The war is over, though as in most wars* there are still some snipers lurking
in the woods and housing developments. So who won? Everybody.
Instead of two dueling sports, arguing and posturing for domination — the industry
is starting to see a real synergy between the two. Even though snowboarders
still only accounted for about 18% of total lift tickets sold last year, it
has rattled the cages of the industry and opened up the doors of possibility
. . . things will never be the same. Instead of a split playing field,
skiers on one side and snowboarders on the other, weird mutations and combinations
are popping up everywhere. The snow sports industry is at its richest
and most varied point in history. The war is over, the news is everywhere,
and the 1998-99 season is shaping up to be the best ever because of it.
This is the most visible change in the industry. Skiing and snowboarding
have both affected each other tremendously and continue to help each other evolve.
First skiing gave snowboarding a kickstart through its huge technological and
structural foundation. It took skiing one heck of a long time to develop
from its humble roots as a plank pushed by ancient hunters like a scooter —
to high speed quads, snowcats and high density P-tex bases. Snowboarding
reaped the benefits of all this advancement, without the five thousand year
Snowboarding is getting no free ride though, skiers saw the enormous splash
created by this new sport and caught the wave that resulted. Skiers noticed
how the extra surface area of a snowboard made for easy going in deep snow.
The first pair of the new generation of Fat Skis designed just for powder and
crud skiing were created by cutting a snowboard in half, reversing it, and mounting
Skiers also noticed that even recreational level snowboarders were laying out
across the snow, making clean carves at a lower speed than possible on skis.
Many skiers thought “I’d love to be able to do that on my skis!” Top ski
racers have been carving hard enough to lay out on the snow for decades, but
its been out of reach for 99% of skiers. Inspired by snowboards, ski makers
have started turning out skis shaped to make such maneuvers easy. Some
skiers on these new shaped skis are even choosing to go without poles, once
again inspired by their friends on snowboards.
There are also new snow sliding tools coming out every month that defy classification.
Snow Snakes, which are sort of like a water ski for the snow. The Volle
Split Decision which can used as skis for ascending a slope and then combined
to make a snowboard for descents. Looking just like ski boots with a slick
bottom Sled Dogs turn the slopes into an angled skating rink. K2 has a
ski out now that has bent up tips and tails for poaching turns in the halfpipe.
Telemark skiing has also being impacted by the sea change the industry is experiencing
with many pin heads starting to use fat skis and skis with radical sidecuts.
Ski fashions have always been pretty extreme compared to the fashions of most
other sports . . . until snowboarding came along. For awhile it looked
like snowboarding was falling victim to a fashion rut that was even more conformist
than skiings. Now though the doors have burst open and anything goes in
both sports. No matter what you wear these days, its hard to turn heads
at a big resort. From bizarre body art and baggies to paisley racing suits
– everything is out there. A flatlander in a brown Carhart mechanics suit
was only very recently seen as ridiculous, now they might be seen as “making
a statement” (Ok, not really — its still pretty ridiculous).
Snowboarders and skiers both hate to admit it, but the ones good enough to
have a solid grasp of the biomechanics and physics behind their sports have
long realized that the two are very similar. The same physical laws apply
to all of us, and all of our bodies are built basically the same. Its
interesting to watch slow motion footage of a top skier and top rider navigating
the same terrain, they are really doing the same things. Moving into the
new turn, looking down the hill, trying to stand naturally, weighting the center
of the new edge, angulating the tool into the turn, resisting the forces created
and etc,. We are all doing the same stuff in the end. The same goes
for monoskiers, telemarkers and users of all the new sliding tools.
The author on his choice of toys (photo Mark Muench)
This is all not to say that some tasks cannot be better accomplished on one
tool than another. Skiers and snowboarders alike will suffer when trying
to keep up with a Telemarker on the flats or going up hill. Snowboards
are rulers of the halfpipe though a new breed of freeskier makes inroads there,
and in the powder only Monoskis and fat skis can touch a board. Skis are
choice in the race course and for big air (though I’d shake the hand of the
first snowboarder to try an Olympic hundred meter jumping hill), this is because
of body position aerodynamics and foot independence. I saw a guy on a
Snowsnake ripping carved turns with a ferocity that I’ve never seen a skier
or snowboarder match before or since so it has the edge there. Sled Dogs
allow somebody to literally dance down the slopes . . . . this could go on and
on. People are finally waking up to the fact that there is no superior
mode of transportation down the snow, just lots of fun choices and strong opinions.
The war is over, and I believe that the nineties will be seen as the true renaissance
of the ski industry. Athletes that live in a time of such choices should
count themselves lucky. The snow sports industry is the most dynamic its
ever been and its getting more fun by the day. There are already new competitions
happening where the competitor must display mastery of telemarking, snowboarding
and skiing. More movies are featuring shots of skiing and snowboarding
buddies ripping it up side by side. Old battle scars are healing and the
aggression that skiers and snowboarders used to reserve for each other can now
be used to fight more worthy battles (like stopping Vail from taking over the
world and spreading $50+ lift tickets everywhere). A war that lasted ten
years is over, we owe ourselves a decade long party!
*Wars: I just thought of a far more terrifying and traumatic instrument
of war than the old cluster bombs and machine guns routine – bad artists.
Parachute in a few loads of new art grads from Berkley and NYU, then turn tail
and flee before the chaos begins. With satellite reconnaissance we could
safely watch as Christo copycats wrapped Havana in saffron colored cloth, and
we might almost feel pity as we see Saddam Hussein subjected to performance
art involving mimes and accordions. If this does not violate this Geneva
Convention I just might have to write my Congressman with this idea.