Adaptive snowboarding is all about overcoming obstacles. Luckily, that’s what riders have been about since day one.
We’ve got a new hero. Her name is Holly Palmer, and she’s overcome more than most riders typically face in order to feel the freedom of sliding sideways. The mountain she’s had to overcome isn’t a black diamond or some peak in Alaska. It’s something she was born with called Achondroplasia, a bone growth disorder that prevents the changing of cartilage (particularly in the long bones of the arms and legs) into bone. It manifests in characteristics such as dwarfism, limited range of motion, large head size—all of which present unique challenges in the context of snowboarding. But we love challenges, and so does Holly.
Many of the challenges Holly has faced have revolved around gear. Does it fit? Can she get the gear on and off easily? Does it function in a way that supports her riding? Does she feel good using it? This is where our product development and prototyping teams come in, as well as our partners at Microsoft.
What is Adaptive Snowboarding?
Adaptive Snowboarding is a modified version of the sport, with changes in equipment, rules, and other areas that make it possible for those with physical disabilities to snowboard.
Custom Adaptive Snowboarding Gear is Key
As soon as Holly first stepped on snow, it became apparent that some customized gear would be necessary. She worked with the team at Telluride Adaptive, and they developed an array of adaptive snowboarding equipment that introduced her to the fundamentals.
Customization was one of Jake Burton Carpenter’s passions. He saw that riders had a natural tendency to tweak their gear to their needs that set them apart from other outdoor enthusiasts. He adored research and development.
We opened a whole laboratory dedicated specifically to R&D called Craig’s Prototype Facility where rider’s unique needs are met in unprecedented ways. It’s full of proprietary tools for building everything from boards to outerwear, along with 3D printers and Microsoft Surfaces with every digital design tool imaginable.
Over the years, we’ve had a lot of amazing opportunities to use these capabilities to improve the experiences of adaptive riders around the world, from beginners to world champions.
Developing Adaptive Snowboarding Gear with Holly
Our relationship with Holly began when we were sent a video focusing on her work with Telluride Adaptive, and a suggestion that we might be able to help. We started by sending Holly a Microsoft Surface so that we could conduct interviews over the web. During our Teams chats Holly introduced us to her riding experience, and gave our product teams a full download on what she needed from her gear. The conversations got granular, and our team’s to-do list stacked up.
"Snowboard boots are meant to fit someone’s lower calf area, however, it usually reaches my knee, which isn’t very practical because when I’m snowboarding it makes it quite hard to bend my knees," Holly explains.
Holly’s current setup presented an array of barriers around comfort, mobility, and function because much of her gear was designed around average youth sizes. It also limited her riding experience to Telluride, Colorado, where the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program is based. The new adaptive snowboarding gear we built together would open doors not only to a better experience on the mountain, but also to accessing new mountains, including ones at Holly’s home in Australia.
When it comes to actually making the gear, the production methods can get pretty intense. Holly got a full body scan and we made a digital avatar of Holly’s body to design outerwear patterns to her exact measurements. For her board, our design team took the mold of a Chopper but integrated it with a stiffer core, and The Channel, which would allow Holly and her coaches to dial in a stance that truly works for her without the need for adapter plates.
As we work, it’s natural to think about why. All this effort for a toy, and a pastime like sliding on snow. We’ve had over 40 years to ask ourselves why we do what we do, but Holly has figured it out in just a few.
She said, “Snowboarding brings freedom and fun into my life. I could never really play sports because my height always restricted me, but everyone can snowboard. I think in life and in snowboarding everyone faces challenges, and you don’t necessarily know what everyone’s going through."
The biggest thing is: if you really want to do something, you can. Nothing’s stopping you. It may take years, but if you really want to do it you can, and you will.
The process will continue as we develop each piece of Holly’s new kit. Once the gear is complete we'll send it down to Holly, and we can't wait to see how it performs. Thanks go out to our partners in this project: the whole crew at the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program and Microsoft.