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By Alan Prendergast
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The teenage snowboarders lie scattered under the lift like discarded socks. "Count them," Myron Knapschafer suggests. "At any given time, 25 percent of all snowboarders are sitting down. Victims of the wet-butt syndrome. Count them, multiply by four, and there you have the number of snowboarders out here today."
His own snowboard hanging from his right foot, his blade sunglasses wrapped stylishly around his face, Knapschafer continues his play-by-play. "Now what kind of way is that to ride?" he asks, watching a gangly man on a long racing board attempt a field of bumps. "Dad-blamed wimp! Got his weight on his back foot. Probably a skateboarder type. They never figure that out. Keep your weight on your back foot and you're messed up for the rest of your life. But he thinks this is all going to be a piece of cake."
A second later, the gangly man catches an edge and falls spectacularly, doing a half-dozen 360's before halting at the base of a tree.
"A piece of mashed-up cake is more like it," Knapschafer says, not without glee. "Of course, he rides a Burton. That's difficult."
That would come as big news in Burlington, Vermont, where Burton snowboards are made. One of the first brands ever manufactured, Burton continues to be the market leader.
"Burton has yet to make a decent board, let alone a freestyle board," Knapschafer says. "They're on the wrong track. What they have done is build a board that looks nice--with the graphics and the spiders and the fillets of fish all over them. Pretty boards."
Myron Knapschafer is 71--and that, he says, is too old for pretty boards. He much prefers the little-known Hiper snowboard, designed and manufactured by him, Myron Knapschafer, in the privacy of his own northwest Denver garage.
The Hiper board is anything but pretty, with its crude spray-paint finish and plywood body. Still, it's Knapschafer's idea of the perfect freestyle board.
"The term has come to mean acrobatics in the air, hotdogs doing back flips, things that cause the average skier to become terrified. That is not what freestyle should mean at all," Knapschafer insists. "What it should mean is going all over the mountain as if it were your playground. That's what the crowd that's coming up now wants to do. Go down the hill. Have some fun. Not flash past like a banshee. What I am shooting for is the average boarder."
Interesting, since Knapschafer himself is hardly your average boarder. Gliding away from the lift, he comes to a casual stop and buckles his left foot into its binding from a standing position. He makes sure to do this in clear sight of several snowboarders who are sitting in the snow, struggling with their own bindings. Then he smooths his sleek black suit, adjusts his sunglasses and shoots off the edge of what looks like a small cliff. Just when any normal rider would turn, Knapschafer pulls the front of his board into a 45-degree wheelie. You can hear someone gasp, someone else saying, "Did you see that old dude?"
You can see Myron Knapschafer oozing nonchalance. Then he tries a nose roll, a sort of aerial cartwheel, and falls down.
"If only I were young," he says, dusting off the snow. "If only I were young, I would tear this mountain up."
For Myron Knapschafer, the only pertinent facts of his life fall between 1983, when he first tried snowboarding, and now, when there are six new inches of powder at Loveland. If asked, he will sum up the preceding 58 years, but quickly, so as to get to more important matters, such as rubber versus plastic in the modern snowboard binding.
"I was in purchasing, in Iowa," he'll say. "Yeah, that means I bought stuff. Yeah, for a company." And yeah, after an early retirement, he moved to Denver with his then-wife and two children in 1980. Although Knapschafer had always been something of a sportsman, having designed and built a fiberglass sailboat or two, he remembers feeling no particular attraction to the mountains outside Denver or the recreation to be found there.
"I had always considered skiing far too dangerous," he says. "It ruins your knees and it's too expensive. All these items weighed heavily."
Instead he opted for the arcane sport of ice-boating, which offered reasonable thrills, the chance to get reacquainted with boat design, and some godawful weather. "Actually, you really only need one good day a season to satisfy your lust," he recalls. "It's freezing, and you get covered with rocks and gravel from that horrendous wind."
In March 1983, one of Knapschafer's friends invited him to a party with a group of waterskiers. Knapschafer thought this warmer-weather activity might become his new obsession, but then he became fascinated by a cocktail conversation about snowboards. "This fellow said there was no future in 'em," Knapschafer recalls, "and that he was going off to California to build surfboards."
That fellow left one of Knapschafer's friends with a couple of snowboards on his hands. A few weeks later he took them up to Berthoud Pass, then Colorado's unofficial shredding center, and invited Knapschafer along for the ride.