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NewCityNet Slush Fun

Skateboarders and bikers get in on the winter festivities.

By Ellen Fox

JANUARY 31, 2000:  Remember when you first heard about snowboarding? "So, wait, it's kinda like surfing on snow? What kind of cabin-fevered ski bum with a tool kit and a bong thought of that one?" And then: "Cool!" Next thing you know, it's an Olympic sport.

Proving that there's still no lack of imagination when it comes to adapting fair-weather recreation to the climate of the powdery slopes, inventors have expanded the trend by rolling out equipment that lets adventurous, well-insulated types conquer the snow in increasingly new ways.

Take snowbiking, the way for cyclists to hit the trails and hills even when there's a few inches of snow on top. Common sense dictates that serious snowbikers layer their clothes and protect their feet from wetness, buy battery-operated headlights and perhaps attach fenders (allowing plenty of clearance above the wheel to avoid snow cloggage) to their regular ol' sturdy mountain bikes. The most important factor by far, however, is your wheels.

A set of tires with protruding studs gives good grip on ice and snow. Neil Kowalski, a sales manager at Village Cycle Center, uses Nokian's The Extreme, which—with 296 metal studs on each tire—will run you $125 a piece. (You can, however, get tires with fewer studs for less money.) If you don't want studs, Kowalski says, "any tire with big open knobbies" will do.

"You have to be much more careful about what you're doing and where you're riding," warns Kowalski, who's been hitting the forest preserves for three years now. "You're not going to stop as fast, you're not going to have nearly as much traction and, unless you know the trail, you really don't know what you're riding on."

Staunch skateboarders who want to keep turning tricks—like kickflips, shuvits and rail grinds—well into the winter can pick up a new contraption sold by Oregon-based Premier Snowskates. Just don't try this thing going down a mountain: bigger than a skateboard, smaller than a snowboard, the plastic snowskate is made strictly for street-style skating on the snow or pipe.

Curved in the front and back, the $80 (or so) snowskate looks like a skateboard with the wheels ripped off. Instead of the foot bindings that you'll find on a regular snowboard, the top has a rubbery surface to keep your feet from slipping. You can't jump as high or go as fast as you can with a snowboard, but taking your feet off the board allows for different tricks.

"It's cool to throw in the car and use at the base of the hill," says Brian Quarles, co-owner of Naperville's RQ Boardshop, where sales of the item are brisk. "I'd rather snowboard, but it's still fun for goofing around."

Not to be outdone, in-line skating fanatics who don't want snow in their wheels can now power around the slopes on skiboards which are half the length and twice the width of regular skis. Strap them on your boots and push off, pole-free. Purportedly easy to master, the speedy skiboards, also known as mini skis, let wearers carve deep angles down slopes like snowboarders can, and they're especially good for maneuvering through tight trees. Best of all, they provide ample freedom for pulling off plenty of fancy footwork—as the winners in ESPN's Winter X Games, which hosted the sport's first international competition in 1998, were happy to prove with their jumps and flips.

"You tend to work your legs a little harder because they carve so well," says Kevin Sindelar, a salesman at Viking Ski Shop, where Salomon Snowblades ($250) are the top-selling skiboards. Though you can use them to propel yourself across flat areas or uphill, just as you would with in-line skates, Sindelar says skiboards don't work as well on moguls and in deep snow. That's not keeping teens and twentysomethings from buying them as an alternative to skiing, but snowboarders, Sindelar says, won't go near the things.

"Snowboarders have a disdain for skiing in general and anything that's not one board," he explains.

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