Leo Tsuo didn’t anticipate working behind the counter at a small snowboard shop when he was offered a job for Weston in Minturn, Colorado. He had recently returned to his home state after an eight-year stint in New Jersey working on the financial side of a solar start-up and was looking for a more fulfilling career path to follow.
But after a tip-off from a friend about a snowboard shop looking for some help along with the call of family and Colorado’s expansive terrain, it appeared Tsuo was headed in the direction of professional ski bum — one of the best jobs in the industry.
“When I first walked into the shop there was a 1979 Tucker Sno-Cat parked out front,” recalled Tsuo. “Right on the front door there was a huge sign that said, ‘Go forth and slay pow.’ It was a really cool spot. At first, I thought I was getting hired for some sort of marketing job or to be an advisor or consultant — to use some of my entrepreneurship and start-up experience, but I ended up really just being a shop employee.”
But that wasn’t the case for long. In 2016, Barry Clark, the founder of Weston and an avid surfer and snowboarder, decided to move back to his home state of California, leaving the company in Tsuo’s hands.
It was during his time on the East Coast that Tsuo gained a true appreciation for community in its purest form. He became involved in the breakdancing community, noting how 20-year veterans welcomed first-timers with open arms. On weekends, he traveled to nearby ski resorts with groups of likeminded people, renting a bus, getting group deals and hotel discounts. He was gaining an appreciation for the community-focused lifestyle that is a major component of the brand he eventually would run. Of course, this sense of community and inclusivity isn’t necessarily unique to the East Coast. But the proximity of major cities to one another, and consequently, the number of different communities interacting with each other, is.
While Weston has become a highly respected snowboard, splitboard and ski manufacturer, having received recognition in Backcountry Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Awards, Outside’s Gear of the Year, and Transworld’s Good Wood, the company has put a large amount of effort into organizing meet-ups, backcountry safety seminars, and supporting local ski and snowboard communities.
In New England, Weston supports organizations such as the Granite Backcountry Alliance and the Catamount Trail Association through donations and online seminars, by hosting talks on touring in New England, and by collaborating with local shops, guide services and ski areas to sponsor and support splitfests and backcountry safety courses.
“When I started the Bolton Valley Splitfest in 2015, it was hard to get anyone on board,” said Alex Showerman, who was a Vermont-based rider until moving to Colorado this fall. “Weston was one of the earliest supporters. From day one, they’ve not only supported the splitboard scene, but they’ve supported the Northeast splitboard scene.”
Showerman, who first met Tsuo at the Shaper Summit event in Jackson Hole, had her first experience with the brand during a trip to Iceland in 2016. After breaking her snowboard on the first day of a monthlong ski trip and finding minimal support from local guide services and other snowboard companies, she reached out to Weston and had a board in her hands just a few days later.
“Once I got this beautiful Backwoods splitboard, the weather window opened up and I was able to get some big lines on it.”
Shortly thereafter, Showerman became involved in Weston’s ambassador program, and has since worked her way into a position as a brand strategist and public relations consultant. Now, she is living in Colorado and has physically integrated herself into the Weston community, experiencing the team’s style of mentorship and inclusivity firsthand.
For those behind the brand, running a ski and snowboard company always has been bigger than creating a product and recruiting professional skiers and riders to produce awe-inspiring content to sell it. It’s about sharing the passion for exploration on skis and snowboards with anyone interested.
“I feel like I’m the antithesis of what you’d think of as a backcountry rider,” said Tsuo. “I would meet someone on the chairlift and say, ‘Hey, follow me,’ and that continued even when I got into backcountry riding.”
Like many who are new to riding and skiing, specifically in the backcountry, Tsuo’s initial experiences were off-putting and helped him determine the type of backcountry snowsports enthusiast he didn’t want to be.
“I would ask someone where a good place to go backcountry riding is, and they would tell me, back to my car. With Weston, we’re just trying to help create a better vibe.”
As the backcountry touring scene continues to gain traction in the Northeast and nationwide, Weston is hoping to keep building these communities. Weston has brought on a number of East Coast skiers, riders and brand ambassadors to help promote not just the boards and skis, but the events, safety seminars and meet-ups. And in the age of COVID-19, Weston even launched an online webinar series called the “Slay at Home Speaker Series” airing at 8 p.m. every Friday and focusing on a range of topics within backcountry skiing and riding.
For Weston and the faces behind it, creating a lineup of skis and snowboards that perform well and are fun to ride is such a small part of a bigger goal. In a sense, it’s a vessel to have a voice in helping to shape a rapidly growing community of backcountry skiers and riders.
“Back in grad school, I was told when you own a company, you own a microphone,” said Tsuo. “And what you use that microphone for will ultimately influence your consumers. For Weston, we want to use that microphone to create a different culture and a more welcoming backcountry community. And it just so happens that selling skis and snowboards is what funds this effort.”