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With his passing, Chris Prior leaves behind a quarter-century snowboard legacy

Chris Prior, the longtime splitboard innovator and owner of the eponymous, Whistler, B.C.-based ski and snowboard brand, passed away suddenly on Sunday, October 15. According to a statement released by Prior Ski & Snowboard Manufactory that confirmed Prior’s passing, a memorial for their friend, mentor and colleague will take place at the Prior factory in the upcoming days. British Columbia-based publication Mountain Life published a remembrance of the legendary board shaper, and, two years back in our 2016 Gear Guide, we published the following story, written by regular contributor Vince Shuley, celebrating Prior’s quarter-century journey in board building. —The Editors

Chris Prior in his namesake factory. [Photo] Rob Howard

Prior Celebrates Silver Anniversary

From building sailboards to creating splitboards, Chris Prior has learned a lot in a quarter century

After 25 years of manufacturing snowboards, Chris Prior, owner and founder of Whistler, B.C.-based Prior Snowboards and Skis, is taking a moment to reflect on the past. From humble beginnings crafting sailboards—a skill he acquired while windsurfing in Barbados during Canada’s winters—Prior quickly created a name for himself building custom freeride and alpine race boards. Before long, he was hand building decks for Burton, Simms, Rossignol and Vision. Now a leader in splitboard and lightweight-ski design, he’s looking to the future with the same optimism he had in his North Vancouver garage back in 1990.

Business, Prior says from his factory office in Whistler, started off with freeride boards. “And we got right onto building alpine race boards because it was really big at the time,” he says. “It was very technical; I enjoyed that aspect of it. It was a good learning curve.”

Prior’s first big-ticket client was Canadian Olympic snowboard racer Mark Fawcett, who requested a custom design in the early ’90s. After a handful of World Cup wins on his new board, word of mouth quickly traveled through the alpine race community. Prior’s ability to create boards to an athlete’s desired specifications distinguished him from what most other brands—large or small—couldn’t do nearly as quickly. And his custom race boards began appearing in more and more photos on international podiums.

In 1996, as North American resorts opened their doors to snowboarders, Prior moved to a larger shop space in Vancouver and began working on snowboards full time. The freeride movement was in full bloom and iconic designs, such as his swallow-tailed Pow Stick, broadened the brand’s appeal with big mountain riders. “The swallow tail is just a natural fit toward the evolution of big-mountain freeride boards,” Prior says. “It’s an incredibly smooth ride.”

Splitboards are now the biggest seller for the company, which moved to Whistler and began building splitboards in 2000 and then skis in 2002, and Prior continues to refine his nine split shapes—including the swallow tail—with research and development that takes place in the nearby Coast Range backcountry.

Prior takes every opportunity to test his products himself. “Chris is such a core snowboarder, he shreds all the time,” says Prior athlete Joel Loverin. “I’ll run into him on the mountain, hiking at the end of the day, by himself. He just really loves snowboarding and his time in the mountains touring around. I think that shows with the company that he’s built.”

While the handmade snowboards are sold globally, they remain a cornerstone in the Whistler community, particularly among backcountry splitters, say photographer Eric Poulin. “They’ve got a cult following in Whistler,” Poulin says. “You see somebody out there with a Prior board and you give them the nod. There’s definitely that sense of local pride.”

And as a company, Prior maintains a high level of job satisfaction with a clear, eight-inch pow-day rule among its 15 employees at the Function Junction “manufactory” in Whistler. The company is also involved in numerous events throughout the winter, from various splitboard festivals throughout the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia to avalanche center fundraisers.

Never to rest on his laurels, Chris Prior hopes to keep innovating with lighter, stronger materials (such as a new Kevlar-carbon weave he’s been working on) and has big plans for the next step in snowboarding’s evolution.

“It’s been amazing, and it’s not over,” he says. “We’re looking forward to another 25 years.”

This story was first published in the 2016 Gear Guide

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