Sick Flips on Skiboards

"Sick Flips", Wintersport Business, By: Peter Kray

For Charles and Cheryl Malfetti, skiboards are for tripping the light fantastic on a frozen dance floor. For (others) skiboards are for catching sicker air than skis or snowboards. For Eric Schmidinger and Mike Nick, skiboards are for catching sicker air than they could ever imagine on skis or snowboards. Within the extremes lies skiboarding's promise. Ten years ago, the Malfettis formed the International Ski Dancing Association. Using the unusual, convex bottoms of Gauer skiboards,the couple performs ballroom-like moves on groomed slopes.

"What we do is best done on hardpacked snow," Cheryl Malfetti said. Gauer President Jim Feketa said snow dancing will lure Baby Boomers, more interested in the aesthetics of skiing than the athletics, back on snow. He's approached an apparel company about a line of snow dancing clothing. Mike Nick's definition of aesthetics involves lots of air time. In January, Nick won the first skiboarding event of the ESPN Winter X-games. With head-over-heels flips and 1,080 degree rotations in a terrain park-style course, Nick advertised the radical nature of skiboarding to as many as 70 million viewers. Because many skiboards have parabolic side cuts and twin tips like miniature snowboards, riders can spin, ride fakie and do mute grabs almost as easily as Terje or Johnny.

Although the market is wide-open, skiboard suppliers see there potential audiences for their products. One is in-line skaters who will use skiboards to easily cross over into winter sports. A second is snowboarders who see skiboards as a chance to experience two planking without being uncool. and the third is beginners.

Suppliers also hope skiboarding can become a standalone sport, no just a diversion for skiers and riders. " I get tired of skiing and like to go in the park sometimes," said Schmidinger a ski racer who first got on Big Foots to improve his balance. After four years on the Big Foot, Schmindinger has better balance - and a better bank balance. He won the 1998 $10,000 Big Foot Challenge at Sugar Mountain Ski area in North Carolina. "Because they're shorter and easier to turn, I think people who haven't skied before should try them, even though I think they mostly appeal to the younger generation that doesn't want to ski and just wants to jump and do tricks," Schmindinger said. "For me, it just means there's a bigger variety of things I can do depending on the conditions."

One group of short skis, including the Stinger, Hart's Free services and Elan's new PSX Short, target beginning skiers. These products have a specific purpose: training new skiers to graduate to conventional skis. "I think the most important thing about this product is that people who have gotten on them are still skiing," said Brian Dani of Stinger."They don't drop out of the sport. They just keep having fun." And "fun" is one aspect of skiboarding that opposites like Mike Nick and Chrely Malfetti can both agree on.

PSIA members, who gathered at Copper Mountain recently, said skiboards are excellent for racers who need to fine-tune their balance, and for intermediates who are working on edging skills and making round arcs. But for beginners, instructors said they wanted another tool between skiboards and shaped skis. "The first time beginners get on skiboards they say 'hey, I can do this'. Skiboards are "really good as a learning tool because they give immediate response to your input. You know right where you are on the things. The instructor doesn't have to say a thing."

For further information, please go to either www.skiboards.com or www.summitskiboards.com