Back in the mid 1990s, inline skating exploded in popularity. The number of people skating increased by 40% to 50% each year, and it seemed each season brought another new player to the market. First Rollerblade, then K2, Roces, Salomon, etc. etc. etc. In racing skates, you first saw Bonts, then Simmons and Miller, and people moved from 72mm wheels to 80mm to 100mm. Pressing the expansion of the market, some entrepreneurs incorporated a company called SnowRunner to introduce a Swiss innovation called snow skates to the U.S. market. In the words of the company, “Snow skates are . . . designed to permit travel across snow using a skating motion or gliding downhill like an alpine skier.” The devices looked like ski boots with a smooth base, and the action was a tiny bit like inline skating.
The company changed its name to Sled Dogs and came public in 1994, projecting millions of people would adopt their new sport. “The Company believes that snow skating not only appeals to the new winter sports enthusiast (active individuals who enjoy the outdoors and are eager to find a winter activity that is quick and fun to learn) but also will appeal to a broad segment of the nearly 31 million in-line skaters in the U.S., primarily the 20 million who, according to the Company’s marketing studies, currently do not have a winter sport of choice. The Company also believes its products and the new sport it is creating will be an alternative for infrequent skiers and snowboarders in the U.S.”
Snow skates were slower than skis, and tedious on a traverse, but otherwise a lot of fun. Some friends and I were prominent inline skaters at the time, and were given demo units. We would do things like link arms and spin around in circles as we plummeted down a run. Technically difficult terrain was often a lot easier for us than for people on skis. Our snow skating got some press; the photos below appeared in an inline magazine.
They had a great logo, produced some television commercials, enlisted “Top Dog” demo skaters around the country, and got rental and demo units into hundreds of ski resorts. However, the business was doomed. The inline skating boom ended and management of Sled Dogs got desperate. They chased the snowboarding market with an ill-conceived brand extension called “K-9s” that had a larger base than the original skates, and were much harder to control (especially when the base detached and went shooting ahead of you down the mountain, as these were wont to do). The company soon went out of business. They sold their licenses or patents to a Norwegian company that developed some later models, but which seems to produce only a small run each season and is usually out of stock.
One of my skating buddies took his original Sled Dogs out of the closet this weekend for the first time in over ten years, and hit the slope. Unfortunately, the company seemed to have used a cheap plastic in their design, and the age plus the cold was too much for them:
The skates exploded.
So we’re looking for replacements. We’ve found a canadian company selling 20-year-old Snowrunners, and a Korean company with a much too expensive snow-base for actual inline boots. I’ve gotten my old Sled Dogs out of the basement (both model sd250 and a pair of K9s the company sent me), and I’ll take them into the mountains next weekend, trying my hardest to blow them up the way Gary blew up his. Wish me luck.
February 21, 2011 update — my skates survived. I will try again to destroy them next week.