shorter seasons on the West Coast.
Unity still produces seven models, in addition to one-offs. And Wurster still spends 80 days on snow each season, mostly in the East Vail and Vail Pass backcountry, as well as in the Gore Range above his shop. For an artisan whose only adult job has been making snowboards, the rewards outweigh the toil.
“It’s still awesome to finish up a board and go ride it the next day,” he says. “That was the original reason I got into this, and it still exists.”
Demo a Unity board for $38 a day at Blue Valley Ski & Board Rentals (191 Blue River Pkwy., Silverthorne, 970-468-0400, bluevalleyski.com) or Pioneer Sports (842 N Summit Blvd., Frisco, 970-668-3668, pioneersportscolorado.com).
365 Warren Ave. #107, Silverthorne