For more than a decade, Mikey Franco has been providing the Jackson Hole community with some of the finest snowboard and ski shapes ever put to snow.
After igniting a creative spark during a trip to Japan, Franco started making snowboards in 2010 under the tutelage of Mike Parris and Mot Gatehouse at Igneous Ski Factory here in Jackson. In 2013 he combined his experiences at Igneous with his guiding and instructing background to form his own company, Franco Snowshapes, which makes high-end custom skis and snowboards with state-of-the-art technology and an on-snow custom fitting experience.
In advance of Franco Snowshapes’ ninth anniversary this winter, Franco joined us recently in the KHOL studios.
The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. This conversation was recorded on Tuesday, November 29.
JACK CATLIN/KHOL: How did you go about developing your shaping style and what exactly goes into making a custom snow shape for someone?
MIKEY FRANCO: A big part of what influenced me was all the years that I studied how people behave, because that’s my job as an instructor, as a coach, as a trainer. My job was to not just teach them how to ride it, but watch how they interacted with the equipment. And that was the whole Burton “Learn to Ride” program. “Let’s find boards that make this easier for people to learn because we all know learning to snowboard in the first three days is brutal.” And we wanted to try and reduce that impact because we were seeing so many people try and walk away because they were getting hurt.
So really that’s kind of what inspired me the most is how the human body mechanically manipulates a snowboard and how you can alter the snowboard to work in conjunction with the skeleton. So it doesn’t necessarily makes it easier, it just makes it more fluid, makes it more natural, makes it more a part of your feet, essentially not this separate thing that you stand on and help it get you down the hill. But something is going to aid in your process in getting down the hill. So at the end of the day, you’re less tired, you’re more stoked. You had the best day of your life. And then, you know, for me, as far as incorporating that into our customers, for me it’s about getting to know these people.
I am insanely passionate and emotional and driven by how people behave and relationships, right? And so that’s the thing I wanted to do is get inside people’s heads and find out what is going to make this snowboard attached to their feet. And they’re going to go, “Oh, my God,” before they even made a turn to say, “this is it.” To have that connection. Because that’s what snowboarding means to me. It doesn’t mean that to everyone, and that’s fine. But to me, it’s my entire existence, my identity, my life. And that’s, I think, who our customers end up being is that same person. They’re drawn towards that. That snowboarding is such an important part of their life. That the snowboard is more than a tool, right? It’s more than just the saw. It’s a piece of art. At the same time, it’s more than just, “Oh, I’m going to go out and ride for a couple of hours a year.” It’s no, ” need to go snowboarding.”
KHOL: And it’s a in a lot of ways an extension of yourself.
FRANCO: Yeah, I mean, no question for me. And I think that’s the customers who get drawn towards us as well.
KHOL: How does that work as far as do you have a consultation where they come and meet with you and you ask them a bunch of questions?
FRANCO: Through the years of running the “Steep And Deep” snowboard camp at Jackson Hole, we all developed a questionnaire to try and ascertain who people were before they got to Jackson because we didn’t have time. We wanted to get them in the right group with the right skill set so that we could get to work on day one and not waste an entire day trying to figure out, “Oh, you should be in group two or you should be in group five.” So we really dug deep and created a questionnaire. So I basically I took that same questionnaire and just made it fit. Not riding steep terrain, but riding a snowboard. Right? And really trying to get into people’s heads like what scares the hell out of them? I want to know that. I want to know what makes them super happy. What’s the worst snowboard they’ve ever ridden? What’s their favorite snowboard? Conditions, terrain? What’s their dream trip? I really want to get to know these people so that we can put all of that information back into the snowboard. So when they get on the board, their first two turns, they say, ‘This is what I thought it was going to ride like,’ as opposed to when you buy a snowboard in the in the shop, you wonder what it’s going to be. You have no idea because you’ve had no relationship with the designer, the engineer.
KHOL: You basically hope for the best.
FRANCO: Yeah, and that’s fine, because their job is to design a board for the greatest common denominator. I don’t care if anyone else in the world likes your snowboard, but you. I could care less if someone gets on it and says, “Oh my God, that’s awful.” That doesn’t matter to me as long as the person I made it for says “My life has just been changed.” That’s what we do.
KHOL: So it’s the nine-year anniversary of Franco Snowshapes this year. And your motto is “Keeping the soul of Jackson Hole snowboarding alive.” In your opinion, what is the soul of Jackson Hole? And can you highlight some of your favorite Franco Snowshapes moments over the years?
FRANCO: I mean, I think it’s clear that the soul is just the people, right? I mean, my snowboards, while I like to put my soul into the snowboards, it’s a snowboard, right? At the end of the day, what’s important is the person standing on it. My background is pretty humble growing up and I’m still part of that. That’s still part of me. But I do sell snowboards that are incredibly expensive because they cost so much to make. So to me, being a part of that community has been really important that I don’t lose sight of how I grew up and how I got into this.
That’s why at “The Shack,” our tunes or when we do edge and waxes, we give locals huge discounts and we take care of the local people. Because I want to make sure that you don’t come into our store and you have to spend $250 to get an edge and a wax. I want it to be accessible to everyone because it’s hard, because this snowboard behind me is going to be the most expensive snowboard I’ve ever made. And I could never afford it, let alone 90% of my friends. But that doesn’t mean I can’t take care of my friends and family in other ways. And that’s by having “The Shack,” having a place for snowboarders to come and get a fair price for an edge and a wax and a fair price for hoodies and T-shirts and things like that. And keep that more realistic to the way I grew up and part of my friends in the snowboarding community, because I don’t want to alienate myself, let alone the rest of snowboarding in Jackson Hole just so I can sell a one of a kind aluminum sidewall snowboard.
I want to make sure that we spread the love because I have clients on both ends, right? that can afford multiple snowboards of mine and they’re incredible friends of mine. And I have friends who can barely afford $350 snowboard and they’re dear friends of mine. And it’s all part of the community. We’re all in it. That’s why I say the ski area, the bar and a church are the only places where you see dirt bags and billionaires sitting beside each other doing the same thing. You know, that’s snowboarding. That’s skiing, too. It’s like we all share this passion for this place, regardless of our background.
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Mikey Franco.