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  • Back to skis

    Development of new technology for slopes has turned many snowboarders into skiers again
  • Erick Ward keeps answering the same question — especially on a powder day.
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  • Erick Ward keeps answering the same question — especially on a powder day.
    Does he miss snowboarding?
    "Not at all, I haven't really thought about it," says Ward, who lives in Bend. "I haven't missed it at all."
    Ward, 42, is one of a growing number of former snowboarders, both nationwide and here in Oregon, who have gone back to skiing.
    They cite many reasons for the switch, but most agree that the latest ski technology has made skiing easier in any kind of conditions.
    Also, some snowboarders say they are tired of sitting down to strap onto their board, tired of the long, difficult traverses, and are seeking a more effective way to access the backcountry.
    Skiing seems to be the solution to those problems.
    A skier as a youngster who made the change to snowboarding while he was in high school, Ward was a snowboarder for 18 years before returning to skis last season.
    "I really like the fact that it's cool again," Ward says of skiing. "I like seeing kids in baggy clothes with the big rocker skis, doing tricks on skis. There was a time when everybody thought skiing was on its way out. You weren't cool if you weren't on a snowboard."
    It isn't just snow enthusiasts in their 30s and 40s who are making skiing their preferred form of snowriding. Given the choice, more youngsters today are taking up skiing instead of snowboarding, according to Jeremy Nelson of Skjersaa's Ski and Snowboard Shop in Bend.
    "I'm seeing a lot more 10- to 12-age category on skis anymore, even more so than snowboarding," Nelson says. "It's totally come full circle. It was 50-50 (skiers and snowboarders) for a while, now it's a 60-40 split (in favor of skiers)."
    According to the National Ski & Snowboard Retailers Association, from 2008 to 2009, snowboard participation in the country increased by about 400,000 riders, while ski participation increased by about 500,000 skiers.
    Nelson, a lifelong skier, says snowboarding "breathed new life" into skiing, and forced ski manufacturers to reinvent designs.
    The result over the last decade has been the development of "rocker" technology, in which the tip and tail of the skis rise up at a sharp angle to provide easier turn initiation and more flotation in powder and mixed snow conditions. Also, new wider skis cut through deep snow more easily.
    "It's like cheating, it really is," says Nelson of the new skis. "That's what they (skiers) said about snowboarding. Then they decided: 'We should cheat, too.' It's amazing how much more you can ski through the powder and junk lines (with the new skis).
    "Snowboarding pushed it into the freeride mode. Now you can access terrain you couldn't before."
    Bend's Jim Brennan, 71, had skied all his life before switching to snowboarding about 12 years ago. Two years ago, though, he went back to skiing. And last season, Brennan says, he skied 84 days and snowboarded nine.
    "As you get older, it's a pain in the rear to sit down and buckle in all the time," Brennan says. "The new skis are making it so much easier to ski. They're basically putting two snowboards on your feet rather than one. It's so much easier to go different places now."
    His all-mountain skis, Brennan says, work well in any kind of conditions, except maybe wet snow. "When it's wet, I'll use a snowboard," he says. "Snowboarding's much easier than skiing in wet snow."
    "You can go places on skis," Nelson says, "you can't go on a snowboard."
    Ward says another reason for his return to skis is the backcountry factor. While snowboarders must use either snowshoes or split boards to access backcountry terrain, skiers can simply apply skins to their telemark or alpine-touring (AT) skis.
    Ward uses an AT setup, with which he can unlock his heels to skin in the backcountry. Then, he can lock his heels back down to ski.
    "I spent a lot of time trying to effectively move in the backcountry on a snowboard," Ward says. "Skiing just seems like such a more effective way to deal with all the (backcountry) issues."
    Nelson says skiing has made a "huge, huge comeback" over the last few years. He credits some of the comeback to the X Games, the Dew Tour and freeskiing movies, all of which have helped make skiing more popular with the younger, hipper set.
    "These freeskiers are like gods to these kids," Nelson says.
    Another indication that skiing is regaining popularity relative to snowboarding: In February, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) announced the formation of a new sport program — U.S. Freeskiing. The program will encompass the potential new Olympic events of halfpipe and slopestyle skiing, along with skicross, which made its Olympic debut last year in Vancouver.
    Halfpipe, slopestyle and snowboardcross are extremely popular snowboarding disciplines, as well. (Halfpipe and snowboardcross are Olympic events, but not slopestyle.) The rapid progression of freeskiing helped spark the new sport program, according to the USSA.
    But aside from any talk of new Olympic skiing events, sometimes skiing is simply the best option for the weekend warrior.
    Mark Morical is a reporter for the Bend Bulletin. He can be reached at 541-383-0318 or at mmorical@bendbulletin.com.
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