Thousands of years ago, early humans strapped large wooden planks to their feet in order to move around their snowy hunting ranges. For them, skiing was a matter of survival. Fast forward to modern times when skiing is more a matter of getting rad and shredding the gnar than surviving another bitter winter.
Skis have undergone many changes over the course of their development. Most of these changes have been for the better—all-wood skis eventually gave way to highly engineered combinations of metal, plastics, foam, and carbon fiber. Nine- to 12-foot boards shrank down to today’s more manageable sub-six-footers.
But not all the steps in the evolution of the ski were in the right direction. Along the way there were a few ski-mutants. Two recessive genes here, a receptive niche there, and an oddity that might not have otherwise survived took off and flourished.
We’ve gone out and found a few of the stranger devices. Some of them are nearly extinct, like snow-skates, while others flourish in small pockets of the ski world like the resilient monoski. Will any of these devices eventually go the way of the Dodo? Judge for yourself.
What It Is: Like a bicycle, with suspension fore and aft and two short skis mounted where wheels should be. But also unlike a bicycle in that riders don't put their feet on pedals; ‘bobbers put extremely short skis on to help them turn. So it's like snowblading, too.
First Appeared: 189American J. C. Stevens patented the first Ice Velocipede, hoping to garner fame and fortune. Some evidence suggests that earlier versions of a ski bike appeared in the Alps in the 1850s though they were never marketed.
15 Minutes of Fame: 1965. The British Invasion of the ‘60s brought a lot of things to America—one of them may have been a renewed appreciation for the skibob. The Beatles, in their 1965 film Help!, schussed Austrian groomers on skibobs. No wonder they had a "Lonely Hearts Club Band"—after skibobbing no one would hang out with them anymore.
Who Rides: People with bad knees. Advocates say it's easier on them. Critics might point out that it seems perilous for your crotch, but skibobbing is alive and well world-wide. There is a Skibob World Cup, and many models of skibob are available, from simple recreational models to models custom-made for extreme ‘bobbing. Don't ever let your friends hear you say on a powder day, "Bro, I don't know—should I take the ‘bob or the fat boards?" It's a one-way ticket to the Lonely Hearts Club.
Relation to Skiing/Snowboarding: Drunk uncle.
- ‘Bob models for sale (prices range from $500 for child-sized ‘bobs to $3,000 for the big boys)
- How to ‘bob
Name: Monoski or monoboard.
What It Is: A single very wide ski with traditional alpine bindings mounted side by side. A monoski is shaped differently than a snowboard with a different flex pattern, so don't be a pounder and ask about a monoskier's cool looking "snowboard."
First Appeared: Late 1950s. American Dennis Phillips took a single waterski, slapped some bindings on it, and took it to his local hill in Hyak, Washington, near Snoqualmie Pass. As he mono-wiggle-turned down the slope, a revolution was born. In 1961, Jack Marchand received a patent for a single-ski with parallel bindings, making him the official inventor. To promote his invention, Marchand attacked the ferocious slopes of Central Park, demonstrating mono-dominance to the gathered hordes.
15 Minutes of Fame: 1971. Surfer and mono-maniac Mike Doyle made a short film with Dick Barrymore featuring 268 consecutive Powder 8 turns on monos. That same year Ski Magazine covered monosking. But by 1976, when Doyle saw one of the first Winterstick snowboard prototypes, he knew that monoskiing's future was in jeopardy.
Who Rides: One-piece ski suit afficionados; French guys. The monoski turn is a special thing to witness, requiring a combination of butt-wiggle and panache rarely seen on this side of the pond. Fortunately, a handy guide can help you mater the technique—it even includes advice on how to carry your deck from the car to the lift. Modern-day monoskiing is enjoying something of Renaissance, possibly due to the emergence of the split mono (also known as a pair of skis).
Relation to Skiing/Snowboarding: Long-lost foreign cousin.
- Monopalooza 2013 (the place to see and be seen in the mono-world)
- Duret (leading French monoski manufacturer)
Name: Skiboard or snowblade. Since "snowblading" is trademarked by Salomon, the now-defunct World Skiboard Association settled on "skiboarding" because it sounded better than "short, unstable skis."
What It Is: Skiboards are typically 65cm to 100cm long, though some are longer. Bindings vary from traditional alpine bindings to non-release bindings more commonly seen in alpine snowboarding. There have been reports of telemark bindings mounted on skiboards as well. These are regionally known as Blades of Glory.
First Appeared: 1940s. Shocked to learn that these sick puppies have been around so long? Originally called "Firn Gliders" or "figls," what started out as tools for serious mountaineering might now just be a hobby for serious tools.
15 Minutes of Fame: 1998. The X-Games debuted, showcasing skiboard freestyle, a defining moment for these plucky little boards. Momentum had been building since the early 1990s when Kneissel released the iconic Big Foot skiboard, complete with toes. LINE Skis built the Mick Nick Pro model and the future looked bright—until 2001, when the X-Games replaced skiboarding with regular skiing. Pro-skiboarders everywhere were crushed, then went out and bought twin-tips, learned how to ski, and suffered less ridicule in the parking lot.
Who Rides: Latvians/Romanians; locals on Gaper Day. After the loss of the X-Games in 2001, skiboarding went into a deep funk only to gloriously re-emerge in 2007 when the World Skiboard Association staged the 2007 Skiboard World Cup in Romania. Success in Romania was followed by a rousing romp in Dubai, where desert-dwellers were treated to the finest skiboarders in the world throwing down freestyle tricks. It was the last Skiboard World Cup. The World Skiboard Association's website is dead. It is currently unclear if skiboarding is alive—it's certainly not well.
Relation to Skiing/Snowboarding: Annoying little brother.
- Buy yourself some shorties here. Prices ranges from $125 to $400.
- For the definitive modern skiboard movie, cue up GNAR: The Movie.
What It Is: The narrowest possible snow sliding plank with telemark freeheel bindings mounted nearly parallel to the board, front to back. Poles are optional, as is turning symmetrically.
First Appeared: 1996. Born from a desire to snowboard faster down icy Eastern moguls, the teleboard is the brainchild of brothers Erik and Martin Fey. During the winter of 1996 the brothers created a succession of boards so narrow that even monoskiers were dubious. Unable to fit conventional alpine snowboard bindings on their creation, they bolted on freeheel bindings instead, hiked to the top of Killington Resort, and got wiggly. Teleboarding was born.
15 Minutes of Fame: 1996. Teleboarding is just over 15 years young and lacks the storied history of some of the other inventions profiled here. Has it had its moment in the pow? Time will tell.
Who Rides: East Coast mogul enthusiasts. The inventors claim that using an extremely narrow, long board with freeheel bindings allows the rider to better flex the board, and to better adjust his weight vertically by standing or kneeling. We're not really sure how this is different than skiing. But teleboarders insist it is. In short, the fundamental asymmetry of the bindings and the inability of the teleboarder to bend his front knee lead to immeasurable gains in ... some type of performance.
Relation to Skiing/Snowboarding: Geeky brother-in-law.
Get Dialed: You can buy teleboards produced in Colorado for around $500 new.
Name: Snow-skates. There are a lot of things that could fall under this name. There are skateboard decks mounted on single skis, four tiny skis, and decks that slide directly on the snow. This is not what we're talking about.
What It Is: The snow-skates we're talking about are the simplest sliding device possible. Take a ski boot, create a boot-length slippery plastic platform with edges, and mount it to the boot. Get ready to get rad.
First Appeared: 1994. A Swiss company called Snowrunner noticed the popularity of inline skating. After changing their name to Sled Dogs, they brought their product to America where allegedly they were allowed at over 75 percent of ski resorts.
15 Minutes of Fame: 1994. It's 1994, and the Olympics are in Lillehammer, Norway. Tonya Harding has just finished clubbing her way into the Games, when the world is first exposed to the emerging sport of snow-skating during the Opening Ceremonies. It needs to be seen to be believed.
Who Rides: Norwegian teenagers. A Norwegian company now manufactures Sled Dogs, producing two high-end Dogs. Seemingly popular in Norway and also Hungary, with a distributor in California, it's enough to make anyone ask: Who let the Dogs out? A thorough analysis of snow-skate videos conducted by this publication reveals that the ratio of jumps-resulting-in-air to jumps-resulting-in-hand-or-face-plants is nearly 1:1; therefore, it is recommended that only individuals with strong wrists or resilient chin structures try snow-skating.
Relation to Skiing/Snowboarding: Not related—just a clumsy friend.
- Available new for 1,595 Norwegian Kroner ($229) from Sled Dogs. Or buy the original Snowrunners for a fraction of the price through Forest City Surplus in Canada, with genuine early 1990s styling.