Venture Capital: After closing up shop, Venture Snowboards is back. But is the entire splitboard scene on shaky ground?

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The splitboarding niche may be small, but the enthusiasm is big at the Women’s splitboard clinic at the 2016 Mt Baker Splitfest. Photo: Courtesy Pallas Snowboards

In early September 2015, Venture Snowboards sent out a press release explaining that they would not be sending any boards to market for the 2015-16 winter season. Citing circumstances beyond their control, the release stated they couldn’t predict what would happen beyond 2015-16, which left Venture’s loyal followers wondering if this longtime fixture of the splitboarding community would ever reopen its doors.

A year later, Venture has announced that they will resume business for winter 2016-17—and they have, bringing seven models to market including four split shapes like the 2017 Editors’ Choice-winning Storm. But while this comes as a relief to the company’s fans, it begs a bigger question about the role and stability of the super-niche splitboarding market.

As of winter 2014-15, SnowSports Industries America (SIA) data showed that there were 7,676,000 snowboarders in the U.S. Among those riders, just 10 percent reported riding in backcountry terrain. And a tiny fraction of them bought splitboards, too—last season, 18 brands vied for market space, and sold 4,500 splitboards through retail channels in addition to 1,000 boards sold direct to consumers. These numbers split across 18 competing companies makes the metaphorical pond sound more like a puddle.

Last season, 18 brands vied for market space, and sold 4,500 splitboards through retail channels in addition to 1,000 boards sold direct to consumers.

“When I look at [SIA] data, I can see how much other brands are selling with splits versus us, and we are still doing a pretty decent amount in that space,” says Chris Fidler, Director of Product Management in Burton Snowboards’ Hardgoods Equipment division.

For Burton, which entered the splitboard business in 2001, those split sales total roughly 15 to 20 percent of their freeride-oriented boards, which means the ebbs and flows of the split market can be easier to absorb. And Fidler is confident that advancements in splitboard technology and the overall accessibility of backcountry gear are driving splitboard sales at Burton. Meanwhile, manufacturing splitboards can be a good way for companies to diversify.

Cofounder of Pallas Snowboards, Stephanie Nitsch is at home in the backcountry. Photo: Abby Cooper

One boutique company taking aim at the already small splitboarding market is Pallas Snowboards, a women’s-specific brand that primarily makes splits. Pallas was cofounded by Chimera Backcountry Snowboards founder Alister Horn and Stephanie Nitsch when, in 2013, Nitsch and Horn connected over a shared idea to start the company. Together they brought the Salt Lake City business to life, and when it comes to running a small, made-in-America splitboarding startup, Nitsch offers an apt perspective.

“It is really hard to figure out how to target people correctly. But that is the nature of any specialty business,” she says. “Female backcountry snowboarders, that is a niche of a niche of a niche market. So we built solid boards from the beginning, because we knew that we couldn’t survive just as a splitboarding company.”

And Nitsch admits that competing with big brands can be challenging. She looks to innovation and creativity to stave off the market threat from bigger companies.

“A company like Burton has the bandwidth to reach the masses,” Nitsch explains. “But by its inherent nature, backcountry [snowboarding] is wild and freeform. That lends itself to companies like us who are chasing something new and something unique.”

We built solid boards from the beginning, because we knew that we couldn’t survive just as a splitboarding company.

Being on the margins of the snowboarding world is a blessing and a curse for small companies. But for brands like Pallas or Venture, it’s full bore ahead. “Splitboarding is growing,” Nitsch says. “But to say that splitboarding alone is enough to sustain its own little industry is a false assumption.”

Venture, which has historically produced both award-winning split and solid decks seems to agree. Their new line is aimed at an “all-mountain” market beyond freeride and backcountry. “While we’re known for our freeride decks and splitboards, these new models are intended to have a broader appeal and are the direct result of rider feedback,” said Klemens Branner in Venture’s press release.

By its inherent nature, backcountry snowboarding is wild and freeform.

After their one-year splitboard sabbatical, Venture Snowboards earned a 2017 Editors’ Choice Award for the Storm, a longtime tester favorite now featuring a revamped core with added aspen and a trimmed-down profile. To read our review of the new Storm, plus more from other brands big and boutique, check out the Gear Guide and subscribe at backcountrymagazine.com/ggsub16.

The originally published story contained quotes from Venture owners Klemens and Lisa Branner. Backcountry removed their comments upon request.

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