Twin brothers forge a thriving business creating bindings for snowboards and splitboards.
A lifelong snowboarder and certified Level 3 instructor who taught lessons at Alpental for 10 years, Bryce Kloster knows how to shred. But something felt off about the splitboard he borrowed from his wife on a crisp winter day in Utah’s Wasatch mountains.
A splitboard is a snowboard that comes apart lengthwise in the middle so that each half can be used like skis. You hike up the hill in a fusion of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, snap them together at the top and savor the ride back down. Most splitboarding is done in the backcountry and away from the more popular ski resorts.
Bryce was no stranger to this kind of touring, and he didn’t complain when his boots felt wobbly that day in the borrowed bindings. He had a better idea. “We’d always wanted to do something in snowboarding and really wanted to engineer something, but we didn’t have an idea we thought we could build a company around,” says Bryce, who was designing boat lifts at the time for a small business in Kent. “I called [my brother] when I got home and was like, ‘This is what we can do in snowboarding!’ I was pretty sure we could figure something out that was better than what I was just using.”
Today, Bryce, ’03, and Tyler, ’03, Kloster are co-owners of Karakoram, a North Bend-based manufacturer of high-performance splitboard and snowboard bindings. The identical twins, mechanical engineering majors at UW, assemble all of Karakoram’s gear in-house at their 14,900-square-foot shop, across from city hall with a stunning view of Mount Si high above.
“For the longest time, people thought ‘Why would you splitboard?’ It’s exciting to see how we have helped drive the sport.”
One year after Bryce’s big idea, the brothers had machined a prototype splitboard binding and were on the mountain at Alpental testing it out. The design wasn’t perfect, but they were on the right path. “Bryce and I consider ourselves binge designers and developers,” says Tyler, who designed electric toothbrushes at Philips prior to launching Karakoram. “If we have an idea, we hit it hard and fast and clear our schedules. The initial development of something like this can happen in a very short time.”
Founded in 2008, Karakoram is named after the majestic mountain range in the Kashmir region. The highest peak in that range is K2—a nickname the Klosters have had since childhood and now part of their company’s snowflake logo.
Karakoram’s revolutionary Prime System allows you to remove your bindings and attach them to other snowboards and splitboards. The connection is more responsive than a traditional binding. “I think of it like the suspension of driving a sports car vs. a grocery getter,” says Bryce. “If you’re going around a corner, the grocery getter’s going to roll, but the sports car is going to hug the road. We like our bindings to feel precise in the way they turn a snowboard.”
Karakoram started in the garage of Tyler’s Snoqualmie Ridge condo, where the brothers built prototypes with a do-it-yourself CNC mill. They later leased space in a North Bend office building, running the whole assembly line in the hallway and shipping everything they sold out of the lobby.
Word of mouth spread as the Klosters attended splitboard festivals and brought demos for people to try. Eventually, retailers were contacting them, asking to carry Karakoram gear.
“We’ve grown very organically. Everything was self-funded and we dumped everything we made back into it,” says Tyler. “The way we scaled, we didn’t have any money to invest in tooling or capital. We could afford to make these parts and we did everything ourselves, so per-part it cost a lot more, but you didn’t need this huge initial investment. We just needed to fund inventory.”
Karakoram moved into its new headquarters in 2021, and despite the company’s success, the brothers still assemble everything in-house.
On the shop floor, materials work their way around to the assembly stations using a custom slide system Bryce calls “chutes and ladders.” Everything has been timed so that each task takes about the same amount of time, and with a full line running they can get a binding in a box every two minutes. It’s an economy of motion and a true DIY production line.
“We almost always make the parts ourselves first, so we’re very tuned in,” says Tyler. “We’ll come up with our own concept and can quickly prototype it and get it on snow. If we feel something needs to change, we just come home, take those parts off, make new ones, and can be back out testing the next day or even the same day.”
The Klosters have always enjoyed tinkering. Growing up in Newport Hills, they helped their dad remodel the house and build tree forts using nails they pulled out of old deck boards. They raced soapbox derby-style cars, created wheel extensions for their inline skates to ski down the neighborhood hills, and welded a custom wakeboard tower for the family’s boat.
As UW undergraduates, the Klosters learned to design using CAD software, ran a summer business painting houses, and even rappelled out of a second-story window using carabiners and climbing rope when their fraternity house caught fire one night. That same hands-on approach is what makes Karakoram an extension of the brothers’ intrepid personalities.
“Being a mechanical engineer, you’re basically just a professional problem-solver,” says Bryce. “A lot of what we do is self-taught. We just apply those problem-solving skills we learned at UW and take that same design approach to business.”
These days, Karakoram’s high-end equipment is distributed globally and sold at hundreds of retailers in North America, including REI, EVO, and backcountry.com.
“For the longest time, people thought ‘Why would you splitboard?,’ says Tyler. “It’s exciting to see how we have helped drive the sport.”