Local snowboard manufacturer Marhar Snowboards is working to create a niche for itself as the industry’s most sustainable manufacturer. Launched four years ago out of a Grand Rapids garage, the company’s founders set out to design and manufacture boards to the exact specifications of their clients for a truly custom ride.
Each board is built from scratch by co-owners Nathan Morse and Josh Skiles (or one of a half-dozen mostly seasonal employees) from their workshop in Grandville. The duo actually fabricated the majority of the machines used in the process themselves, to a certain extent reengineering accepted industry practices. It was through these efforts that they began to realize how bad the process was for the environment.
“No one was really doing the sustainable thing in snowboards,” said Skiles. “If you can do an environmentally-friendly board, why not? It’s not to do less, it’s to do more.
Marhar sources the majority of its materials from within a few miles of its workshop. It recycles leftover plastic, uses non-toxic soy-based ink for graphics, creates board cores from sustainable wood (bamboo and poplar), uses a biodegradable emulsion wax, and utilizes renewable materials for the sidewalls. Morse and Skiles are currently investigating a basalt fiber (an igneous rock) that can be used as a fiberglass alternative, as well as a corn-based resin that can replace the current glue. Even the sawdust from making the cores doesn’t end up in the waste stream; it is reused as bedding for horse stalls.
But the two were still worried about the decreasing amount of snow on the mountains and slopes, particularly this past season. With that in mind, they’ve given themselves a new challenge: a completely sustainable snowboard by 2014.
A recent Notre Dame graduate, Morse had joked about designing snowboards for a living when he was in high school. An industrial engineer by trade, he began experimenting with recent GVSU alum Skiles on some prototypes, with the two soon deciding to throw to the wind and make those dreams a reality.
This hard-working duo has created a niche in their field. “We’ve learned it all on our own. We don’t have any engineers to help us.” When their pneumatic heat snowboard press wasn’t fitting their needs, they used their own ingenuity and elbow grease to rebuild it. When they found out how expensive website development costs can be, they decided to make their own site and use the money they saved to buy a new stone-grinder.
Currently, Marhar has 15 different boards and four models available, including park, all mountain, women’s and youth styles. Some 85% of their sales come from seven retail shops in Michigan and Ohio. They try to keep their prices below $400, but a custom graphics job will cost around $550.
Marhar has had fantastic reviews after people demo their boards, even from those dedicated to another brand. “No one has had any negative comments.”
Four years later, and Morse says it’s still weird to see people on their boards. “People think we’re cool, but we think we’re pretty dorky.”
For more information about Marhar Snowboards, please visit their website.