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JHSM Issue 17 - Spark R&D
These things are more precious than gold right now.

15 Years In

Spark R&D rides the wave of perpetual growth without selling out.

If you’ve looked at Spark R&D’s website recently, you may have noticed the ‘sold-out’ emblem on virtually every splitboard binding they offer. You may still be able to snag a coveted pair of their splitboard bindings if you visit your local snowboard shop or search for another online retailer that might have a few left in stock. But we’re warning you: these bindings are a hot commodity.

It’s no secret that backcountry travel and splitboarding have boomed in recent years. The trend kicked into high gear last season when the pandemic limited lift access across the country. Snowboarders still needed their fix and sought other ways to get out and get after it. With the demand clearly there, why wouldn’t Spark produce more products? I called Becca Ritter, co-owner and CFO of Spark R&D, to find out.

JHSM Issue 17 - Spark R&D
There’s no doubt that you gotta splitboard to get goods like this.
Rider: Will Ritter Photo: Dan Ventura

She told me the company is committed to keeping up with the rapid expansion of splitboarding—but at a reasonable pace. “It’s all been scaled and built slowly with growth in mind,” explains Becca. Unlike many snowboard brands, Spark R&D doesn’t rely heavily on foreign factories. They make every piece of their bindings and accessories in-house, save for a few screws and buckles, in their Bozeman, Montana, warehouse, and shop. From the initial design phase through the nuts and bolts of creation, they scan, print, machine, turn, bend, punch, cut, tumble, anodize, injection mold, print, laser engrave, assemble, inspect, test, package, and even ship their final products to shops and customers all over the world.

JHSM Issue 17 - Spark R&D
Sometimes I think about quitting my job. Then I remember my job is making snowboard magazines.
Rider: Elena Hight Photo: Dan Ventura

“I think that moment when we realized that we have control over what we’re doing and it’s really ours…that has definitely been a source of pride,” said Becca.

Spark is committed to their continued growth and recently acquired a large new warehouse space that’s over 7500 square feet to bolster their operations. “We think splitboarding is going to continue to grow, so we know we need to produce more bindings,” remarked Becca. “We’re not sure exactly what that looks like, but we’re confident enough to make that investment [in the new building] so Spark can grow and continue moving forward.”

“I’m going to quit my job. I’m going to make splitboard bindings full-time.”

Spark takes pride in being a company made up of splitboarders and they work hard to live up to their own expectations. “It’s the pride of ownership and manufacturing, but it makes business sense, too,” Becca stated.

JHSM Issue 17 - Spark R&D
Photo: Dan Ventura

Spark has lived by that ethos since its inception in 2006. Will Ritter was an avid splitboarder with an engineering background and he set out to improve the backcountry snowboarding experience. He was confident there was a more efficient way to travel and ride a splitboard in the backcountry, so he started tinkering.

“I was in Idaho in McCall getting my degree in environmental education when Will called,” explains Becca. “[Will] was basically living out of his car at the time, and called and said ‘I’m going to quit my job. I’m going to make splitboard bindings full-time.’” She supported him right off the bat. “He’s so passionate and it makes you want to get behind him too,” said Becca.

JHSM Issue 17 - Spark R&D
Photo: Dan Milner

Becca has been with Will and Spark from the beginning through all the different phases of growth and excels in her roles as co-owner and CFO. She and Will have been married almost as long as Spark has been around. She said they’ll celebrate their 13th wedding anniversary this upcoming year, as Spark celebrates 15 years of operation.

“It’s a big commitment to be part of it,” admits Becca. “It’s not all perfect and beautiful; there have been hard conversations and decisions along the way.”

JHSM Issue 17 - Spark R&D
Photo: Dan Ventura

Since that humble start Spark has grown to be the largest splitboard binding company in the world. They manufacture their own line of products and also make split-specific parts for other brands including Burton and Nitro. Their in-house production has proved advantageous in many ways, especially with the pandemic-imposed shutdowns. “The pandemic was interesting. I mean, it’s still ongoing—it’s a continuous point of stress, but I think that having a tight team and knowing we can build our own stuff has been really beneficial. We can ramp up or ramp down [production] on our terms,” explained Becca.

Spark was forced to close their warehouse for a month in 2020, so they turned their efforts to helping their community wherever they could. Will worked with several Montana-based doctors to figure out their personal protective equipment (PPE) needs and began churning out reusable masks. With supplies of standard PPE at an all-time low, they figured out a way to create a plastic mask that would allow normal paper masks to be reusable. Now known as Montana Masks, the Spark-made masks helped those on the healthcare frontlines when they needed it most. Spark sold those masks at cost and didn’t take a penny for their work.

JHSM Issue 17 - Spark R&D
This is how Spark’s employees commute to work. Just kidding, they probably drive.
Photo: Dan Ventura

Moving into the winter of 2021-22, they have set their sights on fully moving into their larger warehouse and they are eager to build more bindings. When asked about the continued explosion of splitboarding, Becca said she is stoked on the number of people getting out there. “Whatever’s good for splitboarding is good for us.”

Editor’s Note: Spark is actively looking to hire in Bozeman—hit them up!

 

Heather Hendricks moonlights part-time as a COVID tester & collects spit in an alleyway… @heatherhendrickshh

 

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