You can smell it in the air. Winter is coming. And for those who love to hurl themselves down frozen mountains, it can’t come soon enough.
Take Whitehorse entrepreneur and avid shredder Jean-Marie Thil for example. This coming season is particularly exciting for him — his new snowboard company is set to launch across the globe.
Yunika Boards is striving to become a well-known manufacturer of quality, eco-friendly snowboards, says Thil, the company’s founder. Having worked with some of the most well known snowboard companies in the world as a brand ambassador, Thil has seen an opening in the market for boards that are made well, and made with as little environmental impact as possible.
“Snowboarding is my passion,” he says. “Can we create snowboards that are a bit more green and respectful towards nature?”
In Thil’s mind, there’s no doubt about the answer.
One of the biggest environmental advantages Yunika (a play on “Yukon” and “unique”) boards have over other brands is their use of natural fibres instead of fibreglass, Thil says.
Traditional snowboards have a wood or foam core sandwiched between two layers of textiles to get the desired stiffness. In most cases the textile layers are made from fiberglass, but some high-end boards now use carbon fibre or even basalt or flax fibre. In contrast, Yunika boards are constructed with materials made from manufacturing byproducts, explains Thil.
“We actually get what they have left,” he says.
Thil won’t disclose exactly what the fibre is made of, but he says it is completely natural and biodegradable.
More importantly, Thil says, is that the fibre can be produced with very few emissions compared to conventional materials. Fibreglass and even the greener-leaning organic fibres like hemp and basalt need to be heavily processed in order to use. Making the bio-fibre that Yunika boards use produces only three kilograms of carbon emissions, compared to the 500 to 700 kilograms others create, according to Thil’s research.
“It’s a new generation of bio-fibre,” he says. “Yunika is using materials that are out of the ordinary.”
Before jumping into the business side of the snowboard industry, Thil spent countless days ripping up mountains in the European Alps.
As a sponsored rider for two major brands — Salomon and Arbor — snowboarding was Thil’s greatest passion. However, a nagging ankle injury forced him to tone down his riding. The Frenchman directed his love for the sport into becoming a snowboard instructor. He taught around the globe from Switzerland to Australia, and eventually came to Canada.
In 2005, Thil and a friend moved up north after a dismal season in Whistler, and following a common refrain, stuck around.
“We all fell in love with the Yukon and we never left.”
The grandeur of the mountains and forest got into Thil’s blood, and is partly what inspired him to go green with his snowboards.
“I couldn’t do something chemical (in) the Yukon. Come on. I couldn’t,” he says.
“Once you get (here) you know, yeah I want to do something but it has to be respectful to Mother Nature.”
Another one of the ways Yunika is pivoting away from the use of petroleum-based products is by installing a wood veneer topsheet. Most snowboards have thin layer of plastic on top of the fiberglass layer with the company’s graphics on it. Yunika’s topsheets eschew the plastic for a thin wood layer. Plus, Thil says, the veneer shows through the graphics, and gives each board a unique pattern.
Sustainably-harvested wood is also used for the board’s core, rather than less expensive options.
“Instead of having the full length of the board that has a wood core, you have two little wood stringers inside the board, and the rest is completely foam,” says Thil.
Foam, though inexpensive, loses its shape over time, and is full of chemicals, Thil says. While some innovative styles for snowboard cores exist (like Burton’s aluminum honeycomb core) most pro riders agree that wood is the way to go.
Starting this season you could see a Yunika board fly past as you carve Dan’s Descent at Mount Sima. Thil is in the process of inking a deal with Icycle Sport to be the sole provider of Yunika snowboards in the territory. And though they may be more expensive than your entry-level board, they’re completely on par with boards from other high-end brands.
Currently touring Europe, Thil is again working as a brand ambassador, but this time he is showing off his own boards to prospective retailers. He says the stores have been receptive when they get their hands on them.
“A lot of shops when they get the boards out of the bag it’s like a kid in a candy store.”
The first Yukon snowboarder to land a spot on the national team, Max Melvin-McNutt, was able to try a demo board out last year and was also impressed.
“It had a lot of pop. It was strong,” he says. “I’m looking forward to riding one. I know (Thil) puts a lot of care and thought into them.”
Contact Joel Krahn at