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New snow toys get their day on slopes
Thursday, 19 February 2004





Most people sliding face-first down a ski run happen there by accident, but on this day in late January smiles were leading the way down the Millicent lift side of the resort.

Downhill skiers, Telemark skiers and snowboarders stopped to watch as Brighton allowed another means of recreating on the slopes for one day.

"What is that?" and "Are they fun?" were typical questions from the regulars as participants in the Outdoor Retailer show demonstration used snowshoes to hike up the runs at Brighton for a quick descent on Airboards.

Despite the keen interest spurred by the air-filled body boards for snow, ski resort officials in Utah say it probably will be a long time before Airboards and other snow toys become a part of the daily routine.

"The question is incorporating them safely on the hill. It is similar to the same thing we had to go through with snowboarding. Things like liability issues," said Brighton spokesman Dan Malstrom. "There have been a lot of these kinds of things show up throughout the years, and the interest for them usually dies before it becomes a real issue."

Brian Head Resort was the only resort to respond to an open question regarding alternative equipment on Utah slopes. The southern Utah ski area has six adult and two children's sized K2 Snow Cycles for rent.

"People tell us they really like the option of having something different to do," said Brian Head spokesman Craig McCarthy. "They are more stable for some people than skis."

The immersion of snowboards into the ski industry was not a smooth one. Now, other snow toys like Snowskates (skateboards without wheels), snowdecks (a two-tiered ride with a mini-sized snowboard bottom and skateboard-sized top) and Sno-Blades (mini-skis) are showing up.

Resort officials say all the different equipment can lead to chaos and collisions on the mountain.

"Ten or 12 years ago people looked at snowboarding as not being a viable sliding apparatus from an operational standpoint. My how things have changed," said Solitude Mountain Resort spokesman Jay Burke. "We are aware there are some new items coming into the market and we will have to make an assessment to their viability."

Airboard and Snowskate users are not limited to resorts, but the smooth runs are attractive when it comes to speed-seekers.

Todd Wienke, in Utah for the Outdoor Retailer show from Chicago, said using the Airboard brought back flashes of his childhood, but he wasn't sure his 30-something body could handle a full day of riding the sled. "It was a harkening back to when I was a kid: The spirit of the adventure provided quite a thrill and there was a hair of fear," he said. "There was a fast learning curve, but I'm not sure I could spend the whole day on it."

Ann-Elise Emerson, a representative of Emo-Gear which is selling the Airboard in North America, says six resorts in the United States allow Airboards, with more to come in the future.

"There has been great interest by a lot of resorts and I expect we will have many more options for people looking to bodyboard on the snow next winter," she said. "Like the snowboard, it will take a while for resorts and skiers to get accustomed to the idea of people sliding down the mountain on Airboards."

Adam Chase, team captain for Atlas Snowshoes based in Boulder, Colo., soars through the air on an Airboard at Brighton Ski Resort last month.

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