Go Play Gear: The hard-boot snowboarding world of Bomber Industries founder Fin Doyle
There’s a custom-made Gatling gun hanging above the cluttered desk in Fin Doyle’s office, and it looks absolutely terrifying.
Doyle stands in the office doorway with a thoughtful grin, his arms crossed comfortably and one leg swung over the other as he explains the genesis of the monstrous replica. It’s an effortless pose the founder of Bomber Industries adopts when he starts talking about his various mechanical side projects, and in the sprawling workshop at Bomber headquarters on the north end of Silverthorne he has at least four half-finished or soon-to-be-finished experiments spread out among band saws, drill presses, lathes and a slew of machines made solely for snowboard binding fabrication.
“You know how it is — when you run out of space, you want more space to fill with more” stuff, Doyle said, though he used more colorful language. He nods toward a long work table cluttered with binding parts. “That’s such classic human nature, isn’t it?”
But back to the Gatling gun. It’s a relic from Doyle’s college days at California State University–Chico, located a few hours north of his Bay Area birthplace. The machine gun — an ammo-free replica whose rotating barrels spin when hooked to a car battery — started as a garage project with a friend back in 1992, right around the time Doyle graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering.
The rotating barrels are intimidating enough, but on the battery casing is the true centerpiece: It’s covered with a spray-painted stencil of the Bomber mascot, a mask-wearing soldier carrying — what else? — a gatling gun.
Then Doyle pauses for a few beats. A huge smile begins spreading across his face and he stands upright, leaning out of his signature doorway pose.
“Did you ever see my stand-up snowmobile Jet Ski?” he asked in a deviously giddy tone.
“Let me show you,” he replied, weaving quickly past the Bomber showroom and into the original garage space where his first batch of hard-boot snowboard bindings were born in 1995. As he winds through the machinery — he knows the space like the back of his hand, and even for a stranger it has a certain welcoming flow — he’s followed by Emma, the 3-year-old boxer–pit bull mix he rescued from an Arizona shelter about two years back.
Emma also knows her way through the workshop, and within seconds, she and her master are standing in front of perhaps the world’s only snowmobile Jet Ski. It’s a mean-looking machine, with a stand-up Jet Ski body fitted over a snowmobile track. Doyle never took it out on the snow, he said, but one of these days it may make an appearance.
Like the Gatling gun, the Snowjet, as Doyle refers to it, was built shortly after he graduated from Chico State, when he turned his parent’s pool cabana into a makeshift mechanics lab and dreamed of ways to combine his ocean roots with a passion for snow.
“The dorky engineer in me says, ‘Hey, I’m going to make this cool little widget, but no one might want it,’” Doyle said. The majority of his projects never see the light of day, but for a master tinkerer like Doyle, mass-producing is hardly the point, at least for the one-off pet projects.
Take the navy blue Subaru WRX next to the Snowjet: A few summers back, he salvaged the body for dirt cheap, gutted the mechanical innards and began building a souped-up engine. But when life got in the way, Doyle had to put the WRX on hold.
“I’ve got a bad case of shiny-new-toy syndrome,” he said. “That’s what I do, man. I just enjoy mechanics, putting things together.”
‘NEW TOY SYNDROME’
If it sounds as though Doyle is a mad scientist disguised as a ski bum, well, he is. He first came to Colorado as a part-time snowboard instructor in 1990 and immediately fell in love. When he graduated about two years later, he moved to the Summit County area full time and hasn’t looked back.
Then again, saying Doyle is a mad scientist implies he’s, well, mad — the sort of mastermind who finds unorthodox inspiration but has no way of turning it into something useful.
If Bomber is any indication, Doyle is inspired and business savvy. The company is one of the only hard-boot binding manufacturers in the U.S. and easily the most respected. Granted, hard-boot riding is a small market, but as an adamant defender of what he terms “adult snowboarding,” he’s waiting for it to find the kind of widespread acceptance that helped the longboarding industry explode in the mid-2000s — or the serendipity that pushed stand-up paddleboarding into the mainstream a few years ago.
“Were not the trick-based sport, the freestyle sort, and we’re trying to figure out what the spark event is,” said Doyle, who at 54 years old fits the age profile for a hard-boot boarder. “What helped those other two industries finally break through?”
Doyle built his first binding, the Trenchdigger, after endless frustration with the unreliable plastic models produced in 1980s and ’90s by manufacturers like Burton. He knew he could make a better version — what self-respecting engineer can back away from such a challenge? — and when the big, bad megacorp of snowboarding abruptly stopped offering hard-boot bindings in the mid-’90s, Doyle saw an opportunity, even as the sport was quickly losing out to pipe and freestyle riding.
Today, Bomber’s flagship product is the Trenchdigger 3. He’s tweaked and modified the aluminum-based design each season since debuting the first model, adding new materials here and different features there, but each pair is still made by hand in his Silverthorne shop — the “headquarters of hard-boot snowboarding in the U.S.” he said. And he’s serious.
Bomber has managed to carve a niche in a very small, nearly invisible market, and Doyle’s sights are now set on a new and promising venture: solar power. He’s founder and chief executive officer of Sulas Industries, a relatively new start-up building solar panel technology that tracks the sun using the same heliotropic principles as plants. Mad scientist or no, he has a keen eye for the untapped opportunities in any market, and he believes solar power could be the next alpine industry behind ski tourism.
“I think you should start your company where you want to live,” Doyle says. “Yes, you take a hit on the overhead and the cost of living is a bit more, but the offset is where you’re going home at night. That’s what the accountants don’t have a formula for and it scares the hell out of them.”
And as a master tinkerer, Doyle also knows there’s only time for one major endeavor. It’s not as though Bomber will go the way of the Gatling gun or Snowjet, but he’ll likely step into a more hands-off role.
“I’m at the point now when I’m officially dating two girls, and they’re going to be at the same party, and I’ve just got to pick one,” Doyle said. “There’s a lot happening with Sulas right now and, to be honest, I really hope my future is in energy.”
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