Will Skiboarders Leave Snowboarders In the Powder?

If you're bored with the bad boys of snowboarding, not to worry. Get on board the latest trend in snow sliding: "Skiboarding," muses Ron Semiao, director of programming for ESPN2 and creator of the ESPN Winter X Games, the Olympics of alternative sports.

The sport uses two short skis with twin tips allowing forward and backward jumping. It debuted competitively in January at the 1998 Winter X Games in Colorado, themselves only two years old.

"Skiboarding has the chance to become hugely popular," notes Mr. Semiao. "It has the same appeal of in-line skating."

Depending on who you talk to, that appeal is: "faster than a snowboard;" "shorter and thinner than a snowboard;" "can do more tricks."

Ahh, the tricks ... the motor that drives these board boys. Here are just a few:

* Bio 360: grabbing the skiboards while completing one full rotation (a bio 540? One and a half rotations, landing backwards).

* Corkscrew: Sideways front flip with a 180-degree twist, landing backwards.

* Yoda: Going to a cross-legged position in the air (Yoda 360? Doing the Yoda position in a spin).

The man who created skiboards, Jason Levinthal, who also founded his own skiboard company, says that he wanted to do something that had never been done before.

The attitude is typical of the sportsmen-on-the-edge who inhabit the world of extreme sports, laughs Semiao. And it's one of the criteria he looks for in evaluating a new sport.

"We want to see a whole lifestyle, a real individual expression," before anointing a new sport a genuine up-and-comer.

"It's not enough to just create a new device." But he adds, the pace of invention has picked up enormously in recent years, especially in the area of board sports.

No better proof of that observation is the fact that even as Semiao speaks, skiboarders themselves are being pursued by the newest boards on the hills: the snowskaters, who hope to land the latest-newcomer berth in the 1999 Winter X Games.

Even though some skiboarders dismiss snowskates as just another name for their own small boards, Kent Rodriguez, chairman and CEO of the Sled Dogs Co., ("the only US manufacturer of a true snowskate") says the difference is critical: Skiboards are a short ski with the same bindings and essentially same technique as skiing, while snowskates are a skate that use the in-line skating technique.

"Most important, we appeal directly to the in-line skater," he explains, pointing out that skiboarders draw from the alpine-skier market. "We have the potential to reach 22 million in-line skaters who don't have a winter sport, yet.

What do the skiboarders think of the snowskaters? "Don't ask," says one.

"About the same thing skiers think of snowboarders and the snowboarders think of the skiboarders," laughs another.

Not surprising. After all, on a mountain, everybody looks down on somebody - especially if they're the next up-and-comer in the lift line.

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