Choosing a new snowboard can be tricky at the best of times, especially if you happen to be a tad on the tall side. As with many things in life, most boards on the market are aimed at people of “average” size, while those of us who are living it large (six foot six inches to be precise) simply have to make do with our feet dangling over the edges. This season, though, I decided to go bespoke.
I’d always assumed that tailor-made skis and boards were the sole preserve of city bankers and trust-fund skiers. But thanks to a company called SPURart in Innsbruck, Austria, you can get a made-to-measure board for around €700 – complete with your own design. The only catch is that you have to make it yourself.
SPURart’s “build-your-own-board” courses take place over a weekend, which means you can fly into the city on Friday morning and leave on Monday with a board (or set of skis) made by your own fair hands, to your own specific requirements.
That’s the theory. However, with my DIY skills extending little further than changing a lightbulb, I stepped into the SPURart workshop on the first evening with more than a touch of trepidation. I needn’t have worried, though. The three others on the course were board-building novices, too, and besides, SPURart had a team of experts on hand to oversee our handiwork.
These included former ski racer Michi Freymann, who founded the company after years spent testing more than 15,000 pairs of skis for brands including Dynastar. While Michi kept an eye on us the whole weekend, our main helping hands were Dale – an Australian with an eye for detail and around 20 years of boarding under his belt – and Christian, an Innsbruck local who’d also spent years building and riding his own hardware.
I’d had an extensive phone consultation with Dale before I flew out, during which we discussed exactly what kind of board I was after (“extra long and extra wide, please”). The course then began with a couple of beers in the workshop’s chill-out area and a crash course in board-building basics. “The first thing we’re going to do is cut out your template,” said Chris, as a hush descended over the group. “This bit is crucial because it will affect how every other element of your board turns out.”
As with skis, a snowboard is made up of various layers sandwiched together by epoxy resins. At its core, surprisingly, is a plank of wood, sculpted into different thicknesses along its length – all of which directly affect how it handles. Basically, the thinner the wood, the more flexible your board. Enough theory, though: it was time for some action.
Armed with a jigsaw and safety goggles, we were put into pairs to cut out our templates. Essentially this was very simple: you place a computer print-out of your board over a piece of plywood, then gingerly slice round it to create your template. Inching around the workbench with my jigsaw whirring away, I was transported straight back to woodwork lessons at secondary school. Only now I was aiming for something far more prestigious than a GCSE in CDT.
With our templates shaped and smoothed, we called it a night. The real graft would begin the next morning, which meant we had a few hours to explore the city’s nightlife.
In contrast to other Austrian resorts such as St Anton or Obergurgl – where the après ski options are either super-quiet and rustic, or dance-on-tables-til-your-ears-bleed noisy – Innsbruck’s bar scene is rather sophisticated. Hipsters and local students hang out at Moustache (ironic facial hair optional), where live music and table football are on the agenda. But for cocktails and a cracking view of the cityscape I preferred the trendy 360, where glass walls look out over the rooftops to the mountains beyond.
The city’s food is good, too. In the old town, expansive beer halls such as the Stiftskeller serve up chunky wursts washed down with traditional weissbier, while in the Piano Bar you can huddle intimately around small tables while waiters deliver banter and home-cooked beef dishes.
Next morning, back at the workshop, it was time to get busy with the power tools again. After cutting out my board’s base from a strip of special vinyl, I fitted the metal edges – sparks flying from the angle grinder as I trimmed them down.Then came the important bit: shaping the core. Under Dale’s watchful eye I used a mechanical planer to sculpt it to my desired shape. The result was a “ripple” silhouette, achieved by keeping the board thick in the middle and thinning it at the ends. In snowboard parlance it’s known as a “rocker”, resulting in a board that gives you mellow, cruisy turns.
By now it was late afternoon, and we’d come to the crucial part of the process: gluing the various elements together before baking it in the oven. With all hands on deck to ensure everything was done correctly, we placed our creations into a coffin-like “form” with upturned ends, which force the tail and nose to curl skywards like a proper board.
The whole lot went into the oven overnight to bond, and after tossing and turning excitedly like it was Christmas Eve, I returned the next morning to unwrap the protective bag – revealing what looked like (ta-da!) a real, proper snowboard. A bit of final trimming and smoothing, and it was now ready to be christened. Almost. “We always recommend that you leave a new board to settle for three days,” said Chris, “so the layers are properly bonded together.”
It was a bit like receiving your dream present, only to be told you can’t play with it yet. On the bright side, though, it gave me a chance to sample some of SPURart’s previous creations on the nearby slopes.
One of the great things about being based in Innsbruck (aside from the buzzing nightlife and beautiful Baroque buildings), is that you have nine ski areas right on your doorstep. The city is encircled by majestic peaks, accessible by shuttle, offering everything from super-steep backcountry to mellow beginner runs, so when my board was finally ready, a few days later, my legs were nicely tuned.
For its maiden voyage we jumped in Michi’s campervan and headed to the resort of Schlick, about half an hour away. Although relatively small, with just under 30km of pistes winding their way through a high mountain valley, it offered lots of runs between the trees – ideal for seeing what my board was really made of.
Amazingly, it performed exactly as I’d intended: sufficiently long so that I didn’t sink in the powder, but flexible enough to flick through the tightly-spaced trees. Best of all, though, there isn’t another one like it on the planet, as I proudly declared to some envious onlookers. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get scratched…
Innsbruck is served from Gatwick by British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com), which also flies from Liverpool, while Monarch (0871 940 5040; flymonarch.com) covers the route from Manchester.
Skiing & staying there
Two-day snowboard- and ski-making courses with SPURart (00 43 650 923 1019; spurart.at) cost €690.
The writer travelled to Innsbruck with SkiWeekends (02380 206 971; skiweekends.com) which offers a four-night break with flights from Gatwick and half board at the Hotel Maximillian for £407 per person, based on two sharing.
Lift passes are also bookable through SkiWeekends from £124 per adult, ski hire from £49.70 and snowboard hire from £51.
Eating & drinking there
360 Lounge (00 43 664 840 6570; 360-grad.at).
Cafe Moustache (00 43 680 216 3908; cafe- moustache.at).
Stiftskeller (00 43 512 570 706; stiftskeller.eu)
Piano Bar (00 43 512 571 010; cafepiano.at).