The brand I'm most familiar with is Sled Dogs, which used to be made by a company here in Minneapolis, MN, but are now sold by a Norwegian company. Their snow skates are basically a ski boot with a very short ski-like base on the bottom, about the same length of the boot. There are a few similar skates, such as the Bigfoot and the Footski, which attach to existing ski boots. In fact, there are now a lot of companies making skate-like skis (more commonly known as skiboards) -- see below for some questions I answer about them. For the rest of this article, I'll refer primarily to Sled Dogs, but the techniques are probably similar for the other brands.
You didn't answer "why".
Oops. Snow skates were originally invented in Switzerland in 1991. If you remember the 1994 Olympics from Norway, the opening ceremonies had kids skating down the hill on snow skates similar to Sled Dogs. Some people got together and decided, "Hey, this would be a fun thing for inline skaters to do in the winter." And that's how I got hooked on snow skating.
So, are they fun?
No. They really suck and they're pointless. Actually, I'm kidding -- they're a lot of fun. I first tried them out in December of 1994 (after the Sled Dogs people had a demo at the Mall of America) and enjoyed them a lot. After I tried them for the second time, I decided, "This is really cool," and ended up buying a pair. I later ended up getting a pair of the new model, the Sled Dogs K9's, in November of 1996. Here's my review of them.
Where do you use them? (Or, "Where can you take Sled Dogs for a walk?")
Usually at downhill ski areas. I've used them around the Twin Cities at ski areas such as Afton Alps, Buck Hill, and Trollhaugen. If you live around Minneapolis-St. Paul, most ski areas allow Sled Dogs. The previous page has a list of ski areas around the U.S. that allow Sled Dogs.
This page is starting to sound like a commercial for Sled Dogs. Are they paying you?
No; I'm not taking any money for this page. (Although they gave me a couple free T-shirts, one from the demo at the Mall of America and another for helping out at a demo event.) I'm just writing this page because there isn't anything else on the Web about snow skating (except for a very few links).
Are they easy to learn?
Yes. If you've ever skated before (inline or ice), you know 90% of the technique for snow skating. If you've ever skiied before, they're fairly easy to learn too. Even if you've never done either of these, the learning curve isn't too steep. All you need is a downhill slope and you're moving. Basically, you should position your body like you're on inline skates: you should keep your knees bent, with your feet about shoulder width apart. Keep your weight over the back of the skates -- if you put too much weight on your toes, you'll dig them into the snow and do a face plant.
How do you stop?
Aim for something cheap and well-padded. Actually, it's fairly similar to stopping in hockey: turn the skates 90 degrees toward the direction you're traveling and dig the uphill edges into the snow. (Digging the uphill edges into the snow also helps if you fall and need to get back up without sliding further down the hill.) This is easier to demonstrate if someone shows you.
What about turning?
It's fairly similar to skiing or inline skating: put your weight on the edges of the skates in which direction you want to turn, and turn your shoulders in that direction. For example, if you want to turn left, put your weight on the left edge of the left skate and the left edge of the right skate, then rotate your shoulders to the left and look in that direction. It's much easier to turn on snow skates than on skis or snowboards, so it's easier (and more fun!) to do cool tricks.
I got stuck on a flat part of the ski hill and had to walk. What do I do?
Flat areas are a little more tricky on snow skates than on downhill skis, but they can be done. Actually, they can be handled much like inline skating on a flat surface: push off with the inside edge of your right foot, then the inside of your left foot, and so on alternating from left to right. Or, you could do it like skateboarding: push off with one foot, and ride on the other foot.
The technique for using them is very similar, but the actual construction is different. Skiboards are short skis (usually between 80 and 120 centimeters) that mount to an existing ski boot. I've already explained snow skates above. I've tried Salomon Snowblades twice, and I expect to post a review any time now. The techniques and tricks I described above are applicable to both skiboards and snow skates.
So what's the real difference?
Mainly the marketing focus. Sled Dogs seem to be marketed more to inline skaters who don't have a winter sport. I'm not sure who skiboards are being marketed to; I think their marketing focus is basically that they're new, different, and fun. But then again, I don't spend a lot of time reading the ski magazines, so what do I know? Skiing Magazine's January 1998 issue had a fairly comprehensive review of different skiboards. Their Web site, on the other hand, doesn't have that article online.
Besides that, skiboards make it easier to do some tricks because of the longer length; it's easier to land jumps when you don't have to worry about the exact foot position, and they go faster when taking off since piles of slushy snow don't slow you down as much. But they don't make everything easier; it's harder to do ground spins on skiboards. One thing to note is that skiboards are being produced mostly by established ski companies (such as Salomon, Dynastar, Hart) as well as a few startup companies such as Line and Canon (apparently not the same company as the copier/camera maker).
You seem to have your finger on the pulse of the market. Is it worth buying Sled Dogs, or skiboards?
Good questions. How do you guys come up with these things?
(Oh, wait, I'm pulling them out of thin air.) The Norwegian company
that bought Sled Dogs seems to be showing some promise. They're focusing
mainly on their shorter-length models, though, and they appear to have
abandoned the K9 line.
If you're able to use snow skates in snow conditions where they're useful (well-packed and not too icy) then Sled Dogs would be a good choice. On the other hand, I've been on skiboards for a while now and I've found that they work in a greater variety of snow conditions than Sled Dogs, including more powdery and less-groomed snow, as well as slushy or wet snow. You might want to try Sled Dogs and skiboards to make a decision. I can't make up your mind for you.
What about that Norwegian company that bought Sled Dogs?
They're at www.sleddogs.no. They've continued the SD150 and SD250 lines, as well as building the new SD350 model with some enhancements to the SD250 model. They've discontinued the K9 line since they realized it had too many technical problems they couldn't correct. Unfortunately, they don't have much market presence in the United States yet.
Do you have some loyalty to the Sled Dogs Company since they gave you some T-shirts, or are you loyal to skiboard manufacturers?
Actually, those T-shirts have since worn out, but I still have a vest and a pair of gloves from them in good condition. I guess I've had this page up for a while. I'm just looking to have a good time out on the snow.
I want to know more.
Cool! Click here to contact me if you want to talk about technique or whatever else. You can also check out the new Sled Dogs Web site to see where they're going with product development.