Locally-made skis, snow terrain parks, backcountry awareness, winter events.
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LIBERATING THE BACKCOUNTRY
Cory Smith’s new Approach skis
For decades now, just like grommets confined to the kiddie pool, snowboarders have pretty much been left behind, while skiers went out and played in Idaho’s big backcountry.
But those days, thanks to a Ketchumite named Cory Smith, may soon be over.
at least it isn’t anymore.” -Cory Smith
No, Cory hasn’t invented a suit full of super powers, it only looks like he can fly when he’s snowboarding. Instead, the former pro rider and current father of two girls and Smith Optics employee, is in the final stages of launching a new “approach ski” for snowboarders.
“What we’ve designed, well, they’re basically a float for the snow,” Cory explained, from his shed-turned-shop, at his house tucked below the slopes of Bald Mountain.
While scores of free-heeling skiers glide into the great white wilderness each winter, either on telemark skis or an alpine touring system for downhillers, snowboarders usually get stuck, literally, in the snow.
Sure, there are a few options for snowboarders wishing to access the backcountry, but they’re all far from ideal—more like floaties or water wings than surfboards. Options include split-boards, which are snowboards designed to split into two skis for climbing. But they’re heavy and, when re-attached as a single board for the ride downhill, tend to be shaky on anything other than powder. Snowshoes are also used by snowboarders as a way to get off the beaten path, but are built more for the pace of a turtle than a snowshoe hare, which is why, in backcountry jargon, they call it “slow-shoeing.”
“You can fly in these things. They’re so light,” Smith said while lifting up a demo pair of MTN Approach skis, as they’re being called. “It feels like there’s nothing on your feet.” Each ski folds into thirds and fits perfectly into most backpacks. The bindings are specifically designed to fit a wide range of snowboard boots and perform like a pair of normal skis with climbing skins attached. A pair of MTN Approach skis weighs a mere six pounds; about a third the weight of the average split-board. The skins needed to grab the snow for climbing don’t have to be removed on Approach skis either. Meaning they save time in the transition from hiking uphill to flying down it, and there’s no messy glue to deal with. Instead, you just swap out the MTN Approach skis in your backpack with your board, and you’re ready to rip.
“A pound on your foot is equal to about five pounds on your back, and the one thing you don’t want when you’re hiking through snow is more weight,” Cory said. He explained that after messing around with a few homemade versions, he eventually sought out an engineer to help.
“A real designer came up with the final design. This isn’t just some kid trying to make three-piece skis in his garage . . . at least it isn’t anymore,” Smith joked.
But there’s no joke about what he’s helped create. There’s an ever-expanding market for approach skis for snowboarders. “The backcountry movement is definitely growing and these can really help open things up,” Cory said, adding that snowboarders who’ve long felt left out, won’t have to feel that way for long.
“For snowboarders who want to explore the backcountry,” Cory said with a smile, “it’s liberating.”
-Photograph Tal Roberts