Tech Heads: Steve Pelletier from Nike Snowboarding

Steve Pelletier, Product Line Manager and Developer at Nike.
Steve Pelletier, Product Line Manager and Developer at Nike.

It was clear from the day Nike announced they’d enter the world of snowboard boots, they would do it properly. After a few years in the game now and with the ability to tap into the huge Nike footwear heritage, the boots are – according to all the feedback – at the forefront of performance and durability. It was all this that made us want to meet Steve Pelletier, the boot guru from Beaverton, Oregon.

First of all, I’d like to know about your professional career path, before we enter the specific Nike boots questions…

I fell in love with snowboarding in my early teen years and when I was about 17 I knew that all I wanted to do was work in snowboarding. I started making snowboards at a factory at night when I was 18 to put myself through college, managed a couple snowboard shops after that, did a short stint as a guide at Snowbird, and worked customer service jobs before landing in the world of snowboard boots. During all that time after college I was a sneaker customizer and some people in the company I worked for took notice. This eventually lead me to into testing boots and giving feedback, which naturally evolved into a job making snowboard boots.

Now you are Product Line Manager and Developer for the Nike boots program. Can you explain all the different aspects of your role?

I really think I have the coolest job on the planet. There are so many amazing parts of the job that is difficult to explain everything that I do, but I started in the boot world as a developer, which is basically a boot engineer. Since then, I’ve moved into being a Product Line Manager which is kinda like being a head chef – you decide the menu, the ingredients, and the price and positioning of the products in your line. And then I also get to do a little design, mostly on color and material, which is a lot of fun because that is the place I get to be most creative and working that closely with our riders is one of the most awesome experiences I could ever have.

Nike includes the BOA system on some of the 13/14 boot range: how does this system affect the Nike boots from the experience you have?

Partnering with BOA was definitely a strategic move for us. Those guys are the best – they have insane knowledge of gearing and engineering, and they are a joy to work with. For me, it’s the pinnacle lacing system on the market today. Look for Nike and BOA to keep the relationship going over the next few years.

Last year Nike did already a lot of efforts to eliminate PVC and other environmentally aggressive materials from their boots. How does the line look today in this aspect and how far do you think you can push it?

Actually Nike has taken a stance against PVC for over a decade. It’s nasty stuff. It’s been a priority for us to look at how boots are made and how we can make that process more environmentally friendly. We all want the snow to be around for our children and our children’s children to experience. We want them to be able to enjoy the same things that we all love. At Nike, we’re focusing our efforts in the areas in which we can have the greatest impact, such as the materials we design into our products but also through the process of making those materials and products.

Today we use many environmentally preferred materials that reduce solvents, waste, and water usage. Some of our boots even feature recycled PET synthetic leathers. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what can be done and we are learning more every day. I think there is a big opportunity for advances in this area in the years to come, and I think we are ideally positioned to lead this movement in the future.

Another aspect that Nike boots pushed is a better board feel. Which boot would you say really focus on that aspect? Other than a thinner sole, what else can have an influence on board feel? 

For us, our best board feel boot is the Zoom Kaiju. It’s inspired by the Nike Free shoes, which you can basically fold up in your hand. We knew that the Nike Free idea had a special something to it and we modified it to work for snowboarding. What we ended up with was a sole that was stiff toe to heel for power on your edges, but if you press the forefoot area of the outsole, you realize how soft it is underfoot. This allows you to feel your board bend and twist under your feet and puts you more in tune with what is happening while you are riding your snowboard down the mountain.

The Nike Kaiju, inspired by the Nike Free trainer.
The Nike Kaiju, inspired by the Nike Free trainer.

It is compatible with dampening as we found a way to sneak an Nike Zoom Air bag into the heel of the boots. So much like a rally car’s suspension, they are tuned so that you can feel everything on the surface you are shredding, but at the same time they offer the protection you need to stomp those big drops and still power through a hand dragging carve or up a pipe wall.

The Nike Free trainer, the inspiration.
The Nike Free trainer, the inspiration.

All of our boots are designed with great board feel in mind. The Zoom Kaiju is the pinnacle boot for us in terms of board feel, in that it gives you the most feel of any of the boots in our line.

Going further, do you think there could be one day a segmentation between let’s say regular mountain boots, and urban snowboard boots?

It’s definitely possible, but I am going to say that the future of snowboarding boots will be less dictated in terms of which riding style they are good for. A big part of this personal preference. We know that some guys like their boots super soft and forgiving, which would typically be seen as an urban style boot. But then you talk to a guy like Nicolas Müller, who rides gnarly big mountain terrain, a stiff board and bindings, but he likes his boots soft because they allow his body to flow and move naturally. Justin Bennee for example, is an urban rider that likes one of our stiffer models, the Zoom Force 1.

So my point is, it’s all about what feels good for you and your riding style, and Nike Snowboarding has been developing the best answer: it is all about customization.

Take our LunarENDOR for example: that boot contains our Adjustable Flex System so you can choose what flex is right for you, whether its about the conditions you are riding on a particular day or just what feels good to you at the moment when you lace a pair of our boots up and say, “yeah that’s just how I like it”. We have riders like Halldor Helgason that take their LunarENDORs and run them over with a truck before he rides them to make them softer, and on the flip side of that coin we’ve Peetu who likes a very stiff boot, riding LunarENDORs in the pipe. Those are 2 guys with as contrasting styles as you can get, both loving the the same boot model, but riding them in a completely different way.

I think it goes back to the roots of why we all snowboard – it feels AMAZING. So much of our sport is based on feel… Why does a backside 1 feel better than a frontside 1? You could argue why all day, but the fact of the matter is it does feel better… So what I’m saying is if someone tells you this boot is good for this and that boot is good for that, take it with a grain of salt. Go out there and experience it for yourself, form your own opinions because I can’t tell you what is right for you – I can suggest something, but you are your own best gauge to know what feels good for your style, ability level, and the day’s terrain you are going to ride.

The LunarENDOR, featuring the Adjustable Flex System and inspired from the Agassi 80's look.
The LunarENDOR, featuring the Adjustable Flex System and inspired from the Agassi 80′s look.

What other segmentations could come in the future, in regards to the trends and feedback you can perceive?

Like I said above I think more products will be customizable in the future. The opportunity there is huge. What if you can buy one board that does it all… it rips pow, holds and edge in an icy pipe, and smoothly butters off a box? Now think of taking a pow run where you might want a board with more flex and a playful demeanor… so you take your run, slashing pow, hooting and throwing shakas to your bros… then you get near the base of your resort and see the pipe and you’re like “Damn, I’m gonna slay that thing”, so you look down at your board and maybe you hit a button or slide something or whatever and suddenly it stiffens up, it gets more camber and its ready to go 20 feet out on that first hit… that would be something special! Customization is the future. Its bright.

That’s how I feel our LunarENDOR is with the Adjustable Flex System. One boot that can rip it all. I think it will be very exciting to watch products evolve and become easier to use in a variety of ways, in a variety of conditions.

What is the feedback you get from your riders in term of looks and color, and how can it fit to the Nike heritage you want to infuse in the boot range (like the Lunarendor boot and it’s 80s Agassi colors)?

Many of our riders are sneaker heads. Justin Bennee is one of the hardest core sneaker heads I’ve ever met, and at Nike, we have so much heritage to pull from. Honestly this is one of my favorite parts of what I do… working with the riders, seeing what their interests are, looking at the history of Nike to see what I can pull into that inspiration, and finally looking at what we are doing currently not only in Skate and Outerwear, but across all categories at Nike. It’s an endless source of inspiration.

Danny Kass has to be one of the most awesome people on the planet for crazy ideas as well. When you look at the history of some of the things we’ve done with Danny, they are really next level in terms of ideation, craft, and execution. From the first Arbito ZF1 double tongue boot to the latest shark-mouth warplane Zoom DK QS, we’ve been able to do some amazing things. Like I said – best job on the planet!

The shark-mouthed warplane Zoom Danny Kass QS.
The shark-mouthed warplane Zoom Danny Kass QS.

Same question on the technical aspect of things: what kind of feedback do you get from your riders in term of flex, dampening etc? And does it differ whether it’s a jibber or a backcountry rider?

For sure it differs… that goes right along with my personal preference theory.

I think to be a snowboard boot guy you need to have a thick skin. You are going to hear things that might not stoke you out, but the good footwear developers and designers will always listen and take that feedback and do something with it, not just cast it aside.

A perfect example is when Gigi came to us and said, “Man I love my Kaijus, but when I hit big jumps they are just too soft for me. It would be cool if we could make a boot with the same board feel, but with a little more support. And what if I could change the level of support based on the terrain I’m riding?”

Right there we were like – THAT’S GOLD. 6 months later we churned out the Adjustable Flex System, which was first seen on the Zoom ITES and is currently in the LunarENDOR. So through a team roundtable Gigi said one little thing and we ran with it, and now its a huge success. That’s just one example, but it happens naturally like that all the time around the Nike campus. As a product guy you just need to never be satisfied with the current state of your product and you have to always be look for those little gems of insight that a rider or tester can provide to make it better. It could end up being the next big thing – you’ll never know until you try it.

Finally, to advise our readers, how important is the ‘out of the box feel’? Back in the days it used to take a while to break one’s boots in but it was the only way to get boots that give you a good fit and last long at the same time. Is it still true today?

We’ve come to a point in time that there are materials and technologies out there that have almost done away with that harsh break in period that used to plague snowboard boots. Now, everyone’s feet are different so there’s always going to be someone with a contrasting opinion, but we have taken pride in the fact that we offer the best out of box fit in the industry – meaning that you can ride our boots straight out of the box without pain or hotspots or the hassle of having them heat molded to reduce that break in period. All of our liners are heat moldable to allow for that custom fit if you need it, but the majority of our riders and testers just lace the boots up straight out the box and shred, which I think is how it should be. Get out there, enjoy the mountains, and spread that infectious feeling of riding with a giant smile on your face and with happy feet in your boots. That’s the experience we are trying to share with everyone.

To read the previous Tech Heads articles: Mervin’s Pete Saari, the Da Kine guysBurton’s Greg Dacyshyn and CAPiTA’s Ephraim Chui.

 Also check Nike Snowboarding website.

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  1. Jo'

    Un article sur leurs lignes de sapes tech’ serait le bienvenue :-)

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