“A few things have shifted, but I’m still a product person”
What was your first exposure to snowboarding and when was this?
The first time I saw photos of snowboarding was in 1978 in Skateboarder Magazine. Being a land-locked teen in the mountains who was skating and who always wanted to surf, I immediately realized that this was going to be my way of surfing.
Why and how do you think your passion for snowboarding evolved into starting your brand? Were you really that into snowboarding in the beginning that you knew this is what you wanted to do and contribute to the world?
By the end of the ’80s, I was 100% emerged in snowboarding: I was a Sims team rider, ran my snowboard camp and school, and was a contributing writer and tester for the leading German snowboard magazine. Still, there was no grand master plan to start a snowboard brand. Eventually, this just happened through a chance of meeting the right people at the right time.
I know you have told this story before, but how, when, and where was Nitro founded?
The first Nitro line has been developed during the Fall of 1989, but the final decision for the brand name was made at Vera’s Café in Ballard, Seattle, on January 6, 1990.
What was one of your fondest memories from the early days?
Looking back, there are quite many. The first time I ever saw someone ride a Nitro board they bought at retail. It still makes me feel proud and honored to see that happen. But it’s also great to remember how much time we were able to spend on riding and testing. The product line was much smaller, and we were breaking new ground with many of our original shapes. We were trying out dozens of shape versions for a new board. I remember spending six weeks straight at Mt. Hood during the summer with the entire team.
What was the first Nitro production snowboard?
Well, there was the entire 1990 line of course. But the very first board I ever designed was a swallowtail powder shaped board called the Retro. Everyone was so into asym raceboards, fast advancements in technology and the first twin shapes. Somehow, I felt a strong urge to design a board that was kind of a throwback toward the surfing origins of snowboarding, hence the name - The Retro. We have stayed true to this and released a new swallowtail board almost every season since the beginning.
Do you remember who the first team riders were?
Multiple World Champion Petra Müssig, Amy Howat from Mt. Baker, WA, Jason Brown, Drew Hicken, Keith Kimmel, Dennis Nazari, just to name few.
What was your original role at Nitro snowboards during the first 5 years?
My main responsibility was on board and binding engineering, and of course marketing, especially in Europe. I was still a more presentable rider, so I also participated in the first videos we did (Go Nitro, Hype).
Who was the original crew?
Aside from my partner Sepp Ardelt and myself, there were graphics designers Bill McGown and Mike Dawson, as well as US Sales Manager Ken Kelly and our distributors in France and Italy, Damien Fenart and Edo Sgarbossa. The family grew quickly, especially with riders and distributors, some of which are still with us today.
What is your role at Nitro snowboards today, 30 years later?
As the line and the company grew, a few things have shifted, but I’m still a product person, with my focus on boards and boots. I try to keep an eye on the overall line, especially hardgoods, while at the same time allowing some of the younger colleagues to take over responsibility for certain categories. Nitro is one of very few remaining larger brands that are rider/owner-operated, so I also spend a good amount of time on the snow and in stores, listening and spreading our vibe. I see myself also as being responsible for keeping the brand identity true to its origins and supporting snowboarding wherever possible.
During the starting stages of building snowboarding products, what were a few of the hurdles that you did not realize would be a hurdle when you started the company?
One of the biggest challenges I was not aware of in the beginning was – and still is – to build a product line that works for all the different markets out there. Riding styles, graphic tastes and budgets are different between countries and we try to listen to our markets and take them seriously, even if they are small.
Changes in suppliers or distributions often happen unplanned for and can throw a pretty unexpected wrench in your system as well. We pride ourselves in good quality, both in products and service, and the above changes have presented challenges we did not expect initially.
Were there any key moments or values that you believe kept Nitro moving forward through the first 20 years?
Above all, it’s a special kind of family spirit that has fueled Nitro from the very beginning. There are very few business-like structures and many shared jobs and responsibilities. We try to keep everyone involved so they feel part of the same team, whether it’s R&D, design, sales or marketing, all the way to the Am and Pro riders.