Mikey Franco of Franco Snowshapes gives us a glimpse into his past and how he’s shaping the future
A season-ending injury ended up inspiring Mikey Franco to start Franco Snowshapes. The bespoke snowboard brand manufactures hand-crafted boards that elevate the shred machine to a work of art. How did Mikey become one of the most revered snowboard craftsmen in the industry? We scratch the surface of this local legend and get a glimpse into what’s to come.
Name: Mikey Franco Age: 52 Sign: Capricorn Years snowboarding: 38
Let’s start at the beginning. Where are you from? Altoona, Pennsylvania.
When and how did you first get into snowboarding?
I was a skater from about age 10. Then when I first saw a Burton Performer, aka Burton Woody, I immediately fell in love. I had to try it. Mike Parris [who would go on to found Igneous Custom Snowboards in Jackson Hole] was the first one of our group of junior high friends to get one.
When did you move to Jackson Hole and why Jackson?
I moved to Jackson in 1990. I visited with my best friend Mot Gatehouse [also from Igneous] for spring break in 1989. We had been teaching snowboarding at one of the few resorts in PA that allowed it. The reason we originally chose Jackson was because of a story written in International Snowboarder Magazine called something like “Surfing the Teton Reef.” It was all about Jackson Hole and Targhee. There was never anywhere else to consider after reading that story! We got offered jobs teaching snowboarding by Robert Garrett, the supervisor of the snowboard school and the first known person to snowboard in the valley [in 1980]. If we came back the next winter, we would be set. It turned into a 32-year-long spring break.
Tell us about those early years living and working in Jackson Hole. What was it like? How was snowboarding perceived?
You know, it was great, all things considered. Jackson was one of the few places that never really banned snowboarding. From what I recall, the McCollisters needed to sell lift tickets more than anything, so they accepted the sport so long as you had steel edges and bindings. In a way, that helped snowboarders not feel like we had to walk on eggshells. Don’t get me wrong: There were plenty of haters back then, but we had the likes of Theo Meiners, Doug Coombs, and many other leaders in the ski community that stood with us, mentored us, and helped us forge our own path.
What kind of snowboards were you riding then? What types of shapes? I showed up here sponsored by K2 from my time back east. I had a 154 Gyrator HP and a 177 XRS. I still have both! The HP has a short, flat tail, big nose/shovel, and NO sidecut. The 177 was a downhill board with even less sidecut.
“Mikey Franco is so engaged in the culture, the business, and the pure passion of snowboarding. It’s really inspiring to me.” –Rob Kingwill, Founder of Avalon7
Talk about the beginning of Franco Snowshapes: When was the fateful snowboard trip to Japan? Tell us about your time with Taro at the shop.
It was January 3rd, 2010. The trip was to train instructors in both Japan and China for Burton’s Learn To Ride program. I had been training the Jackson Hole Snowboard School instructors and guiding clients for about 30 straight days on really hard snow, right up until I got on the plane. I had an old spinal disc injury from the early 90s that had flared up after so many days in a row riding hard-pack.
I thought the 20-plus hour travel day to Japan would be plenty of rest before I had two weeks of riding Japanese powder and training instructors. I was wrong. I could barely walk off the plane. My season was done, and I knew it. Now I had to break it to Burton and everyone that was counting on me that I couldn’t walk, let alone ride. The Burton crew asked if I could stay for the first week and attend the off-snow meetings. I did, and it was the most painful week of my life.
Seeing how much agony I was in, the president of Burton Japan at the time tried to cheer me up by taking me to meet Taro Tamai of Gentemstick. This was one of the most important moments in my snowboarding career. All I knew about snowboarding was American style and American aesthetics. The Rocketfish was the first board I saw, hand-painted and lacquered, sitting in a shop full of wild powder shapes, vintage snowboards, and surfboards. I’d never seen anything like it. Taro’s soft-spoken demeanor and obvious passion for snowboarding ignited a fire in me that was smoldering in the excruciating pain of a herniated disc. It changed the course of my life.
When did Franco Snowshapes start? At what point were you like, yeah, this is it?
I left Japan early to come home and organize back surgery. While I was recovering, Mot Gatehouse and Michael Parris invited me to come hang out at the Igneous factory and make a board. While I loved what Igneous was making, what I had seen in Japan could not be forgotten. I built my first board with the help of Mot and Mike. I actually never got a single run on it! It soon found its way to Summit County, Colorado, to be ridden by another high school friend of ours, Billy Anthony. The following summer, I made another one. And this one was all mine—it’s hanging on my wall at the new factory.
I spent three more years learning the art and craft, following in Igneous’s footsteps, adding my own tweaks here and there. Finally, in 2014, I decided it was time to head off on my own. I wanted to go beyond wood sidewalls and wood topsheets. Again, I never forgot what I had seen at Taro’s shop in Niseko.
Can you tell us a few of your highlights of owning the business throughout the years?
There are a couple of big ones. First, I didn’t realize how much I loved creating things. Being an artist, really. I’m still uncomfortable saying that, but I guess that’s what propelled me in the first place. After all, I never made a single turn in Japan on that trip. I never got to ride a Gentem; I didn’t need to. I could see from the boards’ lines, the transitions from nose to sidecut, the tapers, and last but not least, the beautiful finishes that Taro’s boards were known for. I wanted people to have that same visceral reaction from simply looking at what I had made. Knowing, without even stepping on it, what it would do for their riding.
The second highlight, again inspired by Gentem, was to have a showroom that exudes snowboarding and all the love and passion I have for this sport and this community. I looked for two years and got really lucky. No one was paying attention to the empty cabins that were the former home of the Jackson Hole Nordic Center. I made some calls, asked around, and found a home for Franco at the base of my favorite place on earth.
How long has the Tune Shop been open in Teton Village?
I started the showroom and AM/FM Tune Shop in 2014.
How does the Tune Shop space help fuel snowboarding and keep aspects of the core past alive?
I think it helps fuel snowboarding by putting the boards front and center. Go into any other shop in Teton Village and tell me how long it takes to find the snowboards. Most retail shops have become more about trinkets, knickknacks, and souvenirs. It’s understandable when rent and retail space is at a premium. For us, our landlords have kept our rent very affordable, giving me a huge opportunity to focus on the number one thing we love about our community: snowboarding.
For readers that may not know, where is your new factory? Tell us how that came to be and what people can expect. The new factory is located on Lupine Lane in Victor, Idaho, behind Valley Lumber. It was born out of the pandemic. I was renting space from Kelvin Wu & Maiden Skis south of town, but we had agreed that when I reached a certain number of boards, I’d have to move on. I hit that moment just as COVID struck. I knew it was now or never, and I began the search for a new home. Unfortunately, the skyrocketing prices in Jackson proved to be too much. So I reluctantly began to look elsewhere. An amazing friend, client, and mentor offered to help us get what we needed in place to create our own factory. This new building now houses my shop, Highpoint Cider, and Sego skis! We’ve officially dubbed it the “Makers’ District” as nearby we also have New West Knifeworks and Give’r gloves. I was wrong to be apprehensive about the move to Victor.
Having my own space means not being afraid of breaking someone else’s CNC router, or afraid of trying something new. I’m not afraid of doing it wrong. Now the sky is truly the limit.
Approximately how many snowboards do you think you’ve ridden in your lifetime? I’ve never thought about that! I’d say between 750 and 1000.
How many personal decks do you have these days?
I like to think I have about ten until the day I come into the shop and every one is being demoed or ridden by a friend and suddenly, I have none!
Favorite shape and why? My favorite shape right now is the Aluminate, a board I dreamt up consisting of a solid aluminum sidewall, titanal and copper topsheet, and a carvy, shortbread shape. I wanted to push the limit in terms of materials as well as aesthetics. Copper and aluminum have tremendous damping qualities and just look insane! This board literally has no speed limit. I do, but the board does not.
What are your plans for this season? Get out on my splitboard more, build another all-metal shape but with an anodized titanium topsheet and aluminum sidewall, and work on expanding our business.
Throughout the years, what is it about snowboarding that keeps you stoked and shredding? Sometimes I’m not sure. I mean that in a good way. I got the chance to follow my dreams as a fourteen-year-old, and every day someone or something reminds me of that original source of inspiration. Like right now, I’m reminded of all the amazing people, places, and boards that I have come across over the years. It’s really back to my family. My parents may not have understood why I always wanted to skate or snowboard, but they never held me back from following my dreams.
What else should we know about Mikey Franco? I have the greatest wife on earth. I still have my first car: a 1950 Dodge Meadowbrook given to me by my dad. I still have my first cool bike, handed down to me by my brother: a 1972 Schwinn Orange Krate.
Parting words about Franco Snowshapes? That I am eternally grateful for the help and support of an amazing family, our incredible community, and my generous mentors. Thank you Jackson Hole!
Heather Hendricks had her garage burn down during the making of this mag.
Safe to say, it was lit. @HeatherHendrickshh