There is no sport on Earth that inspires more garage inventions than skiing. Many are born from the inherent issues that arise from walking around in foot casts while carrying long pointy objects. Others are the fruits of dreamers who think their whoseywhatsit will go big, allowing them to quit their day job and become full-time ski bums.
I have had many such contraptions cross my desk during the 20-some years I’ve been writing about skiing. Some of the highlights include the Cold Pole, a ski pole with flasks in the handles for those who think “après” means “during” (not French majors, that set). There was also the Smitten, a couple’s mitten that allowed you to hold bare hands, insulated by a V-shaped “tube of love,” while walking around in ski towns. There were the Walk-EZs, little rockers that attach to your boots, designed to take the clomp-lurch out of walking with ski boots. (Still available on Ebay—$60 or highest bid.) I still have (and use) Cat-Tracks, little covers for your boot soles that save wear and tear on your precious lugs during drunken walkabouts when you can’t remember outside which bar you left your skis. And my personal favorite, the Ski Condom, a neoprene sleeve for your ski tips to protect the edges, which likely did not lead to any action that would require its namesake.
Then there is the myriad of devices designed for the surprising mass of skiers who do not understand how to carry their gear. There are padded straps, miniature backpacks, slings, even a little rolling cart that you wedge your tails in and push in front of you. The only device in this vein I’ve ever tried to actually use was an Aspen-branded strap for hiking Highland Bowl, which worked the first time my friend tied it up for me, but after subsequent attempts to repeat the process, I turned it into a belt for my pants that wouldn’t stay up.
Then there are the bindings, the most suspect of which adorned the skis of my high-school Spanish teacher turned ad-hoc ski racing coach, Mr. Long. He showed up to practice every day wearing gators over jeans, and stepped into some kind of contraption—so rare that even Google does not know its name—that affixed his skis to his feet via flexible arms wrapped around his shins. And then, when I lived in Jackson Hole, in the late ’90s and early 2000s, I experimented with a dizzying array of inserts and converters to transform alpine bindings to touring bindings that only solidified telemarking’s top spot in the caste system at that time. (Dear Alpine Trekkers, you are long gone, but my hip flexors will never, ever forget you.)
But perhaps the best “tech innovations” have come in the form of skis themselves. The Scorpion, invented in the ’70s to ski pow, is a rockered skinny ski with the tail cut off. This cult oddity has produced much hilarity (not to mention torn ACLs) at the annual Scorpion Nationals in Sun Valley, and at an editorial conference for this publication, during which I saw a former associate editor nail a backflip on the things. Wayne Wong, the legendary hotdogger who still rocks a headband and his signature moves (and whose personal number I proudly have stored in my cell phone), developed the Anton, a ski with a spring leaf suspension system on top designed to “act like virtual powder” in every condition. (What it actually feels like is skiing on a trampoline.) Then there’s the bevy of niche alternatives, which can barely be considered the same sport: snowblades, snowbikes, tandem skis, monoskis, tele-monoskis, bootskis (“Ultimate freedom that you can fit in your backpack!” lauds the You-Tube ad).
There are, of course, many such tinkerings that actually revolutionized the sport: rockered skis, walk-mode boots, tech AT bindings, and airbag packs, to name a few. But I can’t help but hold the useless and inane ones, peddled via hand-cut business cards, near to my heart.
Kimberly Beekman is a former editor of this publication. She lives in Denver with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.
Originally published in the October 2020 print edition of SKI Magazine. Subscribe now and don’t miss an issue this season.
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