Paul Elkins, founder of FUSE SnowSkates, fills us in on where SnowSkating has been, where it is headed, and what we’ve been missing.
How long have you been riding big-mountain?
I rolled into snowboarding from skiing. I’d already been skiing some extreme stuff, so the bigger lines were attractive early on.
And you rode pro for awhile?
I used to have contracts with K2, Rip Curl, and Scott, and I’d compete in the extremes and free-ride comps, big airs and boarder-cross. Basically did it all. But then when half-pipe got ridiculous, and people were actually specializing in it and training and all that, I got into free-riding. Free-riding is the kind of riding you do anyways, and its what i was used to, so it just made more sense.
Where did SnowSkating come in?
I’ve been riding the 4-by since the early 90’s, but the double-deck thing just began 2-1/2 years ago.
So you grew up skating in SoCal, then brought what you knew best to the snow?
At the time I’d already been snowboarding for 15 years. We were doing a lot of one-foot airs and tricks with our feet unstrapped, and it just seemed like it was time for something new. I tried snowboarding with hooks instead of bindings, but knew I wanted to get rid of bindings completely. The 4-by just made sense to me. I knew that was it. I felt like I was skating. Basically that’s what you do. You’re skateboarding on a certain stretch of hard snow. But on a 4-by you’re not jamming a whole mountain. I mean, we did. But that’s crazy. I don’t recommend that to most people. I once bombed Squaw from Riviera chair all the way down at night. And all these other night missions at Squaw, Northstar, Kirkwood, and the bottom of Heavenly. We’d all go out and just kind of party and bomb hills and stuff.
That sounds pretty nuts. But now it’s all about the double-deck?
Now, yes. But I wasn’t too sold on the double-deck at first. I was a little biased. The opportunities I wanted to see in SnowSkating really weren’t there with double-decking at that time. The 4-by has pretty much become the go-to skate for freestyle, but just can’t hack it on anything soft or deep. You need a lot more strength and stability under-foot to ride soft snow or steep lines. It wasn’t until I finally rode a solid double-deck on a good resort day that i was really stoked on it.
So if you’re riding in-bounds, how do you convince the Lifties to let you load with a SnowSkate on?
Hahaha. Nowadays the sport is more recognized, and with a leash you can usually get on lifts no problem. But when I first started I would carry my SnowSkate on my backpack. I’d strap into my snowboard with skate shoes on, and just crank the straps down real tight. I’d snowboard to a spot and ditch my board, then skate for awhile, and finally snowboard away. And it’s funny because I actually enjoyed snowboarding in my skate shoes. I could really tweak my feet and make great turns. It really made you feel your feet, ya know? You definitely paid closer attention to every turn, every bump, everything ahead of you.
Speaking of things ahead of you, are you going to start producing powder skates for the public?
Yes but I’m going to start in small batches because that’s going to evolve a lot over the next few years. It has to be resort-friendly, ya know. You have to be able to ride all conditions, even on hard-pack. That’s why no-boarding and powsurfs just don’t cut it sometimes; because if you’re not in pure pow it’s not gonna fly. So i’m trying to bring it more as the Free-ride Skate, because it’s not just for powder. I wanna huck, ya know? I wanna do big lines. I wanna do basically everything I do on a snowboard, and I know it’s possible.
You spend a lot of time in the backcountry. What is your method for approaches/ascents, aka mode of transport?
Backcountry usually involves sledding out, and either shuttling or using some kind of approach skis or snowshoes to climb. Something you can put on your back easily and be able to skate down. As far as next year, I’m looking into some tri-fold approach skies, with longer length and permanent skins. Something I can break trail in. I wanna get some of those skis from Mountain Approach. They allow you to ride your everyday snowboard because you can fold them up and put them in your bag, or strap them to the outside. Plus, the skins are permanently attached so they won’t fall off or anything. It’s such a quick change from one to the other.
You’re based out of Crested Butte, CO. Where do you think SnowSkating has taken off the best?
I’d say Tahoe, particularly the South shore, and Washington state. There’s a few companies out of Big Bear, CA as well.
So do you spend much time on the road?
Yea. Definitely a Colorado trip or two each year to Summit County, where I’ve got some die-hards that I hook up with. The last three years I’ve done the Ralston competition in Tahoe, so I’ll drive out for that. The last two years I’ve been in the Hurricane Ridge comp, and that’s pretty sick. That’s the full on SnowSkate blowout. First of all, Hurricane Ridge has something like three rope-tows. It’s a small set-up but they have a lot of side-country. You go up to this peak-like summit and there’s a powder downhill, a slalom course, and a freestyle jam. They’ll have a concert too – usually a punk band – and there’ll be mad skating going on in their sick park and barn-ramp. Washington’s also cool because I can surf on the Olympic Peninsula. I had never surfed outside of Cali before that…so the Washington trip is sick.
Five words to describe the future of SnowSkating?
Only a matter of time!