Snurf’s Up

A sports revivalist brings snowtrashing to Mount Hood.

By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore May 19, 2009 Published in the October 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

Who needs bindings? Louis-Martin Guénette rides, snurf-style near Magic Mile chairlift.

THE FIRST WAVE of white should hit Mount Hood this month, turning Portland’s snowboarders positively Pavlovian. But with November 23—that golden day when the gates open at Mt Hood Meadows and Timberline Lodge—still a month away, what’s a powder hound to do? Embrace an old favorite: snurfing (also called snowtrashing), the predecessor to snowboarding, in which a person bombs down the slopes on a board decked out with reins instead of bindings.

“You don’t need much of a snow base to snowtrash,” says Louis-Martin Guénette, a Quebec transplant who is trying to build a snowtrashing scene on Hood. That’s because you don’t carve through the snow as you do on a snowboard or skis. Instead, you glide over the surface as if you’re sledding. Another bonus? No lift-ticket fees. “The mountain biking and snowshoeing trails on Hood have great slopes that aren’t attractive to skiers and snowboarders because they are narrow and hard to maneuver in,” Guénette says. “But they’re great for snowtrashers.”

Snurfing started in the mid-1960s, when Michigan resident Sherman Poppen, inspired by his daughter’s backyard sledding, bound two skis together and attached a string to the nose to serve as reins. Poppen’s wife called the contraption a Snurfer, and Poppen licensed the design to the Brunswick Corporation, selling half a million Snurfers by 1976. But when fellow inventor Jake Burton Carpenter (who would become the founder of snow-gear giant Burton) showed up at a 1979 snurfing competition in Rockford, Michigan, with a prototype binding that secured his feet to the deck, snowboarding was born, and snurf boards were largely banished to America’s basements.

But the sport just might make a bit of a resurgence here in Oregon, thanks to the efforts of Guénette, who owns eight different snowtrashing boards. Guénette and his wife, Marie-eve Sirois, often take their friends to Hood’s Palmer Glacier in the summers and Glade and Alpine trails in the winter, hoping to convert them. “It feels like you are floating,” Guénette says.

Admittedly, snowtrashing hardly carries the same kind of cool cachet as snowboarding—which is why Guénette doesn’t expect to convert many teens to the sport. But in a city where grown-ups bomb tiny tricycles down the West Hills on a weekly basis, it might just be weird enough to rally a following.

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