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Monsters of skateboarding

Staff Reports

They are the off-roaders of skateboards.The monster trucks of gravity.The bad boys of the downhill scene.They … well, they are just really, really big skateboards.Mountain boards have been around since the mid-1990s and are slowly making their way into the public’s X-treme consciousness.The Vail Trail sat down this week to talk to one of the sports top riders — a man most people have not yet heard of, but likely soon will.Jason Lee is a pro mountain boarder living in Colorado Springs. He is the creative director of one of the original mountain board Companies, MBS Mountain Boards. At 34 he has won every pro-category national boardercross title. He currently holds the unofficial high jump record at 17 feet 4 inches, and the unofficial long distance jump record at 54 feet 3 inches. No small feat for someone dedicating his life to a sport that almost doesn’t exist. And Lee has a couple friends with him; at last years nationals there were close to 200 competitors, and about 35 in the pro category.Lee has a background in snowboarding but felt that a snow season was not enough time to spend downhilling on a mountain, so he decided to remedy that situation.”We basically got tired of the snow season ending and not being able to carve,” Lee says. “So we took it upon ourselves to make something that keeps us riding all season long. As well, we figured if we made a product that only 5 percent of snowboarders would buy, it would be a decent business model. At first, mountain boarding was an answer to snowboarding, and now it is its own sport, with aspects totally original.”Lee and his cohorts decided to remedy the problem of a distinct lack of snowboarding opportunities in the summer by putting together a warm-weather alternative, and thus mountain boarding was born.Google “Mountain Boards” and you will find MBS at the top of the list, with not many purveyors following behind them.”There are over 30 manufacturers worldwide, but we are the original and the real innovators,” says Lee. “Most companies just copy us at this point.”It seems like the perfect model to copy: Just take a long skateboard and add some four-inch-diameter, air-filled, knobby tires on some burly axles, and you’re halfway there.”The boards seem like snowboards with wheels to the untrained eye, but they are specifically designed for off-road purposes,” says Lee. “Like with any sport, you can take it to extremes. You can jump off a cliff no matter what sport you do. What people don’t realize is that they are a lot easier to learn than snowboarding, and with the proper gear they are even safer, mainly because you can slow yourself down with a hand-held braking system.”Most boards come equipped with a cable braking system coming off of the board’s wheels and controlled in one of the rider’s hands. The hand-braking system is the innovation that made mountain boarding into the viable sport that it is becoming. Trying to do a hockey stop on a 20-pound board in variable conditions (dirt, rocks and trees) is difficult at best.”People’s eyes get wide until I let them know there is a braking mechanism,” Lee says.Even with the hand-braking technology, mountain boards have been tepidly embraced by ski resorts. Vail Mountain currently does not allow them, and resorts that do allow them are few and far between, citing safety and environmental impacts as reasons to ban the boards. Sound to anybody a little like the early days of snowboarding?When Lee approaches mountains, he gets the same responses: “It’s too dangerous.” But he adds that “if you implement a REAL program, it is no more dangerous than mountain biking, or Thrill Sledding (head first), or snowboarding or skiing. Now that the sport is bigger and people realize you don’t have to go to an actual mountain, the need for ski areas to allow mountain boarding is a lot less.”The environmental impact (excluding people who feel the need to make renegade trails) is negligible, Lee adds.It’s “no more impactful than mountain biking,” Lee explains. “Actually, less so in that the weight is distributed over four wheels instead of two. I used to worry about Vail and other mountains, then I figured just let it happen if it is going to happen. And now there are over a dozen mountains nationwide doing full mountain board programs. The best in my opinion is Snowmass. This year they will be holding the U.S. Open of mountain boarding. They have tworetailers in their village who rent boards and do lessons, and every board and session was sold out all of last summer.”And on top of that, Lee has thought about ways for mountain boards to share the slopes with seemingly incompatible mountain bikes and downhillers.”They (mountainboards) should have separate terrain. They are separate sports. The ideal thing for a mountain board course is a foot access terrain park on a mellow grade filled with a bunch of rollers, tables and berms.”While the sport is slowly coming into its own, Lee thinks that it will be “five years before it is mainstream and two years before X Games inclusion. “We’ve been doing demos at the X Games and Gravity Games for the last two years.”And being the businessman-in-a-new-market that Lee is, he asked to get in a shameless plug: “Mountain boarding is a lot easier and affordable than most people think. Every snowboarder should have one. Surf, skate or snowboarders are all quick to pick it up. Just a few tweaks and they are ripping.”For information about mountain boards check out http://www.mbs.com.


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