Guest Blogger: Brian Hockenstein

Whistler is known around the world as a trendsetting epicenter for winter action sports, and with good reason. The mountains and community here attract talented athletes but also creative innovators and, perhaps inevitably, Whistler has seen many small businesses created to serve different segments of the wonderful and diverse snow sports community.

This guy isn’t worried about his Christmas Shopping. He just buys local brands and spends more time ripping Whistler pow.

Maybe it’s the fresh mountain air or the international flavour of Whistler Village (or it could be something in the water) but something up here creates a perfect melting pot of ideas and entrepreneurs ready to bring them to life.

So with Christmas fast approaching and last-minute shopping on a lot of peoples’ minds we are showcasing five unique local businesses that not only have roots here in Whistler, but probably could not have happened anywhere else in the world.

Sandbox Helmets

Sandbox owner and former pro snowboarder Kevin Sansalone has about as much street cred as you can get around here. After years of being one of the most recognizable Canadian pro shreds on the scene he moved into snowboard filmmaking and in 2007 began producing helmets that stand apart from the rest of the market with a less-geeky look that was an early hit up on the local mountains.

LEFT: Sandbox’s Kevin Sansalone. PHOTO: Brian Hockenstein.

Fast forward a few years and just one lap through the terrain park makes it apparent that Sandbox helmets are not only among the most popular on the market but also the defacto standard for the younger crowd — and with good reason. Simple, attractive designs combined with a shredder-owned-and-operated brand make these babies an easy choice for protecting your noggin. Last season Sandbox added goggles and sunglasses to their line-up as well, gotta protect those eyeballs too. (Brand Bonus: Sansalone also runs a boutique snowboard company called White Gold Snowboards, named after his Whistler neighbourhood).

Prior Skis & Snowboards

No list of Whistler-based snow sports brands could ever be complete without mentioning Prior Skis & Snowboards who recently celebrated their 25th year anniversary. With each and every board or set of skis handcrafted right here in Whistler, one visit to the factory/shop floor is all that’s needed to see the energy and pure love that goes into every board pressed.

Joel Loverin rides a Prior Board. PHOTO: Brian Hockenstein

From owner Chris Prior to the sales staff and uber-dedicated manufacturing team to the many local athletes on the pro team, everything Prior does is high quality and uniquely local. Designs are tested and fine-tuned translates right here in our demanding west-coast conditions and rugged mountains. And ordering a Prior stick is unlike any other ski or snowboard purchase you’ve made before as you get to totally customize your ride, picking from a wide variety of shapes, base graphics and top-sheet graphics that are sourced from local artists every year.

Cheetah Factory Racing

So many great products are born out of need. Pemberton-based Cheetah Factory Racing was created because (former pro snowboarder) Dave Basterichea wanted an easy way to carry his snowboard into the backcountry on his snowmobile. Dave built something in his shop and over the past ten years CFR has evolved into the leader of board/ski/gear carrying racks for snowmobiles. There’s simply no other way to carry your skis or board on your sled that makes as much sense as a CFR rack.

Often imitated but never matched, CFR racks have become a must-have for any serious backcountry shredder, and for good reason—they work better than anything else. Dave and CFR continue to expand each year. As well as refining their existing products to the point of near perfection they’re also now offering a huge line of aftermarket snowmobile accessories— from performance handlebars to waterproof gear bags. Don’t you dare ask me to go shred in the backcountry with you if you don’t have one of these babies on the back of your whip!

LEFT: Heard about Herd? RIGHT: CFR ski rack is a must have.

Herd Headwear

As winter sports lovers we all gotta keep our noggins warm and in this part of the world that means one thing … a toque atop your head. Whistler-based Herd Headwear was founded as more than a simple headwear brand. Herd is a movement, a collection of artists, athletes and adventurers who all seek the beauty in the great outdoors and the endless playground they provide. With that hard-to-argue-against ideology, some simple designs and a locally-stacked team, Herd is a real Whistler locals’ favourite.

Hightide Manufacturing

New on the scene this winter, Hightide Mfg is changing the way people snowboard the local mountains. Rather than having one board for all conditions, the founders of Hightide are taking a more surf-based approach — they offer a quiver of boards to suit each and every condition, ensuring each day in the mountains is customized and full pow potential is always reached.

LEFT: Hightide rider Rube Goldberg. PHOTO: Brian Hockenstein. MIDDLE: Akasha at work. RIGHT: Ready to ride.

Founders/owners Gabe Langlois and Akasha Weisgarber custom-built their own snowboard press this summer and have been pumping boards out of their Pemberton-based factory ever since. With a ton of hype and hope surrounding this brand, it seems like everyone is cheering for the little guy and hoping they can gain some traction and give local backcountry shredders a boutique shred brand to call their own. Gabe and Akasha both have over 20 years of experience in the mountains and from the early sound of things these boards are the real deal as well.

There are lots of great non-sports related local companies and Whistler brands as well. Best thing to do is just start shopping and don’t be afraid to ask questions. We’ve all heard of the 100-mile diet but supporting local brands can extend beyond what you put in your mouth and by purchasing products from local brands, you’re directly supporting the people that help make Whistler so vibrant and awesome. And who knows, you might just be sharing your next chairlift ride with the owner of the company you support. Happy Holidays.


Brian Hockenstein is a Whistler-based photographer and filmmaker who loves nothing more than spending time in the incredible British Columbia wilderness and sharing the amazing sights he sees along the way, whether through photography, film or emerging technologies such as Virtual Reality Video.