The Colorful History of Skiing’s Most Eccentric Means of Downhill Travel

Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2018 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

Two things are certain when Jonathan Hritz skis at Vail: he’s the envy of the mountain, and the butt of jokes. The former from the manifestations of awe he elicits when ripping pow’ on his monoski—a jumbo-size singular ski with bindings fixed astride each other—and the latter being the catcalls that greet him whenever he slides up to the lift. “‘Look at you, so old school! You must be a dinosaur,’” he says of the line he hears most often from lifties. “Those guys have no clue. Powder monoskiing is like standing up on a toboggan. There’s nothing like it.”

Hritz (the H is silent) would know, too. The sixtysomething powder hound has been chasing steeps on his single-ski setup since he was first introduced to the burgeoning sport in Alaska in 1977, where he used its sled-like profile to crush bottomless powder fields around the Last Frontier. “For the heavier snow conditions in Alaska, the mono was perfect,” he says. “The likelihood of twisting your knee was really good on two skis. But once you get a monoski going, it starts to plane on top of the snow. It doesn’t sink in the way that two skis do. You’re one tight unit when both of your feet are absorbing the turn together. I say it’s like putting radial tires on your car—everything smooths out.”

Details about the early history of monoskiing remain somewhat fuzzy, but conventional wisdom dictates that the first singular ski setup hit the slopes sometime in the 1950s, and that the contraption was fashioned from a water ski and bear traps (for bindings). The mono, as it’s known, had its moment during the 1970s and ’80s with the advent of modern Alpine free-skiing. Skinny skis, neon one-piece ski suits, and a radical kind of laissez-faire attitude personified by the likes of Greg Stump ski films paved the way for trailblazers like Hritz, who relocated to Vail in 1983 and made a habit of ripping Vail’s Back Bowls—that is, until Vail kicked him out. “After a few years, Bill Brown, the mountain manager, decided he was not going to let me—they called it ‘nontraditional skiing.’ I had to go into his office and meet with him,” he recalls, noting that he then went to Copper, where that resort’s manager took one look at his rig and said he was worried Hritz would push all the snow to the bottom of the mountain.

Monoski2 bvcnlw

Jonathan Hritz IMAGE: Courtesy Jonathan Hritz

Now that the resort industry has embraced “nontraditional skiing” (e.g. snowboarding, snowskating, snowbiking), Hritz (and his monoski) has since been welcomed back to Vail, and he brings with him a new generation of monoskiers, namely, his daughters Riley, 20, and Cynta, 22. While they both prefer traditional Alpine skiing, when equipped with monoskis, the Hritz girls say they enjoy the admiration of their peers, who view their throwback gear as legit, akin to chugging PBR instead of craft beer. “It’s like busting out a one-piece ski suit,” says Cynta, a recent University of Colorado graduate who lives in Boulder. “There’s a big comeback of this retro ski movement, and monoskiing is hard! It’s a great way to improve your other forms of skiing.”  

Events like Monopalooza—an organized gathering of monoski enthusiasts that travels from Whistler to A-Basin—gives Hritz hope that there’s still a place for the mono within snow-sliding history, albeit not locally. At press time, as the Vail Village-based Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum was preparing for its grand reopening after a major renovation, the two monoskis in its  collection remained  confined to the warehouse. “Maybe I haven’t been the squeaky wheel, but they don’t get it’s a missing link in the chain,” laments Hritz. “I don’t get it. I’ll never get it. I love two skis. I’ve had a shitload of fun on them. But if I have a choice, I’m going on one.”

Leave a Reply