Why you should care
Because cool evolves.
If you read Thrasher, the unofficial bible of skateboard cool, way back in the early 1980s when it was still printed (huh? what? — eds.) on newsprint (double huh? double what? — eds.), you might remember that Messrs. Tom Sims and Jake Burton had been trying to slide down snowy inclines on naked skateboard decks since the ’70s. If you were a skateboarder, the boards, with aluminum bottoms and carpeted tops, came off as a quaint attempt at getting to lame even faster than you might normally get there.
Years later, with snowboard sales rail-sliding around $132,818,179 in 2015, according to Statistic Brain, none of it seems lame. But these things live and die on the basis of the churn and the much-catered-to “It” factor, and with snowboard participation dropping 28 percent from 2003 to 2013, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, and downhill skiing dropping 10 percent during the same period, it seemed clear that something was happening. Not just the drought in California, which kept snow sports people away from the hills there. Nor the aging of the snowboarding population. Maybe more a hunger for another adrenaline-delivery vehicle.
Enter the ski bike. Not to be confused with the snowscoot, which is essentially a snowboard with a steering column, the ski bike is a Frankenstein’s monster of snow sports mayhem. In the good kind of way.
The ski bike’s creation was perhaps inevitable, in the same way that big brains came up with putting cameras and phones together, or chocolate and peanut butter. But thinking about it — we’ve been giving serious thought to magic carpets in our more, er, reflective moments — is very different from doing it.
“BMX were so easy and squirrelly and could go just about any place a skateboard could go, it was probably just inevitable,” says Ronnie Isa, a longtime snowboarder and former bass player for hardcore greats BL’AST. Swap out a skateboard for a snowboard and find a bike-friendly mountain to try it out on. That, or come up with $2,000 to $3,000 to buy what’s essentially a small bike with muscled-up shocks and small snowboards where the front and rear tires would be. That’s a lot of money for fun you might not be sure of, which is why renting a ski bike for about $159, which includes a half-day lesson in most places, is a much more sensible option.
But if the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, is the real deal anything like the videos — carefully edited, we suspect — that show people swooping across slopes on these geeked-up rigs and never crashing? Like never, ever? “I don’t see anyone flying around like that on them,” says Isa, who has logged more than 30 days on his board this winter. “They look sketchy as fuck to ride.”
Mountain and ski bike manufacturer Devin Lenz pooh-poohs that. “On a regular bike, you lean into a turn,” says Lenz, who started making ski bikes 12 years ago with Matt Hanson because he wanted to take a bike places on the mountain where he had been on skis. “On a ski bike, you tip, not lean.” And with approximately 75 percent of ski resorts in Colorado clearing ski bikes, and about 50 percent in Utah, Lenz cuts straight to the whole “possibly too dangerous” chase. “You probably can’t do it without a lesson first,” he says. “But once you get it, crashes are usually more slide outs and tumbles than the leg-breaking stuff you used to see on skis or rib injuries on snowboards.”
Which is pretty much all we need to hear. So, with shorts, T-shirts, sunblock, helmet and a late ski season all in place, we’ll see you out there.