Outlaws no more

Times are changing for extreme snow-sport enthusiasts

The mainstreaming of the once outlaw sport of snowboarding has created an environment in which new winter sports—such as skiboarding—are being assimilated with far greater speed.

The mainstreaming of the once outlaw sport of snowboarding has created an environment in which new winter sports—such as skiboarding—are being assimilated with far greater speed.

Photo By Chris Carnel

Back in the early ’80s, snowboarding enthusiasts were perceived as backwoods outlaws, and they were banned from most of the lift-accessed winter terrain in the country. In those days, your snowboarding equipment scenario might consist of a pair of Sorel boots rigged with lots of duct tape and fitted with the stolen ski-boot liners from your parents’ stash of ski equipment out in the garage. Needless to say, the rubber retention strap bindings offered nothing for ankle support.

After you passed a two- or three-month learning curve, you probably found yourself snowboarding near the Sierra’s most accessible resorts. Later, you began poaching and riding under the ropes toward their best inbounds terrain when no one was looking. (This only worked till you were either chased away by the ski patrol or hauled away at the bottom—usually after an awesome run—by a self-righteous sheriff.)

Well, the tables have turned for snowboarders.

Today, everything you could ever want or need to engage in this sport is commercially available. Instead of being snow-sport outlaws, snowboarders are encouraged to bring their families along to the resort, buy a full-day lift ticket and then ride a high-capacity lift to the top of the resort’s peak and tread down any steeped pitch chute, powder field or terrain park your well-designed board might take you on or over.

Snowboarding’s increasing popularity over the years has opened the doors for newer offshoots of skiing that have seemingly become universally accepted and commercially viable overnight. Technology has taken its course and also contributed by way of lighter, stronger and more stable composite materials. Better sidecuts were designed and applied for more controllable turns and bump negotiations. Wraparound edges are now inset and not held in with small screws like the early skis and snowboards. This comes in addition to the now almost bulletproof and seamless P-Tex bases that require less maintenance and have less resistance with the snow. All of this means that you get to go insanely fast and that you may, possibly, qualify to add the word “extreme” to your surname.

Skis, meanwhile, have now been refined down to the point of being designed almost exclusively for terrain-specific skiing, whether you’re dropping off cliffs and skiing steeps, cruising open powder fields or just flat-out airing over jumps and hitting half-pipes in terrain parks. Twin Tip skis are now popular with their asymmetrical tip and tail so they can be ridden traveling backwards as well as forwards in these situations.

But the newest type of skis are called Skiboards.

Skiboarding is a stunt sport that’s been around for four or five years. With its roots in urban inline skating and the act of sliding outer footbeds on concrete ledges and metal handrails—skiboarding just adds winter and a few thousand feet of elevation. Could skiboards now be taking over the slopes? Is a sport so niched, new and specialized, ready to be sent up the flagpole and even saluted? Companies like Salomon, K2 and Volkl think so.

“They’ve been producing these specialty skis for more than a few seasons now,” according to salesman Stan Mroczkowski of Reno Mountain Sports in Reno. “It’s not just for younger kids. More adults are taking to the slopes on them, and we’ve been selling [a lot of them]. They are really popular and blowing out of here!”

Pat Perigeary, manager of the ski section at Bobo’s Mogul Mouse Ski and Board shop of Reno, claims they also sell [a lot of the boards]. “We sell about 20 pairs a season, and I tend to still call them snowlerblades,” he says with a relaxed smile.

“Mostly ’cause they range anywhere from 90 centimeters in length for the younger kids up to 120 centimeters for the adults, which is pretty short compared to your average 190 centimeter Alpine ski,” Perigeary says. “Any type of compatible boot will work with their adjustable binding system; especially so if it’s softer and more flexible.”

Now enter mid-20s skiboarder Bryce Raney, who resides between Reno and Squaw Valley and is a prime example of an athlete taking this sport to the next level. He’s been riding for five years and competing for the last three on the popularly televised ESPN X-Games circuit. Last year, the tour took him to Southern California, Utah and even Japan for the finals. He talks about his beginnings in the sport. “I picked up the sport through some friends when I lived in Breck [Breckenridge, Colo.] some years back and have since moved to Squaw where I can train and ride throughout the winter in their park.”

Raney prefers the wider skis for the inverted aerials and rough landings he sometimes encounters after clearing what could be a 70-foot-gap jump. “I need all the cushion I can get and the thicker, wider boards are more forgiving on your knees when you land.”

As far as snow preferences? “I really like to skiboard in the freshly groomed or springtime corn-snow conditions, because that’s what suits the boards the best for speed and flotation.” As far as competing this winter, ESPN cut the skiboarding competition from its X-Games roster. But Bryce isn’t too upset by it, “I’m taking some time off this season from competing ’cause I’ve done it non-stop now for a while, and I just wanna have fun and ride around, enjoy the winter.”

So if you’re looking for the latest “extreme” thrill this winter, think about snowboarding, but understand it now might seem passé and old school. Consider whether the skiboarding sport of short and light boards might instead be your calling.

But whatever snow sport you decide to pursue, don’t worry about getting chased away from the inbounds of a ski resort by the owner on a snowmobile telling you to “get those damn skiboards off the hill.” Those days are long gone.