Locally-owned snowboard company gears up for 2017-18 season with new designs, availability in Mammoth
Jake Elhart, the 26-year-old owner of Tribe Snowboards, was caught in a little bit of a transition this week. When The Sheet showed up to interview him, Elhart, a Michigan native, was waiting on a delivery of Tribe’s first overseas order of 285 snowboards—two days before Mammoth Mountain’s opening day—but he didn’t have a place to store them.
Wearing track pants and a flannel, Elhart plucked through a warehouse of wooden snowboard cores, printed graphics and glass beakers of liquid urethane at the Sierra Industrial Park. Elhart is waiting to move into his permanent space, which is currently occupied by Matt Hammer’s Shelter Distilling copper stills (which Hammer needs a permit to move). But Elhart seemed unruffled by the chaos, which is probably a good quality for a small business owner who taught himself to make snowboards, operate heavy machinery and market his product—all within the span of a few years.
“I’ve worked at skate and snowboard shops since high school,” said Elhart, “and really just kind of went out on a whim,” when he found some snowboard presses for sale online in 2014. “I had some extra money saved up, and I talked to my dad and he said, ‘Okay, put together a business plan and get back to me.’”
He bought his first press in September of that year, but “really over the course of that winter Shawn [Ross, Elhart’s right hand man] and I were just figuring out how to build boards,” said Elhart, who held up Tribe’s first-ever board as an example of how much progress they’ve made. “We ended up putting top sheet on the base” of the board, he said, chuckling. “It came out terribly!”
Three seasons and a bunch of snowboards later (Elhart says he’s really not sure how many boards Tribe has made), Elhart jokes that he’ll “store the [incoming] snowboards in the guest room of my house if I have to,” in order to get them ready for sale at Wave Rave in Mammoth Lakes, and on the company’s website.
Though he and his father are the sole financial stakeholders, Elhart says none of Tribe’s successes would be possible without east coast transplant Ross, who “has been my partner since the beginning. Financially he doesn’t have any stake, but time and commitment-wise, he’s been in it from the start.”
He’s also had help from Mammoth residents Chris Foster and Jeff Harvey (who is one of Tribe’s sponsored riders and the namesake of one of their boards).
This season, Elhart said, Tribe outsourced manufacture of some of their boards to GP87 in Taiwan (who made the product that will be arriving on Friday) in order to make their workload more manageable.
“The three of us [Elhart, Ross and Foster] would be in there slaving away, and we can’t get boards made as fast or as cheap as we could from another manufacturer,” said Elhart. “We were in the shop a lot more than we were on the hill,” which was antithetical to the whole reason they got into the snowboard manufacturing business in the first place.
Tribe will still be manufacturing kids’ boards and custom projects at their shop in Mammoth Lakes, Elhart said. Even with the outsourcing, Elhart’s still definitely got his hands full—he works as a valet at the Westin a few days a week and, as if he didn’t have enough on his plate, he’s getting married in June (he picked up a call from a potential wedding DJ as he showed off some of last year’s snowboard designs).
This year’s models feature graphics by Elhart, Salt Lake City’s Brett Johnson (the Hendrix), Denver-based Ian Curran (the ladies’ Wild Thing), and Jeff Harvey (his eponymous board), among others.
Elhart also says he’s planning on auctioning off some of last year’s designs, with part of the proceeds going to help victims of the wildfires in Napa and Sonoma Counties (check out Tribe’s Facebook page for details, www.facebook.com/tribesnowboards).
Scope out Tribe’s designs at Wave Rave in Mammoth Lakes beginning early next week, and always at www.tribesnowboards.com.