They're not skis and they're not a snowboard . . .They're skiboards!
If you get on the slopes, you might happen to see some people on mini-skis or skiboards pulling out a few tricks.
You might see a bio 360, where the person grabs the ski boards while completing one full rotation. Better yet, maybe you'll see a corkscrew, which is a sideways front flip with a 180-degree twist, landing backwards. You might even see a yoda, which is when the rider goes into a cross-legged position in the air, or combine the yoda with the bio and you've got a yoda 360.
The tricks sound hard but according to advertisers, anyone can learn in just a few runs. It's all about fun, freedom and little need for skill. That is why many skiers denounce them. They think that skiboarders do not have the right to brag. One anonymous person suggested that skiers just weren't content with their own ability and use that as an excuse.
Where they came from
The origins of skiboards go back a long away says Stephen Wood, a writer for The Independent (London). Austrian mountain guides would cut a pair of old skis down to 70 centimeters in length and carry them in their backpacks in late spring. To traverse a snowfield they would strap them on their boots. The boards then, were known as figls, wich is a contraction of the German word firngletier, kind of meaning "slush-glider."
In 1989, Atomic produced the first skiboards and called them figgles. Similar devices have been manufactured in the United States in the early 1960s. It was Atomic that made the breakthrough when they provoked an Austrian company called Kneissel Dachstein to create a rival skiboard in 1990. Kneissel called the skiboards BigFoots because of the trademark tips that look like toes. They still manufacture them today, although their boards no longer have the toes on them.
Justin Sanders from Shelly, Idaho, a freshman at Utah State University, bought a pair of them for $250 around 1993. He had to wait a year and a half to get them because only five pair came into Idaho Falls. His cousin found out about them when he asked a ski company to send him something new, so they sent a catalogue with the BigFoots in them.
Sanders was getting bored with skiing because he had been doing it since he was 3-years-old. Now he only uses skiboards and doesn't ski. He says he cannot ski on big skis now because he just ends up crossing his skis a lot. As for snowboarding, he doesn't like it.
He said, "well I didn't take the time to learn I just went one night and I just kept catching an edge and banging my head, so I was like, enough of this."
When asked if he had seen skiboards getting to be more popular Sanders said, "When I first started using them, I'd be the only one on the hill with skiboards, now I usually see two or three maybe four people."
Even though they're still not seen very often, manufactures have not hesitated to exploit their easy-to-learn marketability. In 1993, after the first BigFoots, Klimax Skiboards were founded. Then in 1996 Klimax contracted with the would-be called USAGroove Skiboards to produce Klimax Skiboards and at that same time Jason Levinthal was designing his own type of skiboard for the soon to be company, Line Skiboards. In 1996, Groove and Line entered the market followed by Solomon in 1997.
A lot more companies joined the fun in making and advertising skiboards, but a lot of them fall short. According to Skiboardsonline.com a true skiboard is a short, wide, twin tip, wood core design that allows riders to carve more easily. They are described as "parabolic" or "hour-glass" skis. Most skiboards range in size from 40 centimeters to 90 centimeters. They range in price form $69 to $450.
More than one name
Skiboards is the generic name but they actually have a lot of different names like "Snowblades," "mini-skis," "snowskates," "Sled-dogs," "figgles" and some more negative terms like "boot protectors" and "fruit boots." In reality, all of these terms don't mean the same thing.
Snowskates, boot protectors, or Sled-Dogs are a type of micro-ski that mainly covers the bottom of the ski boot. They are not as practical as the longer skiboards. Snowblades are also a lot narrower like a regular ski.
The idea of Sled-Dogs was to give people who like in-line skating something to do in the winter so they supposedly follow that same technique.
Many of these different types of smaller skis have been a fad like Sled-Dogs, but skiboards definitely have a market. They have been in the Winter X Games the past few years and were first considered an extreme sport in 1995.
You might catch a rare glimpse of snowskaters on the slopes and have to wipe your goggles a couple of times to make sure you're not seeing things. Skiboards.com explained it as dancing on snow. The humor or trickiness of it is when two people are snowdancing together going backward, forward and turning gracefully like ice skaters.
A good thing about skiboards is they can go on a lot of places like moguls, double black terrain, parks, pipes, deep powder and they are great for backcountry. They don't necessarily work with every snow condition though. Sanders said, "They're really good in like up to a foot and a half in powder but if you get above that then they're no good because they're so short and they sink. And you have to be on a really steep hill if you want to go deeper than that."
Since he is from Idaho he goes to Grand Tarhgee and Jackson Hole, Wyo., a lot to skiboard, but he has also tried Snowbird in Utah and really likes it.
How they work
Since skiboards are shorter, they are not quite as fast as regular skis. Sanders said, "they are slower because they're shorter but not a whole lot, the guys I ski with ski on long skis or snowboards and I can keep up just fine."
He also dispelled some of the myth about how easy they are to learn to use. Not to say they aren't easier but if you have never even skied than they take a little catching on.
According to Sanders, "They're actually hard to learn on, up to a point, because you don't have a back end like on big skis you can lean backwards, but on skiboards you can't, so everything is balance. If you have good balance, ya you'll learn fast but if you don't it will take you longer."
Skiboards.com said that eight out of ten people who try skiboards become converted. Sanders said, "I've had a lot of friends take mine and now some of them have got their own or actually some even went and got really short skis, they're like a kid's beginner ski. My dad has even tried mine, because I have the two pair now so I'll wear mine and someone else will wear the other pair and so they like it because it's different."
Sander's first skiboards were the BigFoots. They are about 59 centimeters. Now he skis on a wider skiboard that is 100 centimeters long.
He said, "It just depends on the individual, I'm really fond of the twins now because they are a wider fit and with the bigger surface area, they go faster than normal. My BigFoots I really like, but if you got into powder that was over a foot deep than you're hatin' it because they're so short and then there is other skiboards like Sled-Dogs that are as big as your boot and you go pretty slow, they're too slow, you have to stay on the groom so that's not very fun."
Skiboarders like Sanders aren't too common yet. He still sees a lot of the skinnier Snowblades.
Lessons are not necessary to learn how to skiboard, but some still encourage them. There is not really a wrong way to ride them, however.
Skiboardsonline.com said that one thing to remember was that you don't use poles, but Sanders said he used poles the last couple of times he went.
He said, "you can either use poles or you cannot it just depends on what you like, but a lot of time if I don't have poles and I'm on a Kat track when you need some speed then you just act like your skatin' and that gets your speed."
He added, "But if I'm doing tricks and jumps and stuff then I don't have them because they get in the way."
One article said that you could actually skate uphill with skiboards. Sanders said that when he crashes in a place where he can't get going again, "I'll just start running and you can run out of it."
Skiers and Snowboarders
Despite the usual attitude that seems to be prevalent with skier's and snowboarder's dislike for one another, Sanders does not feel that antagonism among his friends.
"Actually most my friends are snowboarders and so like when you get on a half pipe and start doing tricks then they like you just as well," he said.
Unfortunately, that cannot be said for all fellow snowriders, when asked about skiboarding some immediately threw out their dislikes. One USU student, Brad Johnson, who has used Snowblades, had a few comments in the negative.
He said, "Compared to normal skiing there is not much you can do on them, especially skill-wise. It takes a lot more talent to ski well as compared to snowblader-well." Johnson further explained this by comparing skiboarding to doing a back flip on a trampoline. He said it is a lot harder when you tape some 5 foot 2 by 4 boards on your shoes and try to do the back flip.
"When a person with Snowblades goes off a jump and does the same trick as a person with skis, it's hard to compare skill-wise. The skier has a lot more than just boots on, which is almost what it feels like with the blades."
Johnson still uses his Snowblades, "but only after I've worn myself out at the beginning of the day skiing and when the conditions are right."
Sanders does not bother to brag, he just likes his skiboards and from the looks of them, he has put them to a lot of use.
"I can do a lot of the basic tricks every once and a while I can pull off the back flip or kind of an arial, things of that sort."
Another thing that advertisers do not explain is that, although the tricks are easy to learn they aren't always easy to land.
"Landing is very, very hard that's another reason why they're hard to learn, because landing a jump is really hard because you have to land with your center of balance, you can't land and lean back because if you lean back you're automatically on your back or your butt," Sanders said.
Another skier/skiboarder said, "They are a lot like ice skating on snow. They are really good for the days that you can't ski the crazy stuff. They are unstable at high speeds but are really fun on blue squares and green circles. I love them and think they are really cool, 360s are awesome and really easy, tricks are fun." The only drawback he sees is the difficulty of using them on snow that hasn't been packed down.
As for the less educated snowriders one person spoke negatively about snowbladers. He said, "I hate people on those things. It takes no time to learn how to use them. Any monkey with half a brain could use those things." He also said that they allowed "stupid and brainless people with no talent" to be on the mountain, making it more crowded for those who take the time to learn skill. Also, "Another thing that is bad about them is that they are usually stupid people that do not understand mountain etiquette, putting others at risk for injury."
This person went to the extreme of saying; "It's like saying you're an athlete after riding the Tour de France on a motorcycle. You're not, and nobody wants you there."
With finality he said, "It takes grace to be a master, but there is no greatness in mastering simple things."
Probably the biggest misunderstanding with those who don't like skiboards or Snowblades is that they've never been on either or they have only tried Snowblades, which are not as fun as skiboards, according to Sanders.
Skiboards are actually safe. Sanders said, "one thing about them is they're short and their bindings do not pop out, so usually when you get in a wreck it's not a big deal anyway because they're not big enough to jack your knees or anything. I've been in some pretty serious wrecks I've never got hurt." He also added, "they're a lot easier than the big skis, like I'm not near as worn out as my friends that go on the big skis, you still get tired but probably not near as tired. It's just a lot easier to turn little skis than big skis in powder and also down the moguls."
Sanders has seen a variety of ages trying skiboards. Mostly he sees younger kids and guys that are closer to his age. He did see an older couple trying them once.
He said, "they looked like they were just trying them out because they were going really, really slow and she was making turns back and forth like you would if you'd just started skiing."
Despite those who put skiboarding down, it is at least another activity people can do in winter. It also provides an alternative to those who might just be sick and tired of skiing and snowboarding. If anything, why not try it, because a 360 degree turn is a 360 degree turn, regardless of what you're using to get the air, you still get the sensation and that is all that matters.