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Latitude Magazine - - Contents - WORDS & IM­AGES An­nie Studholme

Be­hind the scenes with split­board de­signer Richard Har­court

From his garage-cum-work­shop in the depths of the sea­side suburb of Sum­ner, Richard Har­court has turned a hobby into a niche busi­ness, hand­mak­ing be­spoke split­boards for snow­board­ers long­ing to ex­plore some of

the vast backcountr­y op­tions New Zealand has to of­fer.

Born out of a love of snow­board­ing and the New Zealand moun­tains, melded with a pas­sion for con­struc­tion, Richard Har­court went out on a limb about 10 years ago and started build­ing his own split­boards.

Un­less you’re in the know, split­boards aren’t some­thing you’ve prob­a­bly heard of. Essen­tially it is a nor­mal snow­board that splits into two halves, en­abling rid­ers to walk up­hill us­ing them as skis, be­fore trans­form­ing it back to board mode by a sim­ple change of bind­ings for the as­cent.

The in­ven­tion of split­boards rev­o­lu­tionised snow­board­ing, blow­ing the doors wide open to the world of backcountr­y tour­ing for snow­board­ers. Back in the day, snow­board­ers search­ing for un­tracked snow away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of com­mer­cial fields had to use snow­shoes to travel up­hill. But that all changed in the early 1990s when ma­jor man­u­fac­turer Voile re­leased the first DIY split­board kit.

There have been a host of ad­vances in split­board tech­nol­ogy in the past decade. They are no longer heavy, cum­ber­some, cam­ber ver­sions of your all-moun­tain snow­board cut in half long­ways by hand, and held to­gether pre­car­i­ously with hooks and clamps. Nowa­days, ev­ery ma­jor snow­board man­u­fac­turer has re­leased its own split­board that rides on par with reg­u­lar snow­boards. And with the rise in pop­u­lar­ity, it’s given birth to a new in­dus­try of be­spoke man­u­fac­tur­ers spe­cial­is­ing in split­boards.

To­day, Richard has es­tab­lished him­self as the main split­board builder na­tion­wide. He has carved a rep­u­ta­tion for mak­ing solid, re­li­able, high-per­for­mance split­boards that are well suited to New Zealand’s rugged ter­rain.

Born in Welling­ton, Richard did his in­ter­me­di­ate and sec­ondary school­ing in Christchur­ch. On leav­ing school, he em­barked on a ca­reer in computing work­ing for many of the

world’s big­gest tech com­pa­nies, which took him away from the Gar­den City for 21 years. While it was a ca­reer he en­joyed, hav­ing been in­volved right through the boom years, he couldn’t see him­self work­ing in the in­dus­try un­til he was 65.

He started con­sid­er­ing al­ter­na­tive op­tions. An avid snow­boarder, Richard ini­tially looked at pur­chas­ing a New Zealand-based snow­board busi­ness. ‘I’d been snow­board­ing since the early 1980s. It just suited me bet­ter. I kept think­ing, I can make these my­self, I don’t need to buy a busi­ness,’ he ex­plains.

At the time, split­board­ing was a rel­a­tively small sport in New Zealand. ‘A split­board is a lot like a surfer hav­ing a surf­board for cer­tain con­di­tions; it’s just part of a snow­boarder’s quiver that al­lows snow­board­ers to go snow­board tour­ing like skiers have been do­ing for years. You can travel faster, and when you reach your desti­na­tion, you sim­ply just ride it like a snow­board. I had al­ways liked mak­ing things, and I wasn’t afraid to give split­board con­struc­tion a go.’

In those early years, he also tried his hand at mak­ing skis.

Iron­i­cally, his con­struc­tion meth­ods were put to the test when he was called on to con­struct a pair of skis for Queen­stown­based busi­ness­man and ad­ven­turer Erik Brad­shaw, dur­ing his 800 km ski tra­verse of the South­ern Alps back in 2011. An old school friend, it was Erik who was re­spon­si­ble for introducin­g Richard to New Zealand’s won­drous backcountr­y as a young­ster.

It was very low key at the start, but over time has grown into a thriv­ing cot­tage busi­ness, ser­vic­ing clients across New Zealand, Aus­tralia and be­yond. Ini­tially, though, there was a lot to con­sider. Al­most overnight Richard be­came an im­porter and dis­trib­u­tor. Not only did he have to source the split­board­ing bind­ings from the United States and boots from Italy, but he had to build his own unique recipe of con­struc­tion and de­sign.

On­line fo­rums (and later Face­book pages) with peo­ple will­ing to share their knowl­edge proved a god­send. Richard doubts he would have ever got his busi­ness off the ground if he hadn’t had that wealth of knowl­edge at his fin­ger­tips. ‘It’s

‘I had al­ways liked mak­ing things, and I wasn’t afraid to give split­board con­struc­tion a go.’

been a big one, for sure. It’s un­locked so many op­por­tu­ni­ties. It’s al­lowed me to de­velop re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple all over the world. Ev­ery­one takes what they want from these fo­rums and gives back what they can. I get a lot of sat­is­fac­tion from help­ing other peo­ple.’

While the fundamenta­ls of ski and snow­board de­sign and con­struc­tion are the same, he says ev­ery man­u­fac­turer will dif­fer slightly de­pend­ing on the re­sources, tools and work­shop they have at their dis­posal. Where pos­si­ble, Richard tries to source ma­te­ri­als lo­cally, but crit­i­cal ma­te­ri­als such as the steel edges are im­ported from Ger­many, and the ski and snow­board base ma­te­rial comes from the USA. Much of the equip­ment is also highly spe­cialised.

Hand­craft­ing each and ev­ery in­di­vid­ual board is labour­in­ten­sive, re­quir­ing a mix of skills sim­i­lar to those of a boat builder, along with speed and pa­tience. It in­volves a blend of tra­di­tional hand­i­work with pro­gres­sive tech­nolo­gies in­clud­ing a CNC router for en­hanced pre­ci­sion at var­i­ous build stages.

Richard likens the board-mak­ing process – re­ferred to as the ‘layup’ in the in­dus­try – to mak­ing a ‘re­ally big sand­wich’ be­gin­ning with noth­ing more than raw ma­te­ri­als to match the style of even the most crit­i­cal rider.

Pre­fer­ring to stick to a tra­di­tional con­struc­tion method, he starts with a tip-to-toe wooden core made from sus­tain­ablypro­duced poplar from North Canterbury, and paulow­nia from the Waikato, be­fore strength­en­ing it by lam­i­nat­ing it in fi­bre­glass. Be­tween each layer is a hand-spread layer of epoxy resin. ‘It’s a time-crit­i­cal process,’ ex­plains Richard. Once it’s lay­ered up, the board is put in the ski press, where ex­treme heat and pres­sure act as an oven, cur­ing the epoxy and giv­ing the board its cam­ber.

All of’s pro­duc­tion work is done in-house. ‘I don’t like to out­source any­thing. I am try­ing to de­lib­er­ately be

All of’s pro­duc­tion work is done in-house. ‘I don’t like to out­source any­thing. I am try­ing to de­lib­er­ately be as au­then­tic as I can.

as au­then­tic as I can. All those years spent wood­work­ing with my fa­ther has cer­tainly come into play. I like to do it my­self, and it’s im­por­tant for me, that if I say I built it, then I did ac­tu­ally build it,’ he says.

Richard has in­vested heav­ily into the busi­ness over the past five years. Look­ing ahead, he’s hop­ing to in­tro­duce bet­ter ef­fi­cien­cies by do­ing batches. ‘It’s all about economies of scale and gen­er­ally do­ing things smarter.’

The busi­ness has come a long way from a hobby, but ad­mit­tedly it’s still got a way to go, says Richard. ‘It’s re­ally mor­phed. It’s not what I thought it was go­ing to be at the start, but it is be­com­ing what it needs to be to put food on the ta­ble and a busi­ness that will stim­u­late me un­til I am ready to give up work­ing. I’m re­ally en­joy­ing it.’

He is now work­ing with guid­ing com­pa­nies to out­fit cus­tomers with split­board gear for backcountr­y tour­ing, as well as work­ing on many other one-off projects. On top of the split­boards, he also stocks prod­ucts such as Fitwell Backcountr­y snow­board moun­taineer­ing boots, Spark R&D split­board bind­ings, Voile split­board equip­ment, White­dot skis, Kinco gloves, and many more.

Richard is also heav­ily in­volved with the SplitFest Backcountr­y Fes­ti­val which will take place at Tem­ple Basin ski field from 6–9 Septem­ber.


When it comes to split­boards, Sum­ner crafts­man Richard Har­court of is some­what of a leg­end, cre­at­ing his own be­spoke split­boards well suited to New Zealand con­di­tions. Tom Will­mott from As­pir­ing Guides lead­ing a guided tour on his split­board. Photo, As­pir­ing Guides, Wanaka.

OP­PO­SITE /’s split­boards of­fer the lat­est in tech­nol­ogy melded with tra­di­tional hand­i­work to create some­thing unique. RIGHT / Over the years Richard has built his own unique recipe of con­struc­tion and de­sign; it’s a labour-in­ten­sive process.

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