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From Scratch: BOARDSPORT

By: Amy Whitesall, 1/24/2008

When you own a company that designs and builds terrain park features for ski resorts, research and development can be a grind. Or a jump, or a jib.

No question it'll be better than a day at the office, which is why BOARDSPORT Terrain Design owner Brian Snabes is always happy to "research" new terrain park features or test the equipment his company installs at resorts around the state.

"That's why we do what we do," said Snabes, 29. "It's really, really something to build a park from your imagination and be able be first ones to ride it."

Terrain parks – slopes dotted with what amounts to playground equipment for snowboarders and freestyle skiers – have changed the face of ski resorts in the last half-dozen years. Snabes and his crew are leaving their mark – from individual rails to entire runs – on almost every terrain park in Michigan, and a few out of state as well.

"It's nice working with Brian because he rides, first of all," said Alpine Valley Ski Resort owner Brian Stoick, who agreed, seven years ago, to let Snabes install his first two rails at the ski resort in White Lake. "He and the people he works with go to competitions across the nation and find out about the latest types of rails and boxes, and then they come back to the shop here in Michigan and put them together. He keeps track of the latest fads, and he puts our parks together and builds our rails with our hill in mind and our terrain area in mind. And he knows our riders' abilities and tries to design based on their needs."

BOARDSPORT Terrain Design's shop, in a garage at Alpine Valley, is filled with the spark of welding and the scrape of grinding from November to mid-January. Snabes and eight employees build rails and boxes almost non-stop to fill orders for resorts that want this stuff on the hill as soon as the snow conditions are right. BOARDSPORT Terrain Design can also install, refurbish adjust, and take down the equipment.

The terrain design business is a subsidiary of BOARDSPORT, a company that grew out of Snabes' love for wakeboarding and snowboarding.

Snabes started his first business, WakeBoard Clinic, when he was still in high school. It earned him about $10,000 that first summer and has grown steadily, supporting him through college at Western Colorado and several years of hand-to-mouth existence as a professional snowboarder and wakeboarder. In 2005 he started another wakeboard venture, Boyne Wake Camp, and he sponsors a snow-and-wake team/film company called Midwest Progression, all under the BOARDSPORT umbrella. But Snabes' terrain design business is quickly outgrowing its siblings. BOARDSPORT Terrain Ddesign grossed about $15,000 its first year, more than tripled that the second year and hit six digits in 2007.

It began in 2000 when Snabes retired from professional competition and came home to Bloomfield Hills. Aside from a job coaching a young professional snowboarder, Kyle Mack, he had no real direction or winter income, so he spent a few months making sales calls for a staffing company.

"That really helped motivate me to get something going for the winter," he said.

A regular at Alpine Valley, Snabes convinced Stoick to let him design and build some rails for the hill.

"Our customers were real enthusiastic about it," said Stoick, who also hired Snabes to build the terrain park at his other resort, Devil's Head Resort in Wisconsin. "We got a reputation at Alpine Valley for having one best terrain parks in the area, and we drew the best riders in area. We've had a lot of really good riders come out of Alpine Valley, some competing nationally and doing quite well.

"I'm still amazed at the popularity (of the terrain parks); I would have never guessed it in a million years. It's totally changed our sport."

After a couple of years Snabes landed jobs at Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands. That, in turn, may open doors at Boyne's other resorts – in Montana and British Columbia.

"Once a couple of the guys who are working for me now are on top of things in the shop, I'll be able to spend more time going to resorts around the region and selling what we do," Snabes said. "…The whole goal is to try and bring the standard for terrain parks in the Midwest up to par with what's going on out west. Terrain parks are one area in our resorts where we can compete with the western states."

As for those western states, Snabes has been to plenty of places he wouldn't mind living. Some are beautiful and very vertical. But none are home, which is why BOARDSPORT is likely to stay a Southeastern Michigan company.

"Really it comes down to where your family is and where your infrastructure for your business is," Snabes said. "When you're an entrepreneur it's about who you know, and you start building this network of relationships, of people who help you get things done. That would make it hard for me to start over somewhere else.

"Besides, I like the idea of starting from scratch in the Midwest and being the guy that did it."

In case you were wondering….

Rail – Think a handrail next to a flight of stairs
Box – Similar to a rail, but with a flat surface on top
Jib Anything you jump over and tap with your board 
                                                                                is a jib or a bonk.

Amy Whitesall is a Chelsea-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the Ann Arbor News, the Detroit News and Seattle Times. Her previous article for metromode was The Art Of Community Building.


courtesy Brian Snabes

Monday, March 16, 2009

BOARDSPORT Terrain Design Interview with Brian Snabes

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Brian Snabes, owner of BOARDSPORT Terrain Design, for a Q & A session to find out more about who he is and what BOARDSPORT is all about . We met Brian during setup and prep for the '09 Downtown GR Rail Jam. Brian and his crew were brought in to supply the boxes and rails used in the event, along with course layout assistance.

MSR: How did you get your start in the snowsports industry?
BSTD: I was picked to ride for the Joyride Pro Snowboarding and Wakeboarding team.

MSR: How did you come up with the concept behind BOARDSPORT?
BSTD: It came from my five years attending school at Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison, CO. As a professional snowboarder during my college years, I got to travel all over to terrain parks around the country and see what was being done. I owned a wakeboarding school in Michigan in the summers and ended up moving back full time after school to keep that going. After spending my first winter back home, I quickly realized that there were hardly any terrain parks at the local resorts. I quickly decided to build a rail for Alpine Valley Resort in White Lake, MI and after great feedback from the riders, I started the company and advertised my services around the midwest.

MSR: What does BOARDSPORT and BOARDSPORT Terrain Design do?
BSTD: BOARDSPORT is the parent company, providing a structure to operate our other organizations: WakeBoard Clinic, Boyne Wake Camp, Midwest Progression and BOARDSPORT Terrain Design.

MSR: You have dubbed the phrase "progressive park", explain to us what that is?
BSTD: Burton Snowboard Company invented the concept of the progression park at Northstar in Lake Tahoe. I brought the idea to Michigan and soon after created multiple parks at resorts based on the various skill levels, giving riders a way to progress their skills.

MSR: Where can we see your work, where do you go?
BSTD: We have done work for a number of resorts and companies in Michigan and throughout the United States. Michigan resorts include:
Alpine Valley, Apple Mountain, Boyne Highlands, Mt. Brighton, Caberfae, Mt. Holly, Nub's, Otsego Club, Pine Knob, Timber Ridge, Treetops, TWC Surf and Sport, Epix Snowboards, Moosejaw, then there is Devil's Head in Wisconsin, and work performed for Red Bull.

MSR: We hear you're headed to the Burton US Open in VT. Is this for business or pleasure?
BSTD: Through my camps and wakeboard clinics, I met a youngster named Kyle Mack at his 5th birthday party to teach him how to wakeboard. I quickly saw great natural talent and began to coach him throughout the year wakeboarding and snowboarding. Around the age of 7 he was sponsored by Burton and we have been traveling to comps and video shoots ever since. This is the 4th year Kyle has been invited to the US Open to snowboard during the halfpipe and slopestyle events.

MSR: How has this helped you?
BSTD: Traveling the world with him has kept me very current in the terrain park world, getting ideas from some of the best parks around and bringing them home to the midwest.

MSR: How do you start designing a park layout and what are some of the things you take into consideration?
BSTD: It all starts from the ground up. Run selection based on the natural topography of the run - rails, boxes and other jibs on hand by the resort, lighting, snowmaking, equipment and above all, safety and flow of the park.

MSR: What are some of the most popular features you are currently seeing in progressive parks?
BSTD: The focus has gone full circle from the craziest things you can think of, to more simple designs that promote the "progression". We see the bulk focusing on beginner to intermediate riders. The park must be rideable for everyone, not just the pros, and the beginners and intermediates have been a focus of ours as of lately.

MSR: Do you see any push back from the resorts on the type of obstacles that you're proposing to them?
BSTD: No, usually by the time we are contracted to do the job, they realize that we are the professionals, a trusted source with years of experience to make the best and safest decisions for their park goers.

MSR: We noticed a product called "yard-box" can you explain to us a bit more what this is?
BSTD: Yard boxes and rails have become very popular amongst our residential customers. We have begun to build a downscale version of our boxes and rails for residents who wish to build their own backyard parks. The features can be set up with little to no snow cover and you're all set!

MSR: Do you see the need for more "backyard" type products coming out, is the demand there?
BSTD: Yes, mostly they are simple designs built with progression of skills in mind.

MSR: What are some of your favorite projects you've worked on or been a part of?
BSTD: Well, we take pride in all the parks that we build and have a great time at every venue. I do have to say that this most recent rail jam event in GR was a ton of fun because the venue at
The B.O.B. was perfect and the crowds were huge and excited to be there.

MSR: You have been in business now for 10+ years, what keeps you going and motivated every day?
BSTD: I have been in business for myself since 1999 and still love every part of what I do. The best thing I could have ever done is stick to what I know best and never give up. Every year it seems to evolve into something new and exciting, and it's all based on the boardsports I have loved my entire life. I am very happy to be able to help the progression of freestyle boardsports in the midwest. That is where our team and clothing company has come from - Midwest Progression MWP.

MSR: What's your favorite park feature?
BSTD: Either a 40' jump with a good transition or a line of fun boxes. Don't be fooled, I will always close up shop for a good powder day!

MSR: What's your favorite trick to throw?
BSTD: Grab - method, Trick, backside 180.

MSR: What do you do in the off-season?
BSTD: There is no off season! We go right into wakeboarding camps in the spring and are overlapping terrain design and planning in the early fall.

MSR: What's the future hold for BOARDSPORT and MWP?
BSTD: I always try to plan ahead but have learned that with private businesses you can never say for sure where the future will lead you. You just have to be prepared to adapt to changing times and not be afraid to take risks. I can only hope that in the end, I have done some good for the sports and lifestyles that I have believed in my entire life. Just going to keep moving forward - "Many a false step was made by standing still." -Fortune Cookie-

MSR: Finally Brian, any advice for young riders out there?
BSTD: Never forget that the reason we ride is because it's fun!

About Brian Snabes and BOARDSPORT
Brian Snabes is a progressive sports enthusiast involved in snowboarding, wakeboarding and skateboarding almost his entire life. His companies include
BOARDSPORT Terrain Design, The Wakeboard Clinic, Midwest Progression (MWP) and Boyne Wake Camps. To learn more about Brian Snabes and his companies' services you can contact Brian at 248.214.9052 or email him at

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Midwest 'vertically challenged,' still thrilling








Michigan can't boast mountain-state snow conditions or stunning vertical drops, but when it comes to snow sports, what the state lacks in natural gifts it has made up for in manufactured thrills.

Northern resorts tout features known as "park and pipe." Terrain parks — runs accessorized with jumps, rails and other launching pads for feats of balance and daring — have sprouted up in the last five or six years. Half pipes entered the picture about 10-15 years ago.

"In the Midwest, we are vertically challenged, but when you're talking terrain parks or half pipes, we can compete with the world," said Jim Bartlett, general manager of Nubs Nob, which counts on about 80 percent of its weekend traffic to come from downstate. "You don't need 3,000 feet of vertical to have a terrain park."

The larger Midwest resorts spend anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 a year on their terrain parks, said Brian Snabes, whose White Lake Township-based company, Boardsport Terrain Design, builds and installs terrain park features for resorts in Michigan. Parks and pipes require special grooming equipment and lots and lots of snowmaking.

"We've really invested a significant amount in our terrain park," said Boyne Mountain General Manager Ed Grice. "It's all for a great purpose, though. It attracts people, young and old."

In 2005, Boyne Mountain spent $250,000 on a super pipe with 18-foot sideswalls. Nubs Nob has a super pipe, too.

Now that northern resorts have installed the big thrills, the new must-have is what Snabes calls a progression park — a terrain park built for all skill levels.

"We're putting everything on real mellow green runs and building things low to the ground so that even your first-time snowboarders can go out and ride a rail or hit a box," Snabes said.

There's a lot of money spent before the resort sells a single lift ticket, but managers say it's what their customers want — snowboarders are no longer a fringe clientele.

At Boyne Mountain, Grice says snowboarders make up about 35 percent of the business and most likely account for more than 35 percent of lift ticket sales.

Amy Whitesall










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