Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Snowboarding [Print without images]

Monday, May 23, 2011
Updated: June 13, 2:24 PM ET
Gear: Mountain Approach Skis ($799)


If there's one thing snowboards are not good at, it's sliding uphill. And because jet pack technology is still reserved for superheroes and space men, homo shredus still has to use his noggin to defy the laws of physics and break out of the downhill mold. But when it comes to ditching the resort scene, having at late-spring and summer riding or preparing for The Rapture, snowboarders are still woefully behind their two-planked counterparts when it comes to efficient upward travel. Thanks, in part, to Mountain Approach Skis, those days could soon be ending.

WHAT IT IS:
The brainchild of Sun Valley, Idaho-based former pro snowboarder Cory Smith, Mtn. Approach Skis -- fittingly -- are skis you use to approach a mountain. "The problem with the old approach skis [K2 made a pair in the early '00s] was that they were too short to really work and too long to fit in your pack," says the MAS founder, who refined the design in his garage for two years before enlisting the help of Black Diamond lead designer Dave Narajowski.

"Trying to keep up with skiers on a splitboard didn't happen. Now I'm waiting for them and I get to ride my normal board down, which makes all the difference -- the board's not cut into two pieces," he contends.

Oooh. Look at how light and versatile they are...

At 148 centimeters, MAS measure somewhere between the length of a snollerblade and a pair of real skis, and they have climbing skins permanently affixed to them (so don't get any big ideas, you Alberto Tombas). The binding is a cross between an alpine touring ski setup and a snowshoe, and they work with your very own snowboard boots.

At the top of a climb, just pop the patented hinges above and below the bindings, fold the skis into threes (a crucial design element: they fold down to 20-inches) and stow them in your pack ... or the pack they come with -- you won't know the difference.

WHY IT RULES:
While the market for splitboards is one of the fastest-growing in the snow-sports industry (new on the brandwagon this fall: Gnu, Lib Tech, Rome and K2, to name a few), the technology hasn't been as fast to evolve. Though strides have been made in torsional flex and weight -- two of the most common complaints among splitboarders -- many still contend that their splitboard is not their primary shred weapon of choice, and that it doesn't ride like their normal board outside of blower conditions.

The set-up -- the same out of the box as it is for everyday use -- is fast and easy: Unfold. Insert foot. Fasten straps. Go. With MAS, you get all the benefits of a splitboard (faster, more efficient climbing and gliding capabilities; cambered bases that aid in traversing, though it's sort of hard to get an edge locked in to the side of the hill when you're in soft boots and bindings; no post-holing, no pissing off skiers who lay skin tracks), plus all the benefits of riding your snowboard (It's yours. You know it. You love it).

MAS, unfortunately, will not fit in your dog's backpack, but they do fit quite cozily in their own. Maybe in version 2 ...

At three pounds per ski, a pair of MAS weighs a little more than a six-pack, and they're about 60 percent lighter than a splitboard. The only problem? You don't often carry a splitboard. Packing these babies down the hill isn't distracting enough to be a deal-breaker, but it is noticeable. And if the slope aspect is too steep to skin up? Then you're Sherpa-ing your skis and your board. Along with your poles, shovel, probe, transceiver, avalanche airbag, actual six-pack, etc. Ouch. But still pretty frigging cool.

WHERE TO FIND IT:
MAS debuted at SIA in January to an overwhelming response. They will be available to the public in September via direct sales on mtnapproach.com and evo.com. Retail price is $799 and includes skis, pack and skins, and is about half the price of any splitboard setup you buy that resembles something close to your own snowboard.