This article is a snowboarder’s spin on the progression of snowsports led by innovations in particular by snowboards and snowboarding. The innovations and the innovators are constantly pushing the envelope to driving forward the progression; one of the innovators, Sarah Burke, was constantly pushing the envelope and has clearly left her mark on snowsports. RIP Sarah, may your spirit keep on pushing the envelope.
Snowsports is a constantly progressing sport regardless of the discipline. Recently, the progression has been spearheaded and dominated by snowboarding. Some of the earlier established disciplines like skiing may find this hard to swallow; however, the rocker craze put any argument on what discipline is leading the progression to rest. One also has to look at the shape ski technology borrowed from snowboards to put the final nail in the coffin. Unfortunately, ski organizations still call all the shots in snowsports with snowboarding relegated to the dictates of skiing.
It has been a battle to get snowboarding recognized has a legitimate sport. There are still a few resorts that still do not allow snowboarding, a clearly backward step; with these resorts relishing in discriminatory policies that have no place in modern society. There is no need to mention these resorts but some of the recent converts like Taos in New Mexico and Ajax (Aspen Mountain) in Colorado finally saw the light. Given the resistance of most ski resorts for the acceptance of snowboarding as a sport one has to wonder how they can best represent the sport.
It is quite difficult to find a ski school that can adequately teach snowboarding. Although these institutions now call themselves snow sport school, as they realize that there is a financial gain to be had, however, their inability to treat their clients equally is very evident. In most ski schools, the earliest age a child would be taught to snowboard is four but teaching a child to ski begins at two. The standard excuse is the child’s coordination and the ease to walk and perform the wedge. ONCE THE CHILD IS OLD ENOUGH, HE/SHE SEES THE LIGHT AND BOLT INTO SNOWBOARDING. They do it in droves. Talk about leaving the dark side. However skiers see this differently; usually they feel any one snowboarding has crossed over to the dark side instead of acknowledging their enlightenment.
Until snowboarding became of age, snowsports were generally boring; same old moves and the young were tired of these sports. Snowboarding brought in the half pipe – a very technical discipline, the big air, slopestyle, and boardercross in addition to the traditional slalom, giant slalom and super giant slalom. The new kids on the block started to incorporate acrobatics and complex aerial moves in a very expressive and stylish way far beyond what the establishment can comprehend. It took a while for the establishment to begin to understand but that was not until all the young skiers who have just recently discovered or were gracefully offered sidecut, by the establishment, realize the fun and complexity of pipe riding and big air. The birth of free skiing, the introduction of twin-tip skis, as the folks at Mervin Manufacturing will say NAS (Narrow Ass Snowboards) saved the day; we will talk a bit about this later.
The birth of NAS, all of a sudden changes everything as far as skiing is concerned and save the aging old sport. Unfortunately, it reversed the trend of skiers, particularly the young and restless, converting to snowboarding. The half pipe, once a domain of snowboarders was invaded by skiers who go big and in most cases bigger than most snowboarders. The addition of skiers into the domain of snowboarders was welcome by snowboarders unlike the reaction of the skiing establishment and skiers to snowboarding and snowboarders. Snowboarders were patient about teaching the etiquette of pipe riding to skiers, all of a sudden, the bad boys are now the cultured ones vis-a-vis the dropping in procedures and other unwritten rules were effectively communicated to the dual plankers. However, snowboarding is still dictating and innovating the various moves and complexities that can be performed; hello double cork or triple or who knows where the next innovation will come from.
Talking about innovation, we mentioned the introduction of shaped skis in the nineties. This was met with a significant amount of resistance from the establishment and the so called expert skiers. What! You are breaking the rules, now everyone can now ski very tough and difficult slopes; you are allowing folks who have no business on black diamond runs to be there. Well this resistance did not last long, as the establishment reigned in their wayward stewards because more people bought new skis, more people were enjoying the sport, the ski industry was rolling in dough from all these new purchases and less injuries as ski lengths come down and effective edge goes up. Bye bye 205s and 215s; all these, thanks to snowboards but the establishment refused to acknowledge this fact. In fact most ski companies jumped on the snowboard band wagon earlier and learned from it. Some of them would not put their name on the snowboard to avoid a boycott by snowboarders. These snowboarders are generally considered rascals, anti-establishment and were treated badly by most ski companies. So snowboard by NALE made by Elan spelled backwards were the rule of the day. The progressive ski companies like Voelkl set out to build competitive snowboard products and end up with the World Speed Record on snowboard, a record that has been standing for a while, even though Voelkl pulled out of the Alpine snowboard market.
Fast forward, the pimping of the snowboarding by the ski establishment is fast becoming a thing of the past. Snowboarding innovation continues at a rapid pace and snowboard companies realize that they can now reverse the pimping action. Prior Snowboard Manufactory was one of the first snowboard companies to take advantage of the superiority of snowboard technology and leverage it in producing skis that were sort after by discriminating skiers who want to ride the piste with confidence and tear up the backcountry with reckless abandon. Recently, Mervin Manufacturing, the makers of LibTech and GNU put their spin on the situation with NAS skis. NAS stands for Narrow Ass Snowboards which is true in reality. As the waist width of snowboards shrink you get into the regime of Skwal and nowadays with the so called powder skis that are as wide as many Skwals. The establishment defined snowboards by limiting its waist to no less than 14cm. Before the rocker rave, a few enlightened skiers mount ski bindings on Alpine snowboards (19 cm waist) mainly for powder riding (skiing). These were the folks who really know where it is at. Consider the mountain as a wave, and then surf it – that is powder riding. It looks like it took the establishment a while to get this with some skis now rocking swallow tails a main feature of most powder boards initially made possible by Dimitrije Milovich in the original Winterstick.
The most recent innovation is from Hansjuerg Kessler, the KST technology. The testament to this can be seen in this exchange with Bode Miller. Kessler has dominated snowboard racing since the inception of the sport in the Olympics. As of date, Kessler has more medals, more podium sports than any other board manufacturer and rumor has it that some Kessler magic (pixie dust) has been sprinkled on the now dominating Head Skis not just because top skiers like Lindsey Vonn, Ted Liggerty, Bode Miller to name a few are now rocking Head skis. Rumors but where there is smoke, you can expect fire, as these Head riders are on fire for sure. These are riders that know the edge and know how to carve the knives under their boots, something extraordinarily rare among skiers. I suspect some skiers may take umbrage with this carving statement but there is no doubt that carving is the domain of alpine snowboarding. You cannot fake an alpine snowboard turn; engaging the downhill edge, inclinating and angulating, getting low and pulling all the necessary g-loads while leaving a pencil thin line or a single deep trench is pure carving, pure and simple just like Joerg Egli at Pure Boarding will say.
If you are getting tired or bored skiing or need more rush, more exhilaration, and more fun when there is no new snow and conditions are not so soft, then alpine snowboarding is your sport. You are already used to the hardboots, just some customization of the flex and you are right at home. The new breed of alpine boards on the market, spearheaded by Hansjuerg Kessler will be the right choice. These are damp carving machines designed for the race course. Their lesser brethren, however, are less damp, with more pop are fun as hell and they will not take you for a ride. These new breed of boards, use variable sidecut radius, so stating a precise number is meaningless; so if you are used to the parabolic equation and familiar with the radius given by these equations, forget about them. Welcome to the clothoid, a very interesting world that has been used in engineering in various disciplines like high speed train tracks design, roller coaster, etc. where g-forces have been optimized so you can push the speed envelope while minimizing the g.
Back to surfing, cold surfing solid of frozen water we call powder. We have talked briefly about the dominance of snowboards earlier. The emergence of the rocker which is now overplayed in snowboards, as snowboards had rocker in the past (1980) and we know why we moved away from it, is now very popular in skis. In case you don’t know, ask Harry Gunz of Radical Airlines now Rad Air Snowboards, a niche, unique and exquisite brand and he will school you. Rad Air has stayed true to the sport and has not bothered with skis. However, innovations by snowboard companies continue in the design and fabrication of skis. We had mentioned briefly about the KST innovations from Kessler that makes turn initiation on skis easier and generates less force on the anatomic system at any given speed, resulting in increased safety. This is one major reason to invest in clothoid shaped skis. Kessler of Switzerland and Virus Snowsports of Germany have mastered the shape and the technology and continue to push the limits on the high-end. The most recent innovation in skis from another snowboard company is the D2 from Dupraz. This innovation has just won the 2012 ISPO award. The D2 allows skiers for the first time to really get the true sense of cold surfing. This is something snowboarders and a few elite skiers – the rock stars of the North Shore of Heli Skiing,- they shall remain nameless, have known all along. Now they can enjoy that feeling again proudly on skis without looking like sellouts. Thanks to Serge Dupraz another innovative snowboarder looking out for our brothers and sisters on the other side, the frozen surf side.