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New toys for the slopes

March 1, 2002

By Jennifer Reeder
Special to the Herald

Itís official: Snowboards arenít the passing trend some skiers had hoped theyíd be. And with the success of the U.S. Olympic Snowboarding team in Salt Lake City, the sportís popularity is destined to grow even more.

But there are other trends developing as winter enthusiasts seek alternative on-slope activities. Hereís a look at some of the snow toys vying to be the next big thing.

Itís hard to predict which will last and which will fade away. (Anyone remember Big Feet? Ballet skiing?) After all, who could have foreseen that something originally called a "Snurfer" Ė one of the first snowboards Ė would become a source of national pride?

Snowskates

Justin Stem, 20, of Hesperus, rides a rail on a snowskate at the base of Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort on Sunday. The binding-less decks are good for doing flip tricks on the snow because they are not attached to the feet.

"Snowskates are a definite trend this season," said Julie Lynch, director of market research for SnowSports Industries America, a nonprofit trade association. "You can do it anywhere, and theyíre cheap."

Snowskates are a kind of skateboard for snow, sans wheels. There are two styles: a board that is basically a skateboard deck, and a board with a small ski, or "snowblade," attached to the underside of the deck.

Bubba Iudice, 32, owner of Bubbaís Boards, at Purgatory, said since snowskates are not attached to the feet like snowboards, they offer more flexibility in doing certain tricks. "Snowboards are strapped to your feet Ė with (snowskates) you can do flip tricks," he said. "And you can do it in your front yard without much snow."

Iudice has sold 30 snowskates in the last two months, he said. They range in price from $60 to $160.

Iudice said snowskates without a ski are better for tricks like "pop shuvits" and "kick flips," while snowskates with a ski runner Ė which were pioneered by Burton and are sometimes called snowdecks Ė are better for long runs on the ski slopes.

"Itís the best new snow sport around," said Dan Harshberger, a 22-year-old snowskater who lives near Durango Mountain Resort. "I use it to run my dogs at night."

Andy Wolf, owner of Premiere Snowskates, a Portland, Ore.-based manufacturer of snowskates without the ski runner, founded the company in November 2000. He sold 5,000 in his first year, and 30,000 in the second. This season he has sold more than 50,000, he said.

"Itís through the roof," he said.

Wolf said a snowskate demonstration at the February X Games generated a lot of excitement, and that it is "almost guaranteed" that snowskating will be included in future X Games.

Snowskates with leashes are permitted at Durango Mountain Resort in the terrain park, Iudice said.

Snowbikes

Mike Muir, supervisor of the ski and snowboard school at Durango Mountain Resort, assumes a favorite snowbike position Sunday at Purgatory.

It may not look as cool as a snowskate, but the snowbike is another snow toy that may make its way into the X Games. In fact, a snowbike demonstration at this yearís Olympics caught the eye of NBC, which will visit Durango Mountain Resort in March to film snowbikes in action.

Snowbikes are the bright-yellow contraptions occasionally seen on the mountain, consisting of a frame with a seat and handlebars mounted on small skis where the wheels would be. Snowbikers wear regular ski boots that clip into snowblades, or miniskis.

The resort offers 2Ĺ-hour snowbike lessons twice a day for $40, plus $10 for certification. After certification, the 15-pound bikes can be rented for $15 for a half day and $30 full-day. Since certification was introduced Jan. 20, snowbike lessons have jumped from one a week to several lessons a day, said Mike Muir, supervisor of the ski and snowboard school at the resort.

Snowbiking is easy to learn and a great alternative for people with knee, hip or back problems, Muir said.

"Itís so easy to pick up," said Bill Patterson, a 29-year-old Durango resident who had reconstructive foot surgery on both feet in January 2001. After the operation, he had to learn how to walk again, and relearning to ski was a slow process. Patterson tried snowbiking and has done it at least 15 times since, he said.

Other snowbike enthusiasts say they like the "extreme" aspect of the sport.

"Iíve been skiing (at Purgatory) since 1965 Ė opening day," said Roy Meiworm, lift operations manager at the resort. "After riding snowbikes for the last four years, Iíve been seeing parts of the mountain that Iíve never seen before." Meiworm is one of several resort employees who regularly blaze trails through trees, over logs and off jumps. But snowbike safety is stressed at the resort, Meiworm said.

"If someone had gotten killed snowboarding years ago, we probably wouldnít have snowboarding today," Meiworm said.

Snowbiking has been around in Europe for more than 50 years, where the snowbike is known as a skibob, and competitions are held virtually every week during winter, according to the Federation Internationale de Skibob Web site at www.skibob.org.

Twin-tip skis

Following on the heels of the shaped-ski revolution are twin-tip skis, which feature an upturned tip in the back as well as the front. Twin-tips are popular for doing aerial tricks in terrain parks like landing backwards off a jump, said John Fullington, manager of Performance Sports, at Cascade Village.

Typically, women use between 150-centimeter and 160-centimeter twin-tips, while men might use 170-centimeter to 180-centimeter twin-tips, Fullington said. Twin-tips skis cost about $20 to rent at Performance Sports, Fullington said.

Although Durango Mountain Resort does not rent twin tips, it uses a relative of twin-tip skis in its ski classes, Dynastarís Agyl model of "new generation shaped skis," said Mark Garrity, adult ski school manager. The skis arenít true twin tips because the tailís length and shape isnít identical to the front end.

It usually costs $17 for a half-day rental and $29 for a full-day at the resort.

Twin-tips are used by freestyle Olympians and, coupled with snowskates, are this seasonís "biggest thing," said Lynch, of SnowSports Industries. On the way out are skiboards, a.k.a. snowblades, a.k.a. miniskis.

"(Sales) are down 25 percent compared to last year," said Lynch.

But locally, snowblades are still popular with tourists from Texas, Fullington said.

The 90-centimeter snowblades rent for $13 a day at Performance Sports.

Jenny Reeder, a free-lance writer living in Durango, is still waiting for bright-red Moon Boots to come back. Reach her at reeder25@yahoo.com.


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