CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD

FOR MYRON KNAPSCHAFER, TO AIR IS HUMAN, TO SHRED DIVINE.SHRED ALERT SEVENTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD MYRON KNAPSCHAFER IS GOING DOWNHILL FAST--AND HE COULDN'T BE HAPPIER.

"I was intrigued," he remembers. "A little past Berthoud Falls we ran into a white-out raging blizzard. About a foot of powder. Up at the pass, the guys were running that powder. They looked like they were surfing. I figured it was just something I had to learn. And it turns out falling down in powder is almost fun. You fall and don't even know it."

Knapschafer rose and fell until the snow disappeared that spring, running down the ungroomed sides of Berthoud Pass with shredders half his age and less, hitching a ride back to the top whenever he hit bottom.

"I got hooked instantly," he says. "I had never had fun like that in my life."

"He stuck out like a sore thumb, actually," says Ike Garst, president of the Berthoud ski area from 1977 to 1987. "Notoriously, these boarders were fifteen-year-old kids with butch haircuts, and Myron wasn't young even then."

That was fine with Garst--as proprietor of the only Colorado ski area that tolerated snowboarding, he figured continued innovation might save him from being completely overwhelmed by the competition. "The sport almost died in 1979," he recalls. "That's when our insurance company figured out we were letting what they called `skiboards' on the mountain and said, `Hmmm, we won't do this.'"

Garst invited his insurers to inspect Berthoud's file of accident reports. As it turned out, he says, snowboard injuries actually happened less often and cost far less to repair than those sustained by skiers. The insurance company re-upped, and snowboarding continued at Berthoud, despite harassing phone calls Garst remembers getting from rival areas.

"I took a lot of flak for allowing them at all," he says. "They told me snowboarders pulled the T-bars off-line and dug gouges in the snow, that they didn't respect skiers."

Nevertheless, Garst continued to have faith that snowboarding would gain a foothold in the skiing market. "We built them one of the first half-pipes, we had contests for them, we tried to keep the lift operators from calling them flatheads," he says. "And I don't care what anyone says, they were wonderful. They policed themselves. Myron was just kind of the guru. Almost every weekend he came up. He had all these ideas for the kids to try, and they all sort of taught each other. Old Myron got to be a fixture."

By 1985, Knapschafer was firmly installed as a Berthoud snowboard instructor. "You could ride up the lift for free if you taught," he explains. "It wasn't a very regimented thing. We taught 'em to turn and stop, and that was about it."

"Quite frankly, he got a free lift ticket, a nice jacket and a discount on his lunch," Garst laughs. "Then, if by some strange stroke he actually taught a lesson, he even got paid! Once in a while, we'd have to say, `Myron, teach one,' and he'd say, `Oh, damn!'"

But Knapschafer's teaching is the last thing people from his Berthoud days remember. "No, the thing about him is, he's kind of an inventor," Garst says. "By the time I knew him, he was building wind surfers, and he was trying to perfect this chemical process so that snow wouldn't stick to things, and he always came up early to spray different things on our shovels."

You couldn't ride a snow shovel, though, and soon Knapschafer was applying his skills to bigger projects. After spending the day riding on an early Sims board, he'd buy a cheap pair of skis at a thrift shop, take them home, saw them in half and study how they were made. Unimpressed with the workmanship that went into all the snowboards he'd tried--"they broke, pure and simple"--Knapschafer concluded that "a wide ski a snowboard ain't," and set about trying to improve the situation in his garage workshop.

And so the Hiper board was born. Knapschafer considered it nothing less the board of choice for the next wave of snowboarders. This new crowd, he decided, would be old. A generation of non-skateboarders, they would be either too frail or too wise to try aerial stunts, and they would remain unimpressed with the hip graphics found on most young folks' boards. They would not relish sitting down in the snow every time they needed to stop or adjust a binding. In fact, Knapschafer thought, they'd find it "one hell of an aggravating proposition."

Starting with slabs of plywood and cheap plastic ski boots, Knapschafer devised a binding system that would allow the hard boots to rock from side to side and to clamp tight to the board with rubber straps that could be attached while the boarder was standing. The Hiper boards were wider and more stable than the competition, making it easier for beginners to complete such terrifying maneuvers as getting off the chairlift. And the Hiper was also flexible, with severely upturned ends--which made the patented Knapschafer wheelie not just possible, but probable.

That was enough high performance--the source of his board's name--for Knapschafer. Hiper riders cannot carve or grab extreme air, but that shouldn't matter to most people, says the board's inventor. "If you go up St. Mary's Glacier in the summer and practice them jumps and tricks, well, maybe you don't need my board. You'll fall down seven out of ten times--maybe ten out of ten, I don't know. The 27 little bones of your feet won't take that kind of shock forever. It's okay for kids, maybe, but I don't make boards for kids."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
 
Loading...