First Tracks in the Dust Bowl

Cold Front

If the Oral Roberts Prayer Tower or the world’s largest McDonalds haven’t been reason enough for you to make a pit stop in Oklahoma, perhaps Tulsa’s latest attraction will be—a 700-foot-long, 260-vertical-foot faux-snow ski hill smack in the flatlands. Tentatively called The Slopes of Sand Springs, the $1.1 million mountain will feature ramps, moguls, a halfpipe, and a chairlift. It will also be the first place in the U.S. that employs European-developed Snowflex, an Astroturf-like material that backers say can be carved like corduroy. “It’s a different sensation from snow, says Martin Hill, a former sponsored snowboarder who has put in Snowflex turns in England for six years. “But it’s soft to land on when you go over a jump. Other dryslope materials were made by the devil.

Indeed, the powder-poor U.K. has tried to export various dryslope technologies to the U.S. since before they stuck us with Duran Duran. But while the older metal-and-mesh-backed turfs could tear the hide off a greased armadillo, Snowflex’s monofilament bristles (see below for specifics) are reportedly soft and forgiving. When wet, the filaments become slick, letting skiers carve or snowplow just as they would on the real stuff. A shock-absorbing second layer prevents simple wipeouts from leading to skin graft procedures. “It’s the next logical step in the snowsports industry, says Wisconsin’s Dieter Sturm, Snowflex’s U.S. representative.

Marketing hyperbole and visions of hordes of turfplowing Okies aside, he may be right. The technology offers legitimate off-season training applications for competitive skiers. “Freeskiers are shut down all summer unless they go to Mount Hood or Europe, says Jeff Chumas, former director of the United States Ski Association’s freestyle program. “But with Snowflex they can train all year round. Which may explain why Snowflex sites are now being considered in San Francisco, Denver, Park City, and Lake Placid, and Sturm is in negotiations to bring Snowflex to several ski areas to provide instant, year-round bases. Until then, it looks like Okies will remain on the forefront of skiing plastic.

Head to Head

Was Glen Plake the inspiration behind Snowflex’s standing bristles technology? You decide.

Top Layer

Glen Plake: Eight to 14 inches of human hair (we think)

Snowflex: Half-inch stitched monofilament

Second Layer

Glen Plake: Shockingly shaved scalp

Snowflex: Shock-absorbing padding

Bottom Layer

Glen Plake: Water-impervious human skin

Snowflex: Water-impervious plastic membrane

Performance aftercare

Glen Plake: Gobs of high-performance hair gel

Snowflex: Water