Meet Your Merchant | Minus 7 heats up snowskate scene
December 17, 2013
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Kurt Zapata loves his new job. Although thoughts of lamination technology and resin keep him up at night, and each year he has a slue of unseen responsibilities, the science teacher finds joy in designing, manufacturing and riding Minus 7 snowskates.
Kurt and his wife Jill, along with their son John, have been perfecting the boards' designs for about eight years. Kurt describes snowskating as "the soul of surfing, the edge of snowboarding and the technique of skateboarding."
The snowskate started in the mid 1960s with models like the Snurfer, the Skeeter and the Snodad and different manufacturers produced different boards over the last decades. Burton adopted a bi-deck design and called it a "Snowdeck," but no longer produces them. Kurt and Jill's search to buy a snowskate ended in failure. The couple decided they would have to build their own.
"The reason we have a snowskate company is because we were riding them and manufacturing didn't exist," Kurt said. "I had no other choice."
“The reason we have a snowskate company is because we were riding them and manufacturing didn’t exist. I had no other choice.”
Kurt Zapata, Minus 7
Making the boards himself in an old garage on Historic Route 40 has "opened a new universe" Kurt said.
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Minus 7 manufactures three different skates: The Mid Mountain, a 52-inch ski with a narrower shape best for powder and groomers, the 41-inch Park Skate for the park and skatercross, and the 62-inch Powder Board made for steep and deep terrain.
All three boards vary slightly in width and allow the board to flex at the tail and the nose.
The best time to ride, Kurt explained, is in the late afternoon sunshine. The slushier snow allows for the surf-like feel of snowskating and the high speeds that really get people hooked.
The Zapata family has made many sacrifices for Minus 7. Both Jill and Kurt are secondary education teachers, so all work on the skates and the business is done between classes, after school and on weekends.
"It's frustrating because we also have other jobs," Kurt said. "It's a big sacrifice to be here — I haven't seen as many baseball games as I should've but I did get to hang out with (my son) John and Tim Wyndell at Mount Hood."
Kurt and Jill grew up in the skateboarding scene of Southern California. Kurt worked his way through college making boards in the woodshop for Powell-Peralta. With the new sport of snowskating, Kurt and Jill believe not in necessarily converting all snowboarders to snowskaters, but in introducing skateboarders to the snow.
"We are much more interested in targeting skaters, those who aren't out there already," Jill said. "We want to bring a new market, bring more people to the party."
Kurt added that snowskating is "not just for skaters nor just for boarders, but those with an open mind." The open mind attitude is something the Zapatas see in the area and hope to help make Tahoe a snowskate destination.
"We'd like to think of Lake Tahoe as the Mecca of snowskate," Kurt said.
The snowskate's ride, however, hasn't been easy. Just as snowboarding was met with resistance when introduced in the 1980s, getting resorts on board with the idea of the snowkate has taken time and effort.
TRY IT, YOU'LL LIKE IT
"We really had to convince resorts that we are riding vehicles with an edge, with a leash, (vehicles) that can stop," Jill said.
Kurt compares the curious attitude towards snow skates five years ago to the enthusiastic response of recent years.
"It's gone from, 'what is that?' to 'I want to try that!'" he said.
Because of its location across from Donner Ski Ranch, the Zapatas consider the mountain the snowskate's home. Donner Ski Ranch General Manager Lincoln Kauffman, a skier himself, admitted to having initial doubts about snowskating.
"At first I thought it would be a fad, a long shot," Lincoln said. "What I've seen is more and more people are doing it."
Lincoln has watched the sport grow from a few "older skateboarder dudes" to "50 plus kids under the age of 20."
In addition to more kids on the hill and more participants in Minus 7's annual competitions and events, this summer brought a big increase of international sales. Jill said Minus 7 shipped snowskates to Argentina, Russia, the Netherlands, Spain, Lithuania and Japan.
"It's given us a chance to expand in the world a little bit," Jill said of increased business. "That was our vision and our vision is hopefully still a much bigger business that is John's legacy."
John, Kurt and Jill's 12-year-old son, is a graphic designer and social media specialist for Minus 7, not to mention a great skater on the mountain.
While his mom carves and rides the mountain on her snowskate, John can be found leading a team called the Sumit Ratz, bringing kick flips and ollies to the park.
Donner Ski Ranch is happy to have the snowskaters of all ages. The resort is family owned and supports other families' passion for the snow.
"(Jill and Kurt) are both very dedicated to the idea of snowskating," Lincoln said. "I like to see that in anybody, that passion — they really believe in it."
Jenny Luna is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Sierra Sun newspapers. She may be reached at email@example.com.
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