Which one is harder: skateboarding, snowboarding, or surfing? How about combining all three? It already exists, and it’s called snowskating. Sure, hurtling down a mountain on a skateboard attached to a small snowboard (called a sub-deck) may sound crazy, but snow sports participants always are craving that next rush. And St. Paul’s Hovland Snowskates helps snow addicts fulfill that winter craving—in spades.
What does snowskating feel like? Dan Russell, chief executive officer of Hovland Snowskates, says it seems “surfey or skatey, or a lot like snowboarding.” It all depends on what you want to get out of it, Russell says. “You can surf and slash while freeriding, or skate the terrain park.” Hovland Snowskate’s website claims that they make a snowskate to fit your style, “whether you’re a park rat, powder junkie, or backcountry fiend.” How does that equate for beginning snowskaters?
Heidi Olson, 13, and her brother Gus Olson, 16, both snowskate at Chester Bowl ski hill in Duluth. Heidi notes some immediate differences of snowskating versus more common forms of gravity-powered snow sports: “In skiing, your feet are attached to bindings, and you have two skis under you. In snowskating, your feet aren’t attached to the board, and there’s only one ski.” Gus says everything feels faster on a snowskate because there isn’t as much control. “You’re not strapped in, so you’re constantly shifting your weight so you don’t fall off.”
In snowskating, the deck you stand on is usually much smaller than a normal snowboard, and the sub-deck that the snowskate deck is attached to is much shorter (although they do also offer a 152-centimeter powderskate called the Bubba for deep snow). Gus Olson clearly enjoys the freedom that the skateboard deck entails. “I usually have my back foot on the tail of the deck, and my front foot over the front trucks,” he says. “I can lean my body weight on my back foot, and do a wheelie the whole day down the hill. But I can switch my feet positions constantly.”
Hovland Snowskates leads in the worldwide world snowskate industry.
Dan Russell, who was raised in Duluth, explains the company’s name: “Hovland is named after Hovland, Minnesota, which sits on Lake Superior just north of Grand Marais. Both Ryan Braski [company co-founder] and I spent a lot of time on and in Lake Superior and in the Boundary Waters growing up. Hovland is on the lake and at a trailhead into the Boundary Waters, so when we were looking for a name, it felt right.”
The town was settled by Scandinavian fishermen in the 1880s, and this connection seems to have been good luck. “We got connected with a distributor in Norway pretty quickly,” Russell says, “and it became a really good market for us. Norwegian pro snowboarder Terje Haakonsen was a partner in that distribution company and already a ripping snowskater. So after a while it made sense to bring him in to help us grow snowskating and Hovland.”
Russell and Braski, along with two other Duluthians, Ted Simmons and Dominic Talerico, first started doing research and development and finding manufacturing about 10 years ago. “Snowskating is still small, but growing fast,” Russell says, “and Hovland is at the forefront of pushing that growth.”
Some of Hovland’s employees are still in the Twin Cities, Russell notes, but the main operations are in Eagle County, Colorado. “The nature of the business is that we have to travel a lot,” he says. “Japan is a big market for us. Canada is growing quickly. Europe is a huge opportunity. We have to be everywhere snowboarding and skiing is popular, so for a small company, it’s challenging. But also a lot of fun.”
To help with Hovland’s worldwide expansion, the company brings on sales representatives in various countries who know the nuances of their local snow sports industries. “The way Eiichi puts the brand forward in Japan is very different from how Joey does it in Canada,” Russell explains. “We’re fortunate to have people who understand their local snowboard culture, and how business is done in their markets.”
Hovland also has to do public outreach about snowskating to get resorts to accept a new sport.
That means on-hill demos so people can try it for themselves. And many resorts require that the snowskates have metal edges and a leash (like the kind used in surfing). “One thing we know is that if people try it, they usually have fun,” Russell says. “We’ve had seasons where we’ve done 200-plus demos and events worldwide.”
In Duluth, Chester Bowl, which caters to beginners and families interested in learning winter sports, received a $2,000 grant in 2021 to add eight Hovland snowskates to the hill’s rentals. Snowskates have some benefits for walk-up rental opportunities because renters don’t need to fit boots or bindings. Sam Luoma, programs manager at Chester Bowl, says Chester doesn’t rent skis or snowboards, “but snowskates are a really easy thing to do as a daily rental.”
Luoma, who skateboards and snowboards, says snowskating is completely different than both. “I couldn’t tell you which one snowskating is more like, because it’s something different altogether. It’s a weird mix, because you try to use your edges for control, like on a snowboard, but it’s like a skateboard because your feet move around on the board, and you want them to move around to do different things.”
He also says the novelty of snowskating is a big draw: “You see kids doing snowskating in big groups here, and they love just trying something new. It’s fun here, because we encourage it.”
Chester offers free snowskating lessons on Saturdays and Sundays in January. Teaching kids to ride the chairlift with the board in their hands is a key component of the lessons. “A big concern is using the leash correctly, because if you drop the snowskate off the lift, it can hit people below you and then fly down the hill below. But we’ve all been through that before when snowboards came out. And now everybody allows snowboards. The leash keeps the skate attached to you at all times.”
Snow lovers around the world have time to get used to it. Because from Norway to Japan, and everywhere in between, Hovland Snowskates is bringing a whole new sport to the world. Whether in the Austrian Alps or Chile’s Patagonia, look for a piece of Minnesota’s North Shore on the slopes.