Editors Note: This is the second installment of a Tribune "Learn To" series in recognition of Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, a national grassroots initiative.
Wearing what looks like blue dishwashing gloves, Mark "Spicolli" Montgomery sends it off a 30-foot kicker.
It's a decent sized jump for any rider, but Montgomery is doing it on a snowskate. Those "dishwashing gloves" he's wearing are actually insulated crab fishing gloves that happen to have awesome grip for that oh-so-important landing.
It looks insane, but Montgomery swears it's not.
"It's just a mental thing. It's the whole aspect of not being attached to the board that people think is so much harder, but really it's not," Montgomery said. "Once you get past it, you totally forget that you're not attached to the thing."
Montgomery and his friends didn't single-handedly bring snowskating to Lake Tahoe, but they are among the pioneers. They're among guys like Danny Sheehan, who created Ralston Snowskates, and Pat Quinn, who is a South Shore snowskating legend. These guys have been on the scene for nearly a decade, and have some good advice and entertaining stories to share with up-and-comers. -
"Once you figure out what's going on and what to avoid, it really is pretty safe," Quinn said. "A couple times on the hill, and that was it. I was hooked."
Snowskating comes to Tahoe
Montgomery was making snowboards for Lib Tech in 2002 when a snowskate prototype was dropped in his lap. Lib Tech was looking to get into the snowskate business, and guys like Montgomery could help.
"I thought it was a complete joke at first until I actually went out and rode one," Montgomery said. "We just needed to make some subtle improvements to make it more comfortable."
Skateboards are meant for flat, smooth concrete while snowskates are like bombing a hill with lots of bumps. So Montgomery and his fellow Lib Tech crew set about making bigger and better skis for the bottom of their snowskates, and tweaking the sidecuts to see what worked best.
Meanwhile, down in South Lake, Sheehan and Quinn were also getting into snowskating.
Sheehan turned to snowskating after he broke his leg on a skateboard, and could no longer put on a snowboard boot. He brought his friend Quinn along for the ride, and the timing was perfect.
"I've been a ski bum my whole life, and basically, I was just ready for a change from snowboarding," Quinn said. "It was getting to the point where, if I wasn't going out and hitting an 80-foot jump, it was just boring, and then you're risking your neck."
Learning to snowskate looks intimidating, but both Montgomery and Quinn said the learning curve is similar to snowboarding. It just takes getting past not being strapped in.
"When you ride a bike once you take the training wheels of that bike's a lot more fun to ride," Montgomery said. "It's just a comfort thing."
Going strapless can even be a benefit for beginners. When they catch an edge, beginners can jump off or sit down instead of being slammed into the ground by their equipment.
Same principle holds true in the park and the powder.
"If you come off the lip wrong on skis or a snowboard you're kind of at the mercy of gravity," Quinn said. "On a snowskate if you come off the lip and it's wrong you just kind of fly through the air and get your feet under you and slide."
There's also a freedom to not being attached and gliding through the powder, Montgomery said. No sore ankles or feet, and digging out of powder is much more manageable.
"Riding powder unstrapped just blows your mind," Montgomery said. "You don't catch your edge and scorpion or face plant. If you catch your edge you just kind of slide out on your knees. It gives you freedom."
Getting on the lift isn't bad either. Snowskaters simply walk up and sit down, but they do have to ride off. There's no strapping in. Just jump on the board and go, which saves beginners a ton of energy in the getting up and down department.
And as the sport continues to progress, so does the equipment.
Trucks, decks and skis - everything on a snowskate is now interchangeable. The ski attached to the bottom can be swapped out for a short park ski, a medium cruising ski or a long powder ski.
The big-nosed powder ski and elevated riding platform lets snowskaters mob in the trees. Quinn takes his in the backcountry and said he floats fine on a 136.
"Yeah, pretty much once you figure it out you can ride powder and not be strapped in it's a game changer," Quinn said. "It's just taken a little while to catch on."
Don't get these guys wrong. They're not saying beginners won't take their lumps. They're just saying the new challenge and freedom of going strapless makes those lumps worth it.
Hanging out with Montgomery and his friends in the lift line is like hanging out with celebrities. Everyone is gaping at the snowskates, and questions are flying at the guys.
"Can you kickflip?" a kid asks Montgomery.
Montgomery obliges. He's used to fielding these questions.
It's pretty obvious the sport has potential to grow, but Quinn and Montgomery don't think it will happen overnight.
"Right now everyone just wants to push it and improve the sport," Montgomery said. "Everyone is talking about going bigger. Everything that snowboarders do, we pretty much figure we can do and are doing."
But Montgomery thinks it will take something like an X Games appearance to really launch snowskating.
In the meantime, the Tahoe snowskaters are doing their part to educate and continue to push boundaries.
"Hopefully every mountain will open up to it, and maybe someday we'll have a mountain that's snowskate-only," Montgomery said.