Another story from our Freedom & Unity trip to Vermont this winter. We had the privilege of meeting with Jesse Loomis at his home and studio in West Rupert to talk about PowderJet Snowboards. Not only was the Vermont sun creating the most epic sunset as we walked up Jesse’s front steps (post whiskey and bread with Jed), his house literally blew us away. The building used to be the town’s general store and he and his wife have renovated it into a warm home for their family. A perfect example of the creativity and resourcefulness of Vermonters (wink). Jesse was kind enough to give us a chunk of his time that evening to show us the house, his studio next door, and describe the process behind making one of his wooden PowderJet snowboards. Keep reading for Part I of a Q&A with Jesse and learn more about the inspiration behind PowderJet!
Q. Before founding PowderJet, what “kept you busy during business hours”?
A. In the 90’s I had a few different jobs in the snowboard industry. I worked at Burton Snowboards for a few years in customer service. I did some time at Jager DiPaola Kemp design firm, and I spent a few years as a photo editor at Transworld Snowboarding Magazine. When It was time to start a family, we decided that Vermont was the place, and I had become totally disenchanted with the snowboard industry. I did a few different jobs, but eventually discovered that I had an aptitude for carpentry, and have stuck with that for the better part of 12 years. It’s really satisfying to look back at a day’s work and see walls standing where there were none before, or a set of cabinets or a table or a roof. Just seeing the physical manifestation of your hours, rather than strictly mental and digital, is a good feeling. It’s even better seeing someone ride a board that I built, though!
Q. What inspired you to start PowderJet?
A. I saw the sport that I grew up with migrating farther and farther away from its roots. It’s a very accessible sport, to people who have the inclination towards winter sports. It’s pretty easy to learn, much easier than its cousins surfing and skateboarding. So I’ve been teaching my kids how to ride, and a bit about the history of the sport, it’s different evolutionary phases, talented riders, all of this snowboard history. It began to dawn on me that most people coming into the sport don’t know or care at all about the stepping stones that got snowboarding to where it is today. The only snowboarding they see is in the X Games and maybe Red Bull’s contests up at Baldface lodge. Oh, and the Olympics, of course. But that’s not real snowboarding, that’s a highly specialized and regimented form of the sport. I wanted my kids, and by extension new riders of any age, to see snowboarding not as a competitive sport, but a fun activity to pass the cold winter days with some friends. So…I decided I would build a board that would represent what most riders consider the most fun aspects of the sport, which also happens to be the opposite of those giant international contests. The PowderJet is a wooden snowboard with no metal edges, built for backcountry freeriding with your knucklehead buddies. It’s design is based partly on early 1980’s snowboards, before the design evolution really kicked into high gear. The 80’s sensibilities are balanced out with modern performance aspects: a deep sidecut, a rockered shape for floating in powder, and thick fiberglass for pop and flexibility. It’s the simplest snowboard you’d ever want to ride.
Also, my friend Mike LaVecchia had started building wooden surfboards down in Maine, and that seemed to me the coolest thing in the world. It took a couple of years of being jealous of Mike’s brilliant idea for me to realize “wait, why don’t I just build wooden snowboards instead of surfboards? Then I can use them in Vermont, where I live”. So that’s what I did.
Q. Can you describe a typical day in the shop and the general process of making one of your boards?
A. Well, it varies because I wear a lot of hats around here. Typically there is a lot of computer activity in the morning, answering emails, posting photos to instagram, just like anyone else. When it’s time to head to the shop, I just grab a cup of coffee and walk across the yard to PowderJet World HQ, which is housed in a half-renovated victorian house, built in 1850. So yeah, I’ve installed the shop in what would have been the dining room. There’s a lot of prep work to be done for each board, so I’ll get started on that. This means glueing edges onto a base, burning the logo into some topsheets, or cutting out fiberglass sheets. After lunch I’ll work on boards that are in the process of being finished. There are a lot of steps. Boards need to be finished in the PolyWhey urethane, have their bases coated with epoxy resin, sanded and shaped, and waxed. The edgeless boards are cut out on a CNC router on the other side of Rupert mountain, so I may need to go drop stuff there, or pick something up. I usually don’t get to start building a new board until later that night, once the kids are in bed. That’s the best time to get some uninterrupted time in. It takes a little more than an hour to lay up the board assembly in the press. Once the wet epoxy is spread around and the pieces are all together, the whole thing slides into the press, where it’s cooked and pressurized. It stays in the press for about 8 hours, and comes out in a big weird rectangle.
Q. Do you recall the first time you got on a snowboard and when you realized it was going to be a serious passion of yours?
A. The $150 I spent on my first board was the first big purchase I ever made, so I was committed. The first season I was 14, it was 1987, and there was a lot of flailing around and a couple of mild concussions. Those early boards were really hard to learn on, and my parents weren’t about to ante up for an instructor for me, so I just stuck with it. The passion for snowboarding came much later, when my buddy Scott Lenhardt and I met these guys who called themselves “Glebelands” for some inexplicable reason. These were guys who worked at the Burton Factory in Manchester, or who rode for Burton, or who were going to work at Burton once they made the move up to Burlington. Shem Roose, Randy Gaetano, Gavin McMorrow, Scott Lenhardt, and the LaVecchia brothers Nick, Vince and Mike. These guys became like a family for me, and we snowboarded all the time up at Bromley. They were the funnest bunch of people I’d ever been around, and super supportive to each other, and just cool in a million ways. That’s when snowboarding became more than a sport for me, when I tethered myself to this group of creative talented guys and began learning how to be a better person. 20 plus years later, I still haven’t untied the tether yet!