Snowboarding is in a decline. The number of riders hitting the slopes is falling every year, and there's little innovation in the range and variety of boards available to beginners and pros. One Aussie inventor, though, has a fascinating and innovative piece of hardware that might change all of that -- and it's already out on one of Australia's best snowfields.
28 Years Of Development: The Cross Board's Difficult Birth
It has been a long time since Dave 'Max' Elphick first dreamed up the Cross Board. Living a long way from snow in Adelaide in 1985, Max worked up the original Cross Board prototype at the Mount Thebarton indoor ski slope in the middle of town (that slope is now closed; it's now the Ice Arena indoor skating rink). The original 'Skate Ski' was inspired by Max's watching James Bond's improvised snowboard in A View To A Kill, and it was essentially a skateboard sitting on four smaller skis underneath.
Max took the nascent Cross Board to Falls Creek a few years later; by that point, it had two larger skis rather than four. The Skate Ski struggled on soft powder snow, though, so a couple of months of learning and tweaking in a snow shop was needed to bring it up to spec. From there, Max took the Snow Ski to the US and a snowboard manufacturer's demo in Colorado, but was turned away -- as the story goes, the unique board put more traditional snowboards to shame and Max was asked to leave. He petitioned Burton Snowboards -- one of the big names in boarding -- directly, but they weren't interested.
Max went back to Adelaide, and the invention sat in his shed for two decades. Eventually, Dave Elphick's son Maxwell -- Max Jr. -- found the dusty board, his dad had another crack at getting the design refined, this time with the help of properly trained engineers -- but they still couldn't get the formula right. Eventually Max's then-10-year-old daughter Aine taught her father how to use Google SketchUp, and eventually, eventually, the Cross Board was born, and so was Maxt Sports -- Max's company collaboration with Bryan Te Wani, an ex-Red Bull sales director.
On The Slopes Today: Meet The Cross Board
The Cross Board as it exists today, almost 30 years after its conception, is a fascinating piece of technology. Sitting on a very short (for a snowboard) downward-sloped top deck, two equally wide blades pivot on centrally-mounted machined aluminium blocks. A double set of leaf springs running lengthways along the Cross Board let each blade pitch upwards and downwards independently, running over any bumps or ruts in packed and powder snow, smoothing out the ride.
Those leaf springs, straight out of the box, are quite compliant, so the Cross Board rides very softly on difficult or especially powdery terrain. The board isn't fragile or complicated, though -- it stands up to all the punishment you'd expect a regular snowboard to.
Using bindings just like any other snowboard, the Cross Board can be ridden just like normal, but it has more nuance available to both the beginner and the professional. Lean left or ride along the board and the blades pivot -- the rear twists inwards and the front twists outwards, allowing for tighter turns. All of these variables can be adjusted with spare parts, too -- you'll be able to buy stiffer leaf springs or more progressive coil springs, all of which will alter the Cross Board's riding dynamics and make it more suited to a specific riding style.
It's hard to explain how the Cross Board actually works without seeing it in action or trying it yourself. What it is is a snowboard, but more versatile, more forgiving and far easier to learn on.
What's It Actually Like To Ride?
N.B. I should preface this by saying that I am nowhere near a competent snowboarder. I've snowboarded four or five times before in Australia and Japan, but I've never been able to get toeside turns down pat, and I'd still call myself a beginner. I also haven't boarded since 2011.
Getting on the Cross Board is initially pretty daunting. It's shorter than a regular newbie snowboard, but much thicker, with a whole lot more going on. Early on I had my bindings set for regular footedness, but after a bit of tweaking switched over to goofy for half my time with the Cross Board. What I found is that, not knowing too much about the technical side of riding a snowboard, either stance was really forgiving, and that the Cross Board was capable of making up for my deer-on-a-frozen-pond approach by smoothing out my inputs thanks to those integrated trucks and leaf springs.
The first thing you notice about the Cross Board, as a beginner, is how easy it is to get up and running. Because it's taller, with two separate feet, it's possible to dig the heel edge of the Cross Board into the snow and stand on it with only one binding secure to hook your other foot up. No more sitting on the snow to get your second boot locked in, then flipping over and hauling yourself up. If you do want to sit, though, having the raised top deck means you can grab the Cross Board's front edge and pull yourself off the ground, which is a lot less fatiguing if you're going to be doing it over and over.
Actually riding the Cross Board is, surprisingly enough, a piece of cake -- it looks intimidating, but as soon as you stand on it you realise how forgiving and compliant it actualy is. I've had probably half a dozen lessons on a snowboard in the last eight years in total, and over those six or so hours I've never been able to get toeside turns properly hooked up. With the Cross Board, I was turning back and forth within three or four runs down Mt Buller -- it's easy to pick up.
Getting used to being able to steer the Cross Board by tilting back and forth on your heels and toes is an odd experience. After a couple of runs, you pick it up though, and I dare say it's a hell of a lot easier to learn than a traditional snowboard -- which can be unforgiving for first-timers. You don't have to stand as rigidly as with a regular 'board, either -- after a few runs Max switched my Cross Board to a more relaxed skateboarding stance rather than a duck stance, and it let me flick out the Cross Board's tail and finally get those toeside turns sorted.
If I had a (completely uneducated and unprofessional) negative observation about the Cross Board, it would be that its height makes it (to my memory) slightly easier to dig the heel or toe edges into soft powder, flipping you over to land somewhat ungratefully on your arse. That's something you learn to avoid early on, though, and it's no different to the even steeper learning curve of a traditional snowboard. It's also quite a heavy board, especially for its size, so it can be quite tiring to carry and to support on chairlifts.
Stay tuned for a video of the Cross Board in action. - Cam
Maxt Sports: The Future Of The Cross Board
Mount Buller in central Victoria is, at the moment, the home of the Cross Board. The corporate team that runs the Buller snowfields and resorts have signed on with Maxt Sports -- the company set up to launch the new board -- to offer an initial run of 500 Cross Boards for hire (at $60 for a day). The company is looking for more partnerships with snowfields around the world, and you'll be able to buy your own Cross Board (RRP $800) from Buller or, in the future, mainstream snow sports stores as well.
Max took me halfway up Mount Buller to the shed where he keeps three or four prototype Cross Boards. The red-striped variants are the slower, more hardy kind made for hire and for beginners who are prone to taking a tumble (like me!), but there's a blue-striped Cross Board that is longer and more suited to higher speeds and powder snow. In the early development stage there's also a more pliable short- and longboard made with carbon fibre, thinner and far more flexible and suited to trick riding. If and when these come to hire shops and sports stores, they'll prove that Maxt Sports is here to stay.
Maxt, I'm told, is all about disrupting the status quo and creating new and exciting hardware. Max himself is an avid skater and surfer, so there might just be a few interesting products on the way in the near future. Even if the Cross Board is the one and only piece of tech to come out of Maxt, it's an extremely impressive development, and it's one worth applauding. I had a brilliant time riding the Cross Board at Mount Buller, and I can't wait to try it out again.
Update: Jeremy Saunders from Boardworld -- one of Australia's best snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding communities -- has put together his thoughts on the Cross Board. These are the thoughts of someone who is an expert snowboarder, and I really value his opinion on the new tech. I strongly encourage you to head over and check it out! - Cam
Campbell Simpson traveled to Mount Buller as a guest of Maxt Sports.