Is Your Resort Snowskate-Ready?

The boom in skateboard-inspired snow devices is coming.

Plan now for this one. Otherwise next season you’ll be dealing on the fly with hordes of teenagers jibbing your parking-lot railings on their new snowskates.

Worse still, they’ll be demanding to take them on the lifts. Snowskates, Snowdecks, and numerous similar products, each based around the concept of a skateboard designed for snow, are coming in a big way.

Premier, which manufacturers the Snowskate¿an enlarged plastic skate deck that sits directly on the snow¿has sold 50,000 units worldwide in its first season. Retailers across the country are screaming for more product, but instead they’re facing back orders of several months as Premier runs its presses 24/7 right now, expecting to sell 125,000 units next year and perhaps double the year after. Not bad for a product that retails for around 50 dollars.

Meanwhile, Burton is set to launch the Junkyard, which it classifies as a snowdeck and differs because it’s more like a skateboard on trucks attached to a mini snowboard. Several other companies are said to be developing products in the same overall category.

“Ski areas need to think hard about how they’re going to deal with the product,” says Andy Wolf, designer of the Snowskate. “But above all, they should be thinking of this as an extra opportunity both to drive revenue and improve the experience at the resort. Some kids will spend the whole day on these things; for others it will be an alternative for an hour or two. It’s an ideal activity for base areas or as an evening activity. The question is how to control and contain snowskaters. The answer will be a self-contained terrain park that is more fun than the trash cans or rails at the main lodge.”

Already several ski areas have expressed enthusiasm. Copper Mountain and Mount Hood Meadows are working toward small terrain parks designed specifically for snowskates. In fact, Premier will soon be offering drawings and instructions for terrain parks on its Web site at www.snowsk8.com.

“A snowskate terrain park is very easy to design,” says Wolf. “You don’t need elevation, so you use a far smaller area than a snowboard terrain park. You don’t need much more than a couple of picnic tables and a couple of benches. And most existing insurance policies appear to cover it once it’s written into the policy.”

Mammoth is considering having a small park next to one of their picnic lunch areas. But this brings in the bigger question of whether these devices should or even can be allowed on lifts. A solution for Mammoth might be to insist users either go up the lift with skis or snowboard with a regular ticket, or have snowskaters buy a special lift and also have them ride down the hill by lift.

While snowskates are designed for terrain-park use, Burton’s device, with its metal edges, is designed for use on slopes as well as in terrain parks. There are reports of complete beginners linking turns the first time out. But should these devices be allowed on all slopes, and how should they be monitored?

“Obviously there’ll be the need for a retention device in the use of Snowdecks on slopes,” says Burton’s Marketing Director Dave Schriber. “It’s an intriguing question as to whether someone going into the lift line with one then becomes foot traffic. The issue simply hasn’t been addressed.”

Mountain High, a resort usually in front of trends, has yet to make a decision. “So far I think we would have liability problems if we allowed them on lifts,” says Marketing Director Brad Wilson.

NSAA has yet to formulate a policy or guidelines for ski areas, but Education Director Tim White says the topic is likely to come up at the May conference: “If users of the devices are deemed foot traffic, then lifts will need to slow down to the speed of a detachable quad; faster speeds become an issue. Then there’ll need to be a retention device for the hand, in case one of them is dropped.

“But clearly there is huge potential, and I’m personally intrigued as to whether the Burton product has a role in helping people learn to snowboard,” he says. “I think operators learned their lessons from the introduction of snowboards and will now be opened-minded to anything that increases traffic on the hills with no risk.”

As the devices are in their infancy, it’s also probable that whatever rules are established now will need to cover their likely evolution. Already some people have suggested that a string extending from the tip will give more control and allow easier carving.  But someone already thought of that 30 years ago: it was called a Snurfer. (This article originally appeared in Ski Area Management magazine.)

¿Matthew Kreitman