father Snowboard manufacturer plans for the future after devastating fire

NEW BERLIN – A Snyder County-based global snowboard and ski manufacturer is planning to rebuild after a devastating fire a week ago.

Gilson Snow, the nation’s leading manufacturer of custom snowboards, will be back in business ahead of the 2023 snow season, its CEO Nicholas Gilson said on Friday.

The Nov. 18 fire destroyed its manufacturing facility and left 30 people unemployed for the time being, he said.

Gilson Snow still ships snowboards and skis because he said 1,500 units were in a different building.

Much of the equipment that was destroyed “we made eight years ago,” Gilson said. Finding replacements will be a challenge due to supply chain issues, he said.

Gilson said he was committed to rebuilding Pennsylvania. The outpouring of support from the community is “amazing,” he said. “It means a lot to us that people want to help.”

A community rally in support of the company’s rebuilding is planned Sunday from 2pm to 6pm at the Rusty Rail Brewing Co. in Mifflinburg.

Gilson Snow, whose products are aimed at the everyday snowboarder and skier, was founded in 2013, but its roots stretch back decades earlier to New Zealand, where Gilson’s father built his first ultralight sailboat as a child out of a broom, blanket and tire.

His grandmother married an American sailor after her husband died and they came to the United States, where Gilson’s father began building his next boat, according to a company history written by Gilson.

Forty years later, in 2001, when Gilson turned 13, his father suggested that he continue the boat project where he left off, using two unfinished hulls in the basement of their Rhode Island home.

“My father taught me the importance of geometry and fluid dynamics as he paid meticulous attention to every curvature and detail in the shape of the boat,” Gilson wrote.

In 2002 the boat was ready and he had built his first surfboard out of polystyrene foam, fiberglass and epoxy.

“This spring I set out to build my first snowboard prototypes for my eighth grade project,” he wrote.

Snowboards, unlike surfboards and boats, need to be pressed when the fiberglass hardens, so he had to build a press, which he did by screwing blocks of wood into two old doors. “I built the first two Gilson snowboards this year.”

His designs were at rock bottom until 2011, when, after graduating from Johns Hopkins University, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee to teach middle school science at Teach for America.

There he began working with Austin Royer, a seventh and eighth grade science teacher who was also a woodworker.

In the fall of 2012, they built a snowboard shop in the crawl space under the house Gilson rented. Gilson focused on fluid dynamics and Royer on building a real snowboard press.

Many failures led to new discoveries, three innovations and the early Gilson design. The two involved their students in a project to research flow dynamics in snow.

After their prototype snowboard failed, Gilson was energized when a sixth grader told him that if he could quit, the students could too.

The first members of the Gilson team moved into a cabin in the Pennsylvania woods with no running water or electricity. The first production facility was established in a stable owned by the Royer family.

That summer, they built a press out of steel and built 35 black and white snowboards before the first snow.

They bought a 1976 Airstream trailer and a truck with 212,000 miles on it, loaded up the snowboards and set off on a 17,000 mile road trip across the United States. The rest is history.

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