People generally don’t connect Amsterdam to snowboarding, but for close to two decades Dennis Dusseldorp and Danny Kiebert have ran Bataleon from the Dutch capital and grown Low Pressure Studio into a major player in the industry. Their shared passion for snowboarding and a general love for board sports has taken them around the world, but when it came time to settle down and built a business together, they settles on their homeland of the Netherlands.
Words: Dennis Dusseldorp and Danny Kiebert
For a lot of people Amsterdam seems like a strange place to base an international snowboard company. How does operating away from the mountains and some of the other brand hotspots influence how the company is run?
Dennis: Yeah, Holland is not the first place that comes to mind when deciding where to place your snowboard company, but it just happened that way for us. It wasn’t a planned choice or anything it just turned out like that. Funny enough, we actually had our Seattle office before our Amsterdam office. Both Seattle and Amsterdam offer great logistic advantages compared to mountain towns. Both cities have major harbors and airports offer direct flights to pretty much every place with snow and mountains in the world.
Danny: Even though The Netherlands is flat and half of the country is actually below sea level, it still makes a lot of sense to be here and run a creative business. Here we find ourselves surrounded by creative people and cutting-edge design. France Switserland and Austria are all equal distances away so you just pick the best place for how the storms are hitting and go. To make it easier to keep our mountain connection we have the Low Pressure Moutain Lodge in Austria where do all our R&D during the winter months.
How does that separation influence design and marketing?
Danny: Being away from the industry gives us that outsider perspective that we like. We absorb influences from everything and this goes beyond snowboarding. Amsterdam is the perfect melting pot for that. So many cultures come together here and the mix is felt from food to art & design.
Dennis: We are only ‘separated’ from the mountains in distance but not in our minds. We still ride 50+ days a year despite being from Amsterdam. Believe it or not but I think it’s a real advantage for us compared to brands that have their HQ in the mountains. When we go out, we get to ride and experience many different countries, zones and resorts much more than brands that have a “local” mountain. Sure, we miss out on a quick before work or afternoon shred but to be able to feel and experience how your brand is doing all across the world is something very valuable.
There's a lot of art history and design culture in the Netherlands. Does that play into Bataleon's art direction?
Danny: It must play a role ☺ There is such a large tradition of excellent graphic and product design here. We also have a lot of modern art forms coming from here such as electronic music, hi-tech, all of that. I think this is reflected in Bataleon aesthetics as we tend to prefer a clean graphical approach.
Dennis: A Bataleon snowboard is often recognized without it needing to say our brand name. This I believe is a very strong design quality but I’m not sure if this is because of our location or simply because Danny is the best in the business.
Do you feel it's important to look outside the industry for inspiration? (both design and how you run the business)
Dennis: When it comes to running the business I tend to look outside our industry, Fashion brands, cars manufacturers, cycling brands and even crowdfunded projects are all influencing decisions I make when it comes to running the Bataleon business (as well as the other Low Pressure Studio brands).
There are also some very inspiring snowboarding brands that inspires me, Korua definitely comes to mind. They have taken a niche and forgotten part of snowboarding and made that their main focus. It takes some serious commitment and determination to achieve that. The way they executed this was done to perfection and they managed to motivate all generations to ride on edge again. It’s a really a big accomplishment that gets all my respect.
Danny: I would say it is key to pushing things beyond what they are. You have to keep your eyes and ears open to the world while your heart and soul is embedded snowboarding. This way you can marry the outside with the inside and make things grown that weren’t there before and steer into new direction.
You're a bit of an odd couple. How is it working together? How do you balance 20+ years of friendship, differing outlooks, and running the business?
Dennis: I think our company is where it is right now because we are different and that it is part of our strength. So, a team with different strengths that complement each-other would be the better observation if you ask me.
We are definitely very different people but with a high dose of respect and understanding for each-other. Danny wears a fresh outfit to work every day where I always wear the same. Where Danny is into yoga, art, healing herbs and organic food, I’m more interested in fast cars, pulled pork, and carbon roadbikes.
Most people don’t know that we have been through 20+ years of adventures together. We’ve built tradeshow booths together, missed flights together, been in 2 earthquakes together, shared snowcats and helicopters together, surfed exotic waves together, cleaned out each-others reef cuts and seen each-other kids grow up. We have been told that we would fail, that 3D bases are a hoax and been laughed at by the established brands, but we never gave up. We grew from just the 2 of us to currently 52 employees and 3 office locations. This adventure created a pretty strong bond between us despite our differences.
Danny: True! Our personalities are quite opposite, but we have been through so much together and that bond is stronger than the differences. It’s also these differences that make it work in the end. I take care of different aspects of the work than Dennis and vice versa, but since we both respect each other’s strengths we found a way of working together. And of course, this sometimes collides but that also helps move things forward.
A lot has changed over the years. You both have families now. Does that affect how you run the brand?
Danny: Kids bring a whole new dynamic to your life. You have to have routine because that’s what kids demand. But work also requires routine. At the same time, you want to keep breaking that routine to keep things interesting. In a lot of ways having kids is like having another job ☺ but through your kids you can experience the pure stoke of doing things for the first time. You experience firsthand what it is to do your first turn or land your first jump. When I ride with my kids all I need to do is follow them and it’s the best time ever. It’s so inspiring and makes you reconnect with why we are doing this in the first place. We want to make stuff that makes people stoked.
Dennis: Personally I don’t think that it changed the way we run the brand. We still have the same goals and that’s to make innovative, high-quality products that we are proud to ride ourselves. Over the years we maybe lost a bit of the confronting and rebellious approach but where we are now with the brand just feel good and natural.
The family thing just motivates us to work hard and make our kids proud. We started making the first kid boards (Minishred) when my kids were able to ride, then youth products (Stuntwood) when they grew older followed by a mini powder swallowtail (Surfer Mini) when they were ready to follow me into the deeper snow. My kids grew out of these models now but Danny’s kids are going through them now and it keeps pushing us to innovate in that segment. It’s awesome that kids/youth is a very strong part of our business right now and that we can make thousands of shredding families happy with our products. In the end that’s what it’s all about anyways.
Sports can be a great way to connect with family and create a sense of identity and community for young people. How best can we inspire the next generation and get them involved with snowboarding?
Dennis: Coming from a sport centered upbringing it’s sad to see how modern technology that was supposed to make our lives better is destroying the lives of the younger generation. The internet used to be an escape from the real world but right now the real world has become the escape from the internet!
However, I’m pretty positive when it comes to snowboarding because our generation (40+) grew up without all that digital waste of time. Our generation now has jobs, families and are motivated to take our kids out and let them experience snowboarding. Looking at our sales of kids/youth products and how many families I see shredding gives me hope that this future generation will be able to find the right balance between digital and the real thing and keep motivating future generation to go outside and ride.
Danny: Take the kids snowboarding! Being from the Netherlands has it’s barriers to entry, but over the years I have seen that the people with the least mountains are often the most stoked on mountains because they appreciate it so much more. I do think the cost of the sport is a big obstacle to a lot of kids, especially when you live in a city far from the mountains. Put a kid on top of a mountain for the first time and their mind is instantly blown. The more programs there are to put kids in touch with snowboarding the better. The reason I snowboard is because I went to some friend’s birthday party snowboarding on a dryslope and immediately got hooked, and that wasn’t even on snow! I just felt that sideways connection to skateboarding and surfing and fell in love. Then my brother and I begged our parents for a whole year to take us to the mountains which we could only do if we didn’t go on summer holidays.
At times it feels like there is a disconnect between the “core” industry and the general public. How can we get people excited about snowboarding and make them feel included and welcome?
Dennis: Honestly, I’m not too interested in what the “core” thinks.
We work hard to be an inspiring and inclusive brand. Our entry level products are designed to help kids and newcomers improve faster while our higher end products will keep pushing riders to explore new terrain or learn new tricks. We do everything to keep riders of all levels stoked on snowboarding and keep them on snow for many years.
Our brand messaging and marketing is also always inclusive and welcoming. We want our team riders to motivate others to start riding and learn new tricks.
Danny: For us, snowboarding is the most fun thing on Earth. It's so satisfying and rewarding, or like the movie Simple Pleasures said, “We need simple pleasures in our lives.” I think there is something valuable in snowboarding that every human can relate to. The feeling of having full focus on a useless activity that is a balancing act between being in and out of control. To be fully in the moment with your heart pounding and the air rushing, it’s the closest thing to flying and you need all your animal instincts in place. This is what every snowboarder feels but it’s not what we are showing the world. We are showing podiums and tricks and helicopters, but what is there when you strip it all away? That is the true core of snowboarding. If we would find a way to transfer that feeling everyone would want a piece of it.
What does “Smile it’s snowboarding” mean to you?
Danny: We are super serious about making the best snowboards in the world. We want to make snowboards that are so good that you have a perfect mind-body-board connection. Where you don’t even think about the board any more, only about your next move. But why do we do this? Well, we do it to have the most fun possible. Snowboarding isn’t a serious activity; it’s fun. So, it’s important for us who work with snowboarding every day to have that balance. After all the serious work we put into the product, it’s important to remind ourselves to not take snowboarding or ourself too serious because that gets in the way of the ultimate goal: to have fun and play in the snow.
Dennis: It means everything. If you do not have a smile on your face after a day of riding our products, then I feel we did something wrong. It’s the base of everything we do at BATALEON Snowboards.