Fall is fast approaching and it’s getting me in the mood to return to my homestate. Being from Southern Vermont, I don’t always have the excuse to trek it North. But this fall we’re hoping to drive farther upstate (after visiting family of course) so I was looking into some neat places to stay. One hotel that stuck out was Burlington’s brand new Hotel Vermont. It perfectly balances the line between Vermont rusticity and modern minimalism. The floors are poured concrete made from stones from Lake Champlain (which is right outside the hotel’s door), the walls feature local oak, each room has a Johnson Woolen Mills wool blanket, and the bathrooms are stocked with local Lunaroma products. Other features include bikes from local shop Old Spokes Home, a full-service yoga room, farm to table dining at their restaurants Juniper and Hen of the Wood, Vermont-distilled liquers at the bar, and art by Vermonter Duncan Johnson. Officially getting the calendar out and renting the car.
Tag Archives: Vermont
There’s a bit of crispness in the air this week and its getting me thinking towards fall and all it’s glorious smells and flavors. For a Vermonter, maple syrup obviously tops the list. Friend James Fox introduced me to one of his oldest friends Skye Chalmers this past winter when we made our way home to VT for our first annual Freedom & Unity trip. Skye and his wife Tina have started their own maple syrup operation Bobo’s Mountain Sugar in Weston, VT. James Fox did a great post about how the production runs. And of course, the quality of their syrup is best described in their own words: “We boil down the springtime sap from 2500 maple trees living on our hillside in Weston, Vermont. It is the unique blend of soils, climate, and terrain on Bobo’s Mountain that makes our syrup taste so good. When the temperatures soar, and the trees flush golden and then finally green, we raise a plate of pancakes and toast them for a job well done.”
Stoked to be posting Part II of the feature with Jesse Loomis of PowderJet Snowboards. Really enjoyed doing this piece and I hope you all enjoy it just as much! Read Part I here.
Q. What are some of the highlights of Powderjet so far, for you and the brand?
A. Being out here in the sticks, it’s tough for me to gauge what’s going on within the snowboard world. So the most gratifying thing about the whole experience is when serious riders at big mountains see or ride the boards and are completely into it. We’ve been lucky enough to have some serious world-class riders getting out on a PowderJet and tearing around and giving me tons of positive feedback. When I see video of Laura Hadar shredding Stevens Pass out in Washington, or Jesse and Lukas Huffman in Hokkaido, Japan, riding terrain I’ve always dreamed about riding, it’s nice to realize that I’m not just making throwback designs. It’s seeing those hyper talented riders finding new was to ride a mountain, driven to a large degree by this weird design that really works well.
I love making the simplest possible board, grabbing ahold of a part of the sport that appreciates simplicity. I love showing that snowboards don’t need to be these mass produced, plastic sandwiches. I love the idea of influencing the big snowboard manufacturers by making a relatively clean, basic, wooden snowboard that outperforms a lot of their highly engineered powder boards.
So a lot of the highlights basically come from receiving recognition from the professional snowboard community, both with athletes and media. But more importantly, a lot of real riders, people who have real jobs outside of snowboarding, have found their way to us, and really connect with the pure powder board idea. It makes sense to a lot of people, even though it’s a little bit perverse. I guess it’s kind of punk in a way, moving away from gimmicky tech advancements and focussing on function. So I guess what I’m saying is that every time someone tells me that they like the boards for any reason, that’s a brand new career highlight. Also, speaking in front of a class of Dartmouth engineering students about PowderJet was a nice feather in the cap. They were much smarter than me …
Q. The Burton US Open now calls Vail home. As a snowboarder, and Vermonter, what are your thoughts on this? And what are your thoughts about the new VT Open festival that was hosted at Stratton in lieu of the championships?
A. The US Open was a very Vermont affair for the first fifteen or twenty years of its run. If you were an avid snowboarder, there was a decent chance that someone you knew, someone more talented than you, could make the cut and be competing. Being a fifteen year old nerd from Rupert, and getting to see Craig Kelly and Shaun Palmer and especially Jeff Brushie, those were the raddest, baddest dudes on the planet to us. There were so many people lining the lip of the pipes that you had to stake a spot and claim it during qualifiers, or you’d have no chance of seeing anything at all, unless you stood in the crowd at the bottom. The bottom was cool for watching a rider’s whole run, but you didn’t get the thrill of Terje Haakon-flipping over your head, or being below Brushie’s backside crail. It was amazing to have the craziest, just genius snowboarders coming from all over the world to lowly southern VT.
Then there were just insane parties. When you walked down the hall of that hotel at the base of Stratton, it was total chaos. Music blasting from every room, weed smoke throughout all the hallways, underage drinking, the occasional patrolling Winhall police force sighting, which just made it all more fun. I witnessed so many cases of vandalism and just random petty savagery … holes punched in walls, tagging, snowball fights with strangers, real fights with strangers, Terje dropping his snowboard out of the 4th floor hotel window, instigating a near riot after the halfpipe competition. This must have been the early days of Red Bull in the US, and we hadn’t figured out the dosage, because we were all so fired up and over the top amped!
But … maybe it was when it became a televised event that the pace slowed down, and riders started doing new tricks that wouldn’t be possible if hung over. Stratton moved the pipe competition to the other side of the mountain, away from the Gen Pop, which calmed things down a lot. The whole thing became more serious, competition-wise, and experience-wise. The Open grew up a little, and the spectators became more interested in the incredible riding going on than on partying. The rising has always been on the highest level, but the chaotic atmosphere was effectively curtailed.
The VT Open was super fun, super homey and low key. It was a friendly competition, and it was largely Vermont locals and pros. The coolest event, in my opinion, was the Snurfer Challenge. It was basically a head to head straight shot, survival style, where you had to throw yourself to the ground immediately after the the finish line to stop, if by chance you made it the full 50 yards. Amazing to see the original iteration of the sport in the context of what was otherwise a pretty progressive riding atmosphere. You really got a sense of the depth of snowboarding’s roots.
It was a great family event … I hope they remember to invite PowderJet to sponsor it next year!
Q. You’re originally from Rupert, and now you’re raising your own family there. Do you think it’s important that the younger generation stay in the great green state? And in what ways do you think that would enrich the state and its communities?
A. Vermont is a unique and beautiful place, and I’m really happy that we chose to raise our family here. Something about the landscape is very inviting. It might be the way the hills and mountains are shaped, they’re not formidable but welcoming. And for the most part, the people here are the same. There doesn’t seem to be the same political polarization among our residents that you see in a lot of places. Yankee gentility still matters. Also, there’s a nice perspective when you live someplace where the weather seems to be trying to kill you on a regular basis, either freezing or flooding or scorching with drought. Vermont is still hardscrabble in many ways, despite our soft hippy image.
It would be nice to see more young people staying in Vermont, but it’s tough to find work as a professional unless you’re in Burlington. I’m not a sustainable economics planner, but it does seem like we could use some investment in job creation, especially down here in Southern VT. There are young college educated people around, but we need to have jobs for them that aren’t just one form or another of taking care of the tourists and second home owners, mowing lawns and painting houses and shit. I’ll encourage my kids to live and work in Vermont, because it’s still an amazing place to raise kids, and to be a kid. They might just have to create their own careers, like I’m trying to do with PowderJet.
Another story from our Freedom & Unity trip to Vermont this winter. We had the privilege of meeting with Jesse Loomis at his home and studio in West Rupert to talk about PowderJet Snowboards. Not only was the Vermont sun creating the most epic sunset as we walked up Jesse’s front steps (post whiskey and bread with Jed), his house literally blew us away. The building used to be the town’s general store and he and his wife have renovated it into a warm home for their family. A perfect example of the creativity and resourcefulness of Vermonters (wink). Jesse was kind enough to give us a chunk of his time that evening to show us the house, his studio next door, and describe the process behind making one of his wooden PowderJet snowboards. Keep reading for Part I of a Q&A with Jesse and learn more about the inspiration behind PowderJet!
Q. Before founding PowderJet, what “kept you busy during business hours”?
A. In the 90′s I had a few different jobs in the snowboard industry. I worked at Burton Snowboards for a few years in customer service. I did some time at Jager DiPaola Kemp design firm, and I spent a few years as a photo editor at Transworld Snowboarding Magazine. When It was time to start a family, we decided that Vermont was the place, and I had become totally disenchanted with the snowboard industry. I did a few different jobs, but eventually discovered that I had an aptitude for carpentry, and have stuck with that for the better part of 12 years. It’s really satisfying to look back at a day’s work and see walls standing where there were none before, or a set of cabinets or a table or a roof. Just seeing the physical manifestation of your hours, rather than strictly mental and digital, is a good feeling. It’s even better seeing someone ride a board that I built, though!
Q. What inspired you to start PowderJet?
A. I saw the sport that I grew up with migrating farther and farther away from its roots. It’s a very accessible sport, to people who have the inclination towards winter sports. It’s pretty easy to learn, much easier than its cousins surfing and skateboarding. So I’ve been teaching my kids how to ride, and a bit about the history of the sport, it’s different evolutionary phases, talented riders, all of this snowboard history. It began to dawn on me that most people coming into the sport don’t know or care at all about the stepping stones that got snowboarding to where it is today. The only snowboarding they see is in the X Games and maybe Red Bull’s contests up at Baldface lodge. Oh, and the Olympics, of course. But that’s not real snowboarding, that’s a highly specialized and regimented form of the sport. I wanted my kids, and by extension new riders of any age, to see snowboarding not as a competitive sport, but a fun activity to pass the cold winter days with some friends. So…I decided I would build a board that would represent what most riders consider the most fun aspects of the sport, which also happens to be the opposite of those giant international contests. The PowderJet is a wooden snowboard with no metal edges, built for backcountry freeriding with your knucklehead buddies. It’s design is based partly on early 1980′s snowboards, before the design evolution really kicked into high gear. The 80′s sensibilities are balanced out with modern performance aspects: a deep sidecut, a rockered shape for floating in powder, and thick fiberglass for pop and flexibility. It’s the simplest snowboard you’d ever want to ride.
Also, my friend Mike LaVecchia had started building wooden surfboards down in Maine, and that seemed to me the coolest thing in the world. It took a couple of years of being jealous of Mike’s brilliant idea for me to realize “wait, why don’t I just build wooden snowboards instead of surfboards? Then I can use them in Vermont, where I live”. So that’s what I did.
Q. Can you describe a typical day in the shop and the general process of making one of your boards?
A. Well, it varies because I wear a lot of hats around here. Typically there is a lot of computer activity in the morning, answering emails, posting photos to instagram, just like anyone else. When it’s time to head to the shop, I just grab a cup of coffee and walk across the yard to PowderJet World HQ, which is housed in a half-renovated victorian house, built in 1850. So yeah, I’ve installed the shop in what would have been the dining room. There’s a lot of prep work to be done for each board, so I’ll get started on that. This means glueing edges onto a base, burning the logo into some topsheets, or cutting out fiberglass sheets. After lunch I’ll work on boards that are in the process of being finished. There are a lot of steps. Boards need to be finished in the PolyWhey urethane, have their bases coated with epoxy resin, sanded and shaped, and waxed. The edgeless boards are cut out on a CNC router on the other side of Rupert mountain, so I may need to go drop stuff there, or pick something up. I usually don’t get to start building a new board until later that night, once the kids are in bed. That’s the best time to get some uninterrupted time in. It takes a little more than an hour to lay up the board assembly in the press. Once the wet epoxy is spread around and the pieces are all together, the whole thing slides into the press, where it’s cooked and pressurized. It stays in the press for about 8 hours, and comes out in a big weird rectangle.
Q. Do you recall the first time you got on a snowboard and when you realized it was going to be a serious passion of yours?
A. The $150 I spent on my first board was the first big purchase I ever made, so I was committed. The first season I was 14, it was 1987, and there was a lot of flailing around and a couple of mild concussions. Those early boards were really hard to learn on, and my parents weren’t about to ante up for an instructor for me, so I just stuck with it. The passion for snowboarding came much later, when my buddy Scott Lenhardt and I met these guys who called themselves “Glebelands” for some inexplicable reason. These were guys who worked at the Burton Factory in Manchester, or who rode for Burton, or who were going to work at Burton once they made the move up to Burlington. Shem Roose, Randy Gaetano, Gavin McMorrow, Scott Lenhardt, and the LaVecchia brothers Nick, Vince and Mike. These guys became like a family for me, and we snowboarded all the time up at Bromley. They were the funnest bunch of people I’d ever been around, and super supportive to each other, and just cool in a million ways. That’s when snowboarding became more than a sport for me, when I tethered myself to this group of creative talented guys and began learning how to be a better person. 20 plus years later, I still haven’t untied the tether yet!
During our Freedom & Unity weekend we were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Jed Mayer of Rupert Rising Breads at his home/bakery in West Rupert. Few have had the chance to see Jed work his magic in person and it was truly an amazing experience to hear him talk about the process and the work that goes into baking his delicious bread. Jed has been baking his naturally leavened, organic grain bread in a custom designed and built wood fire stove since 2003. Jed bakes three days a week, baking roughly 220 loaves on each of those days . . . all by himself. The kitchen he works in is small and cozy, with each element set up exactly how he needs it to be in order to work as efficiently as possible. For example, the work table was built to a height that coordinated with the stove. When you watch Jed work, it is one continuous movement. Jed specializes in old world fermentation and baking techniques. He has maintained his sourdough starter with such care and dedication that he hasn’t taken a full vacation in years. It requires constant observation. Although over the past 10 years, he has adapted his recipes slightly in order to make them even more unique. And even more delicious. He cracked open a freshly baked loaf for us while we were there and I swear it was the best bread I had ever tasted. I had had some of his bread in the past at local restaurants, but eating a loaf directly from the oven is another story. What I appreciated most about visiting with Jed was listening to him talk about how much he loved what he does for a living. He mentioned that one of his proudest accomplishments is that his children know their father loves his work, every day of it. He hopes that this proves to be an example to them that they can also pursue their passions and make them a reality. His passion for providing affordable delicious bread to the community three days a week is incredibly admirable for an individual. I hope that if you do visit Southern Vermont, you make it a priority to locate and procure a loaf of Jed’s Rupert Rising Bread.