Ask The Expert: Mike Fox from DC Snowboards

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[We cocked up in the current issue – 123 – on our Ask the Expert page, so we wanted to apologize to Mike Fox who got his name spelt wrong, and post the page here. Enjoy the read!]

Mike Fox, DC Global Director, Snowboard Hardgoods is our expert of the month and not only does this guy know shit loads about board making, but he’s also involved in every aspect of the hard goods world: planning, researching, merchandising, marketing, testing, development, production, and design. Here comes the tech chat:

Obviously, the demands of pro riders are quite different from your average jo; How do you reach a compromise on the boards that get used by both?

Our focus with boards has been rider driven from day one. We are one of the few brands committed to Pro-models. Each series in our line starts out as a rider driven project and our riders test and confirm the final results. The other models offered in our line are the same pro designed boards, just in a wider range of sizes and with an alternative graphic. Devun has his own series, Iikka drives the MLF, Lauri drives the Tone, Aaron drove the PBJ and new for next year he has worked with Torstein to create the PLY. The boards we offer to our consumers are the same boards that our team designed and ride everyday. It’s true that from time to time they may love the feel of a certain test board that may not meet our consumer’s needs, but our team is extremely experienced and can make the call on adjusting the final product to meet their needs and also consider the needs of their customers.

Have you ever produced custom-made boards for your pros that looked like the generic model but rode quite differently?

Of course, through our development and testing process with the riders, they try a wide range of boards. Experimenting with shapes, cambers, flexes and materials. We make these prototypes with their graphics so they can continue to work and film with them. The goal in the end is not to create exclusive boards for their needs but to confirm the final board that they will ride and the same one that we will offer to consumers.

What comes first: A rider’s idea or one of your innovations?

We work together as a team and everyone contributes. We’ve had a great balance of ideas that come from the riders and from my team and me. When I come up with a concept or something comes from my design partner, Johnny Q or our factory partner, GST, it always begins with meeting the rider’s needs. So, in many ways the riders always come first.

How many rideable prototypes does your crew come up with every year?

Dang, I don’t even keep track but I probably should. I build as many as I can get away with. Obviously we have limitations and only enough time to test a certain amount. I’d estimate that we tested 35-40 boards over the last year not including pre-production sample rounds, which I would also consider important testing prototypes.

How many people ride a board before you deem it good enough to go into mass production?

Sometimes it’s just one. For example, if Devun is happy with the way a board rides, then I know it’s good. That was the case with his current pro-model. I believe we started out with 4 or 5 protos and one of them just clicked and that was it. I trust him completely, as I trust all of the team. The other testing done by our design, development and testing team is to confirm that we can duplicate the feel of the rider’s board and run it through durability trials.

How do you evaluate the risk of confusing the customer with so many different shapes? Or is big choice always a good thing?

We keep it simple. All of our riders want similar things; all of our boards are twins. In terms of shape, we tweak camber, sidecut, width and tip profiles to meet each riders needs but all DC boards come from the same shape DNA.

Lot of the pros are still riding regular camber. Does this mean the Rocker is more adapted for beginners or intermediate riders?

Not in our case. Our Anitcamber profiles using our Camber Core profile are innovations designed by Johnny Q to meet the needs of our team. Dev prefers only a slight, almost flat Anticambered board. Lauri’s has a bit more but he’s been leaning more towards flatter profiles lately. Ryan Tiene backs the feel of Lauri’s Tone and totally charges on that board, just watch his part in “The Storming”. I was also blown away by Mats Hofgaard’s part in “DC’s IT” riding the PBJ last season. But there is no denying that camber works and every one of our riders have a few MLFs and PLYs in their quivers.

Is it possible to make a board that is truly environmentally sound?

Wow, that seems like a loaded question. The word “truly” is a tough one to contend with since there is so many levels of what is considered “environmentally sound”. In my opinion there is no way to satisfy the requirements of someone who lives a “truly” sustainable existence. The reality is that harvesting materials and manufacturing anything impacts our environment in a negative way. We all need to do our best to be responsible and work with responsible partners to reduce waste, run more efficiently and leave the smallest possible footprint on our environment.

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