Prior engagement 

Homegrown snowboard maker selects artists' board decorations for online vote

click to flip through (2) PHOTO SUBMITTED BY PRIOR SNOWBOARDS AND SKIS - Pow Five of the 40 entries for this year's Prior Top Sheet competition, by artists Michael Williams, Cara Burrow, Raphael Suter, Angela Fulton, and Chrissy McCartney (left to right).
  • photo submitted by Prior Snowboards and skis
  • Pow Five of the 40 entries for this year's Prior Top Sheet competition, by artists Michael Williams, Cara Burrow, Raphael Suter, Angela Fulton, and Chrissy McCartney (left to right).

They arrive as digital designs. They arrive as painted-over reclaimed snowboards. They arrive as handmade wooden "canvases" — snowboard-shaped, of course.

Prior's annual Top Sheet competition is back with 40 entries — and the process of selecting 15 finalists for their annual exhibition is ongoing.

"We got a lot of hand-drawn pictures this year, which was really great. It was 50 per cent hand drawn and 40 per cent digital," says Alesha Garden, one of Prior's graphic artists.

"I was expecting it to be different, because digital is so common now. It was good to see that Whistler still pays attention to handcrafted work — it really suits our brand as well."

How about bears? There are always lots of bears.

"No bears! Usually every year we get at least two bears, because it's the culture of Whistler — a lot of bears, a lot of mountains. But this year there are a lot more patterns and detailing. Some really beautiful work," Garden says.

Started six years ago, the competition invites regional artists to create designs for the surfaces of Prior boards, skis and split boards.

The finalists will go on show and be voted on the exhibition at Prior's Function Junction headquarters on Alpha Lake Road, on Friday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m.

"We will be unveiling them there and anyone coming to the party will be able to vote on their favourite," Garden says.

The competition stemmed from company owner Chris Prior's aim to commission local artwork and take it a step further.

"We've changed the format slightly this year. Previously, we've have taken through enough designs to fill out a line (of boards), generally between six and 10. This year we've decided to make it more exclusive and we're only having one top winner, with potentially another wildcard," Garden says.

The winner is voted on both at the exhibition launch party and in an online vote at until Oct. 1.

This year, the winner will receive two ski sets or snowboards with their design on it — one to use and one to display — and a "cash bump" as well, says Garden.

The wildcard will be selected at the discretion of the company.

"We've had some awesome entries this year and we've been really stoked by the calibre of entries, so there will be one winner but if there is another that just has to be in our line, then we'll choose it," Garden says.

The aim is to be more selective, in order to concetrate higher calibre art, she added.

"If it is sought after, then we can potentially bring in artists who would respond to that exclusivity," Garden says.

Did it work?

"We think so and in doing it as well, we have worked with some of the same artists for years — such as (painter) Vanessa Stark — and we wanted to pay tribute to that," she says.

So also new for this year, three Whistler-area artists have also been commissioned to contribute designs to Prior: Baz Carolan, Stark and Haida Nation artist Clarence Mills.

Prior has also commissioned Garden to design a retro surf-style design, as well.

Haida Gwaii-based Mills says the orca design he has created for this latest Prior sboard/ski was perfected last week.

"I'm having fun. I'm 58 and got the serious side of art over with. Chris (Prior) has given me the opportunity to reach other people," Mills says.

This will be Mills' third design for Prior.

He says that he "hasn't yet" learned to snowboard, but has been skiing for 28 years. He's had the chance to try out skis with his design on them, but was too busy cutting turns down the mountain to see what they looked like as he used them.

"I'm more used to the old, thin style of skis and these wider ones are interesting," he says.

Primarily known as a carver, his work — including totem poles — is located around Whistler. He also carved a welcome arch above the entrance at Club Intrawest.

Garden says: "He does something for us every year. Clarence has done a brother beaver and brother bear, it was a real pleasure to commission some designs from artists up front and be able to pay tribute to all of the work they do in the community."

For more information and to vote, visit



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