No snow? No problem

Associated Press

MARBLEHEAD, Mass. — A pair of MIT-educated ski bums are pushing an idea that could be a summertime boon for the nation’s downhill resorts.

Their idea is the "Crosskate," a combination of skis, inline skates and a mountain bike. James Page was mountain biking in California when the idea hit him.

"I just kept thinking it would be wonderful if you could get the skiing sensation, the feeling of carving turns, on the trails that were so much fun for mountain biking," he said.

Page, who has an engineering degree from Stanford and an MBA from MIT, put the first pair together in his garage in 24 hours using 2-by-4s, hardware-store casters and lawn-mower wheels.

Fine-tuning took three years. Along the way, Page brought in MIT engineering grad Mark Batho, a former downhill ski racer, to provide the skiing expertise for Crosskate LLC, founded in 1999. Page hit up potential investors, and Batho put thousands of miles on his beat-up Volkswagen Jetta to drum up interest at ski resorts.

The finished product is set to hit rental racks and retail shelves this summer.

Crosskates (one for each leg) now somewhat resemble skis on wheels. Ski boots are attached to the aluminum frames like cross-country boots, and a pair of 10-inch all-terrain wheels are fixed at both ends.

They work like cross-country skis over flat stretches, but can also handle downhill paths and even gentle ski slopes, the company says. The front wheels turn in response to weight shifts, creating the carving sensation. And the wheels lock, rather than roll backward, to make climbing possible. They also have disk brakes.

"It feels like skiing," Batho said. "Not the sliding, but this replicates the carving almost exactly. I’m an alpine racer, and I know skiing. And this feels like skiing."

The feeling doesn’t come cheap. The suggested price for a pair of Crosskates is $695, including the boots.

But a big market could be ski resorts, which are increasingly eager to draw visitors during the slow summer months. Crosskate has deals with a handful or resorts, and is working on others.

"There are much stronger profit pressures on resorts than years ago," said Ford Frick, a ski industry analyst at BBC Research in Denver. "There are lots of eyes looking at summer, saying, ‘What can we do? It’s a spectacular time to be here, we need to find more attractions for people.’ "

So far, Frick says, that’s mostly meant opening up a lift or two for hikers. Mountain biking has a loyal following, he says, but is still too strenuous for many.

Last year Rollerblade Inc. debuted its Coyote all-terrain skates — basically inline skates on all-terrain wheels — but the product hasn’t taken off. The $289 Coyotes are expected to have a stronger second year, said Chris Fiorello, a public relations manager at Benetton Sports, Rollerblade’s parent company. He wouldn’t provide sales figures.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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