Having built over 20,000 boards in his career at Burton, Thunder is a good person to talk to about snowboard building. First working at the BMC factory and now at the Craig Kelly prototype shop, he’s built everything from top-performing boards for Olympians like Shaun White and Kelly Clark, to wacky idea boards that never end up seeing the light of day. We recently caught up with Thunder to learn how he got to where he is now, and what his dream board would be.
Who are you and what brings you to Breckenridge?
My name’s Jon “Thunder” Laramee, my title is Protoshop Technician, which involves anything with prototyping snowboards. We’re out here for Development Camp. We’re testing all the new ideas, getting the riders on them, and getting their feedback. We’re trying to figure out what’s good and what’s not.
You work at Craig’s right? You build boards? How do you land a job like that?
Yeah. I started in 2005, working in manufacturing at BMC. My dad worked there from 1994-2001, so that’s how I got a job there. I started out screen-printing, and then I moved over to layup—actually building the boards. I did that for about four years, and then I got into R&D.
So you pretty much exclusively build prototypes? Any idea of how many boards you’ve built?
Yeah, mostly protos. I think I’ve made around 20,000.
You’ve handmade 20,000 boards? That’s pretty impressive. What’s a typical day like for you?
When I worked in production it was a lot different, because we’d make a lot of the same thing. But with prototypes, we make anywhere from 4-10 boards a day, depending how many different things we’re changing over, or how wacky of an idea we’re trying,
What have been some of the more challenging problems you’ve faced recently?
The Full Channel on the Stone Hut board was interesting. And all the new bend shapes we’ve done in the last few years as well. When Flying-V came out, that was definitely pretty challenging to figure out. We went through a lot of different Nug variations, which is now why we have so many things with Raduction now.
How many variations do you typically see prototypes go through?
It depends. Sometimes we’re spot-on and get it right away and other times we might go through three or four variations in a year. Sometimes the project might even get pushed back because we don’t quite have it where we want it.
How does the process of making a prototype work? Do you get an idea from an engineer, build it that day, and then it goes on snow that afternoon?
That’s definitely possible. If it’s something where we’re not trying to dial in a flex with a different material or something—maybe it’s just a shape idea. Shape ideas we can turn around pretty quickly and already have an idea how we want that board to flex. When we deal with new materials, that’s when it can be hard to try and guess how that’s going to change the flex of the board.
The Stone Hut is Jake’s new signature model that just came out, were you the one who built all of them?
I’d say I probably built 80% of those boards. We did about 160 of them—a lot of them went to the archives and to Jake—and 100 hit the market. JG built about 15 or 16 of them, and then I’d say I built most of the rest of them.
What was it like working on Jake with that?
It was cool. He was so passionate about it, he was over at Craig’s a lot checking it out and seeing how it was coming along. That was the most we’ve seen Jake hands-on, checking things out over there in a while.
You also give tours of Craig’s quite a bit? How’s that going?
It’s good. You know, it’s easy when you know what to talk about. I mean, TK’s great at giving a tour, and I just do the same thing I do every day. If anyone has any questions, it’s easy to talk about because that’s what I do.
So, as the guy who builds all the prototypes, can you tell us what it is that you like? Seeing as you build the boards you ride and you can make anything you want.
I like the Nug a lot. In particular, I really like the Root. It’s so fun. I like the Flat Top construction. It’s so versatile: you can ride it on a groomer and it’s super solid feeling, then in powder it’s even more fun because it’s got a little bit of taper.
If you could build your dream board, what would you make? Or have you already built it?
You know, I really like that Root. I’ve put a lot of days on that board. I guess to try something new; that I haven’t tried…a Juicewagon would be a lot of fun. I’d probably make it a little bit lighter and maybe a little bit smaller—instead of a 157 I’d probably go down to like a 153 or 154-ish. For the East Coast, that shorter length works well. I grew up riding 157s, 158s and 159s even, and now to realize that a shorter board is much more fun on the East Coast changes my whole game.
Thunder working with Jake Burton on the Stone Hut boards.