- Courtesy Of Shem Roose
- Pro snowboarder Ralph Kucharek on a PowderJet snowboard
For more than a decade now, Jesse Loomis has been carving out a niche — as well as wide, arcing swaths of powder — on mountains all across North America. Loomis' handmade wooden PowderJet Snowboards have attained something of a cult following, particularly among backcountry enthusiasts, owing to their simple and customizable design, vintage feel, and, of course, performance in powder and glades.
Loomis, 46, founded the company in 2009 in the tiny southern Vermont town of Rupert. After a brief stint in Kittery, Maine, that ended in 2016, Loomis and his family are back in the Green Mountains. From his small workshop in the garage of his Peru home, he now cranks out between 50 and 100 snowboards per year.
That number doesn't include the snowboards others make for themselves under his tutelage. Lately, Loomis has found another niche within his niche. For the past five years, he's been running build-your-own classes in his shop and all over the U.S., from New York City to Mammoth Mountain, Calif.
Students pay about $900 — or half the cost of some custom boards — to design and build their own PowderJets roughly from start to finish over the two-day intensive. Loomis' next class runs Saturday and Sunday, November 30 and December 1, at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg.
Snowboard-building tutorials abound on YouTube, and plenty of snowboard companies offer customers the option of designing and customizing their boards before manufacture. But Loomis believes his DIY snowboard classes, in which students actually construct boards themselves, are the first of their kind in the country.
Indeed, a quick search for build-your-own snowboard classes turned up only one other result: Douk Snowboards in the United Kingdom. (Local two-plankers, however, can build their own skis with Lars Whitman of Silo Skis in Richmond.)
"Some people make it as a specialty board, just because they want to make a weird board and see what happens," Loomis says of his students, most of whom are experienced snowboarders specifically seeking boards to ride in powder or in the backcountry. Others might be fellow woodworkers looking to mess around with different shapes and designs.
"But some people make it as their primary board, too, and ride them all the time," continues Loomis, a carpenter by trade. "I certainly do."
- Courtesy Of Powderjet Snowboards
- Jesse Loomis
Before each class, Loomis corresponds with students by email to get a basic idea of the kind of board they want to make. They can choose from a wide variety of nose and tail designs, binding setups, widths, lengths, and flexes based on the kind of riding they do.
Once they've arrived at a shape and design, Loomis constructs a "blank" — basically, the mold of a snowboard. He uses the hydraulic press at his shop to fuse together four rectangular layers of one-sixteenth-inch poplar sheets, two layers of fiberglass, a layer of polyethylene (P-Tex) and eco-friendly compression molding resin. (Loomis notes that one of his goals with PowderJet is to make the greenest snowboard possible.)
The first step for students is cutting the board out of the blank with a jigsaw. After that, they sand and bevel the vertical edges. Most of the first day, students focus on cutting, sanding and shaping, Loomis says. Day two consists of finishing, staining and adding personalized design elements — oh, and more sanding.
"It's a lot of sanding," Loomis concedes while running his hand along a board in mid-construction in his shop.
The sanding is also usually the trickiest part of the process for students, since that's how they fine-tune the board's shape. Getting the nose just right, for example, is often a struggle.
"Making this perfectly round and symmetrical is a lot more difficult than you would think," Loomis advises. "It's a lot of standing back and eyeballing. I definitely promote the art of eyeballing."
Loomis also promotes the art of letting go. Especially for novice makers, he says, seeking perfection is a fool's errand. Which is not to say students don't end up with a quality board, because they do. But for Loomis, the beauty of PowderJet lies in simplicity.
"That was the original idea of PowderJet: to make it as simple as possible," he says. "It doesn't need to be perfect." He adds: "Performance-wise, they are on par with any high-tech board."
Elizabeth Horan took Loomis' class in October at Mammoth Mountain in California. The Huntington Beach, Calif., resident built a splitboard — a snowboard that's made to split into skis and be fitted with skins for accessing backcountry terrain.
"Jesse is super laid-back and supportive," Horan says by phone. "But he's also like, 'This is about what you want.' So he's very hands-on, but he also wants to empower you to be able to build your board. I would take another class with him in a heartbeat."
- Courtesy Of Powderjet Snowboards
- Students with their PowderJet snowboards
Students don't walk out of Loomis' classes with a snowboard. At the conclusion of the two-day course, he takes the boards and finishes them — grinding bases, waxing and completing other steps that need to be done in his shop. It generally takes a couple of weeks for students to receive the finished product, Loomis says.
In addition to building snowboards, Loomis is building a small community with his classes.
"There's a lot of shooting the breeze," he says, adding that his students come from various backgrounds and range in age from high school kids to retirees. "It's a social event," he continues. "People show up Saturday morning, and no one knows each other. But by the end of the first day, everybody's giving each other shit."
Loomis has made a bunch of friends through the classes, he says, and students seem to be doing the same. Last spring, for example, about 15 riders who had built their own PowderJet boards got together to ride for a day at Magic Mountain Ski Area in Londonderry.
"It's starting to be like this little family," Loomis says of his PowderJet disciples. "That's the best part about it, really."