Jesse Loomis grew up in southern Vermont snowboarding with Grain Surfboards cofounder Mike Lavecchia. After a few photography gigs and a job working in customer service at Burton Snowboards, Loomis was looking for a change. Around 2007, Lavecchia had been working on Grain Surfboards for about two years; Loomis planned to help build boards by shuttling supplies back and forth from the Grain workshop in Maine to his home in Vermont. But the travel and logistics didn’t work out. “It was just too far to travel,” said Loomis. “It was too hard to coordinate anything and I was kind of bumming about that.” But out of that disappointment came Loomis’s great idea: wooden snowboards.
The thought came to him after breaking out his Burton Elite 150, a mid-1980s foam snowboard with no sidecut — his first board. “We went on the hill behind our house with the kids and, just on a lark, I took the Elite 150, which I hadn’t ridden since I was a little kid, just to see what it would do. I had no thoughts at all of building boards,” said Loomis. He pointed the nose downhill and the board started gliding effortlessly through the snow. “When it went down, it was making these, like, crazy fast turns, and it was kind of swimming down the hill. It has that concave tail. It was just, like, surfing down the mountain.” That moment was a revelation for Loomis. “I was just like, ‘Oh shit! Why don’t I just build wooden snowboards instead of beating my head against the wall building wooden surfboards? I live right next to a mountain in Vermont. There’s no ocean around. Why don’t I just build a wooden snowboard and see if it works?'”
Loomis built his wooden snowboard using the Elite 150 as a template, then worked on improvements. “It needed to be a little bit longer, it needed sidecut and it needed to be flexible. That one was made from foam. So it needed flex and everything,” he said. Loomis solved the issue of flex simply, by making the boards from wood and fiberglass; the other improvements came with a lot of trial and error. He experimented with different sidecut shapes, noses and tail designs. “I didn’t get a working board until the following January . The first time I rode a PowderJet was on that same hill behind the house.” Loomis gave his prototypes to some of the best riders he knew, like Vermont legends Shem Roose and Randy Gaetano. “I said to them, ‘All right, give me all your feedback. I need to know first what you like about it, but more importantly, what you hate about it.’ And no one would fucking tell me anything that they didn’t like about it. I don’t really think they were just being generous, I just think they were kind of jazzed on the fact that it was something completely different,” Loomis said.
“I wasn’t trying to reinvent anything. I just wanted it to be simple.”
In 1987, a PowderJet wouldn’t have looked much different from other boards on the market, save for a few modern improvements. Boards of that time were simple, directional shapes, often with swallowtails that stand in stark contrast to today’s twin-tip, rockered park boards. That was part of Loomis’s goal when he first started PowderJet: to bring snowboarding back to its roots. “When we had kids, and I would bring them to the mountain and try to teach them to snowboard, there was, like, fucking music everywhere and people whizzing by. I was just thinking about when I first got that Elite 150 and going up in the cow pasture behind the house,” said Loomis. “When there was a snow day, I would get up there and it would be so quiet. It would be snowing everywhere and it’s just the perfect escape. I wasn’t trying to reinvent anything. I just wanted it to be simple. Let my kids experience that super simple aspect of snowboarding.”
Simplicity is just one selling point of a PowderJet. Loomis makes each board by hand. A loft at the top of a barn is home to PowderJet’s offices, manufacturing space, board warehouse, waxing room, classroom, gift shop and board showroom — all one in the same. It’s a tiny operation, but Loomis’s boards don’t show it. “I do think there is a connection to the handmade culture — like rather than riding your typical corporate cookie-cutter board,” he said. “Like look at my hands. I’m a mess because I’m building all these stupid snowboards. I email people, I’m doing everything, I’m interacting with the customer and I think that people appreciate that.”
If having such an intimate connection to the person who builds your snowboard isn’t enough, Loomis will (often) fix your PowderJet if you ever have an unfortunate meeting with a tree or a rock. Unless it is manufacturer error, that is something that most snowboard companies simply don’t do. “I really think people appreciate that the guy who built the board for them will fix it if they crash into a rock or whatever,” Loomis said. “It’s not even a problem. I won’t even charge you a lot of times. And I love it.”
Loomis, and subsequently PowderJet, simply doesn’t care about the mass-market snowboard culture. If it were up to him, PowderJet would fly comfortably under the radar. “I just want to have, like, this little niche. If I can sell snowboards to like, .1 percent of the snowboard community, then I’m probably good,” he said. And PowderJet has certainly made that niche. This year, they are on track to make roughly 100 boards. That stat pales in comparison to industry giants like Burton, but for a one-man production on the coast of Maine, it’ll do just fine.