While competitors practiced on the Superpipe half-way up the hill and crowds milled about the assorted tents looking for free stuff, I joined droves of snowboard enthusiasts at a fenced-off area to check out a new way to get downhill fast — the latest thing in the ever-evolving world of snowboarding.
With a skateboard-meets-snowboard design, the new Burton Junkyard is based on ideas that have been around since at least the ’70s. The so-called “snowdeck” is composed of a skate deck, some heavy-duty risers and a mini-snowboard — or subdeck, as the engineers like to call it. Burton designed the snowdeck to be ridden exactly like a skateboard, with no bindings and a smooth subdeck base to take the place of wheels. Riders can wear sneakers or riding boots to maneuver the junkyard. It comes with a leash.
The company dubbed their new contraption the “Junkyard 86” because it features the popular old-school Performa graphic from the 1986 snowboard. It also measures 86 centimeters in length. The graphic — a very ’80s stripe pattern and mountaintop logo — is symbolic of a connection to snowboarding’s roots in skateboarding, and the first days of riding on snow. “Junkyard” references the versatility of the new deck — that is, golf courses, back yards, even junkyards are now in bounds for full sessions.
“Cities become terrain parks, back yards become backcountry, snowboarders become skaters,” touted Burton’s PR Coordinator Scott Rivers in a January announcement that launched the snowdeck category. In addition to blurring the lines between skating and riding, the Junkyard can stretch the season, with sessions from the first fall flakes to the last of spring slush. All you need is enough snow to slip on.
At the U.S. Open, the Junkyard Jib Park was filled with kids scrambling to take a turn on a handful of demo prototypes. Not alone in the industry, or in the park today, the Junkyard is joined by a Snowskate, made by Premiere. The snowskate is different in design and materials but has the same purpose. The Premiere consists of a simple plastic deck without risers or edges. Word on the Stratton slopes was the Burton deck offers a little more stability but takes practice to control.
“This one is a lot smoother and goes a lot faster when you are coming to a rail,” said a young kid from Connecticut, comparing the two competing products. Mistaking me for a Burton rep, he tried to impress me with a determined series of a rail slides called backside 50/50’s.
Not to be outdone, I put together my own rookie session on the Junkyard, and soon discovered that rail slides on this snowdeck are a little more difficult than turns on a snowboard. That explains my busted tape recorder. Though the Junkyard tykes were fired up by my efforts, they took even more pleasure when I slipped off one rail as though a rug had been jerked out from under my feet. Cute kids.
Diehard riders can get their distance from the blue jeans-wearing, “I’m a snowboarder because it only takes three days to learn” crowd by putting in some time on the Junkyard. The footwork and balance required to become proficient on it weeds out any suckers just looking to impress their friends. And, once learned, those skills make snowboarding easier.
Making and selling the snowdeck, nevertheless, might seem risky for a company that has dominated the boarding industry since its beginning. Why take a chance on something that might just turn out to be a gimmick? Well, you can’t predict the future, suggested Burton Team Assistant Carter Olcott. “When Jake [Carpenter, founder of Burton] made the first snowboard, he never thought it was going to get this big,” he added.
In a post-Open chat at the Prototype Shop in the Burlington factory, Rivers and Vince LaVecchia, Burton’s Team and Promotions Coordinator, talked about the Junk-yard’s R&D, engineering and recess at work.
“Team rider Jeff Anderson had the idea, we built a prototype, took it to a photo shoot and it was a hit,” explained LaVecchia. That was in September 2000. A few months later, employees got a Christmas bonus packaged in a long box.
“The first thing Jake did was make 500 and give them to the employees,” LaVecchia said of the snowdeck’s debut within the company. Immediately, the Burton office emptied out into the parking lot for a demo session.
“It was cool, because every trick landed was the first one ever tried on the snowdeck,” recalled Rivers. “It gives you that initial rush of accomplishment.”
Professional riding has become increasingly competitive, complicated and highly skilled. As MTV cameraman Tom Byrnes put it at the Open, “Nowadays, if you don’t go inverted [doing flips on a snowboard], nobody wants to see it.” But a new toy like the Junkyard snowdeck could renew the sport’s fun and simplicity.
Burton considers it just that at this point — a toy — even though the Junkyard is a product of serious research and development. So far, there are no plans to make a snowdeck team or schedule competitions. But who knows? Though pro riders perform feats of freakish coordination with existing technology, the best might be yet to come.
Snow-boarding remains a relatively expensive sport. The Junkyard could help level the playing field — it costs about the same as a skateboard and can be ridden almost anywhere. “One of our goals is to bring snowboarding to a more urban landscape,” confirmed LaVecchia.
And even at this early stage — before the Junkyard is officially released to the public — a number of resorts are looking into building parks for the snowdecks, according to Rivers. Enthusiasm for the Junkyard at the U.S. Open might prove an omen for its success. Mark my words: Soon will come a kid, maybe from the fields of Nebraska, maybe off the streets of Brooklyn, working on tricks that don’t even exist yet.