Why, it's just like skating on snow

February 04, 1993|By San Francisco Chronicle

Skiers used to say, "Go long, or go home." Hotshots sneered at skiers with boards under 200 centimeters in length. But snowboards blew this premise out of the powder. Now the attitude is, if it's fun, do it; and "short" has grown a style all its own.

It's hard to imagine anything shorter than the new Snow Runner snow skates. These resemble light downhill boots with a tiny, hard plastic ski affixed to the boot bottom -- hardly much longer than the boot itself.

These contraptions are already a modest hit in Europe. Snow Runners were introduced in Colorado last year with some success; 25 of 27 downhill ski areas now stock them for the entertainment of their guests.

Now the importers have set themselves to invade California and New England.

Installing these things on your feet is definitely the ticket for getting attention in a lift line. Everyone from lift operators to snooty schussers in Bogner suits stares at them bug-eyed. "Hey man, where are your skis?" "How do you stop those things?" "Can you turn?"

The importers claim Snow Runners work just like in-line skates onsnow. This seems partially true.

There's a short learning curve involved in sliding down a bunny slope; and cranking turns and making "hockey stops" comes easily.

A promotional videotape shows experts can do twirls and jumps, orform up into downhill conga lines.

However, to keep the Snow Runners from bogging down, one must incessantly weight the heels -- very unlike conventional skating or skiing. Constantly pulling up with the toes can strain ligaments at the front of the shin. And making a push-off skating motion with the trailing leg while keeping toes of both feet raised is difficult.

The short, hard, plastic ski functions well on packed powder, or a firm base covered with thin fresh stuff. It would probably do well on spring corn snow.

But in crud, or on steep ice, you can kiss graceful downhill movement farewell.

Such problems may be partially licked when a steel-edged version comes out next year. There's also a model in the works called the Chameleon, which will have interchangeable bases.

Those who will enjoy it most are on-line skaters who want a similar alpine experience, and beginner skiers who want the short learning curve and the reduced chance of injury. Compared to skiing or snowboarding, this sport puts almost no torque on your knees.

The current model of Snow Runner retails for about $250.

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