By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Senior Editor
BOZEMAN – Ryan Watson is used to doing whatever it takes to snowboard. In 2002, he made the jump from St. Louis to Colorado, where he delivered burritos on his bicycle until a snowboard shop hired him.
When he moved to Bozeman in 2006 to study film at Montana State University, he drove deliveries for the Pita Pit until he landed a job at the Round House ski shop.
He’s begged, borrowed and saved, spending the last five years building what he hopes to be the future of snowboarding.
Watson, now 30, came up with the idea for One Binding Systems in 2009, when he was riding the backcountry near Bridger Bowl on his Voile splitboard.
His invention is comprised of a single plate, or puck, which allows backcountry splitboard bindings to be mounted on any board that has the system. Voile has done this on its backcountry boards; so has Spark R&D, a splitboard binding company based in Bozeman. No one has made the transition to in-bounds snowboards.
The idea: Own several snowboards and just one pair of bindings.
“I was thinking, ‘One day I can [ride] at Beehive Basin and the next day ride at Big Sky,’” Watson said. “I want to bring the backcountry to the front-country.”
In 2012, Watson took One Binding Systems to the entity that decides which ideas move into production, and which ones return to the drawing board: the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
He filed a provisional patent – a process that buys an inventor 12 months to submit a full patent – then supplied the full patent to the USPTO in January 2013.
Since he qualified for Micro Entity status under the 2011 America Invents Act, Watson paid a more affordable fee, but his patent application process has cost him approximately $3,000, he said, and it was complicated.
“[It required] a lot of late nights staying up and reading a lot of boring literature. I kind of looked at it as a college course load.”
Now, with his full patent application submitted, Watson’s work continues. This application is in review for 2-8 years and during that time the USPTO can inquire about his invention.
If the USPTO questions an inventor’s product, he or she must submit a professional rebuttal. These can cost between $125 and $600, Watson said.
One Binding Systems is an aluminum and plastic plate you bolt to a snowboard, allowing backcountry splitboard bindings to slide on. To produce these in a cost-effective manner, Watson said, he needed to have a mold formed.
He was quoted as high as $14,000 for a company to manufacture this mold, and has searched for a plastic engineering firm all over the U.S. and abroad.
“Making a ski bum wage doesn’t pay for all the development costs,” Watson said. He needed funding.
Watson used money he saved from a landscaping company that he started and sold, and got a full-time job at the Bozeman Brewing Company in 2012. He then took a leap and started a Kickstarter campaign last August, looking for preorders for his product totaling $10,000 to assist in final production costs for One Binding Systems.
But it was a risky venture, he says. A project has 30 days to reach its goal once started, and if a campaign doesn’t reach the objective by the deadline, it doesn’t receive any of the money.
“I probably sent out 5,000 emails looking for crowds of condensed snowboarders,” he said, adding that these included snowboard shops in Chile and Japan, Australia and Italy.
He reached his goal on Sept. 2, two days before the deadline.
Watson has gone to great lengths to see One Binding Systems come this far, and has gotten some breaks from people willing to lend a hand along the way.
Following the Kickstarter campaign, Watson received an email from Wendy Carlson asking how she could help, and indicating that her daughter loves snowboarding. Her husband, Jeff, owns Steel Reality Manufacturing, Inc. in Kalispell.
“I had gotten wind of Ryan’s project through Salient [Technologies in Bozeman], which did the design work,” said Jeff, who founded SRMI in 1997. “We supported him on Kickstarter, but it was more about supporting what Ryan was doing. We thought if we could help him and earn his business, it would be great.”
Jeff agreed to match the lowest mold price Watson could find, which was a $7,500 quote from an Ohio-based plastic engineering firm. SMRI built the mold, tested the product and constructed the first couple hundred plates.
Jeff wanted to help out a local startup and says he believed in Watson’s design.
“You never can count out a startup company or small customer because you never know where they can go,” he said. “Ryan’s really a creative soul and just a genuinely good guy, which makes it a lot easier.”
In late 2012, Watson approached Spark R&D founder Will Ritter with the idea for One Binding Systems, and Ritter has supported him ever since.
“[Ryan is] definitely a creative guy, a real out-of-the-box thinker with a lot of enthusiasm,” Ritter said. “You can tell he’s really having a lot of fun with the project.”
Ritter plans to distribute the One Binding Systems to Spark’s more than 260 dealers at the Outdoor Retailer and SnowSports Industries America winter trade shows at the end of January.
“It’s a cool thing,” said Ritter, 35. “It’ll allow our customers to mount our bindings on their splitties as well as on regular boards. It gives them a little more versatility; more bang for their buck.”
Bozeman-based rider Luke Unger recently purchased the system and hopes to acquire more for use on his six snowboards.
“To me, it’s genius,” he said. “You can take a Spark binding and use Ryan’s system on a quiver of boards.”
For Watson, the ride is just beginning. He hopes One Binding Systems will expand from online sales to retail shelves, and the next few months will indicate whether his effort will be rewarded. Either way, Watson says he feels a dogged pursuit of one’s dream is well worth it.
“If you put enough work into it and believe in something, you can make dreams happen,” he said. “You have to at least try.”