Neon green with splashes of red. Motorcycles, palm trees, ski masks. The K2 logo resting confidently behind crosshairs. My first pair of twins, the 2008 Juvy. Manufactured during a time some would call the ‘golden age’ of freeskiing, the Juvy had plenty of company in the adult twin-tip market. Salomon Suspects, Atomic Punx, and the Public Enemy (another K2 offering) all afforded their riders a twofold increase in trick selection. And, during this period, seeing another skier with a pair of twins strapped to their feet signified a sort of kinship, an indicator of a shared interest in ‘Newschool’ skiing. But, years after the ‘golden age’, twin-tips seem to be wavering slightly in popularity, why?
In the 1997-1998 season, Salmon dropped the 1080, the first mass-market twin-tip ski for the newschool movement. Although the Olin Mark VI was released in 1974, I think few would consider it a true twin-tip, despite its modest rise in the tail and it certainly had little to do with this new trend in skiing. Inspired by the bi-directional capabilities of the snowboard, the 1080 allowed riders to take off and land switch. Jason Levinthal, found of Line skis, released the Ostness Dragon the following year, though these were preceded by Levinthal’s first twin-tip invention, his ski boards, which were effectively twin-tip snowblades. Notably, ski boards were used in the first X Games ski slopestyle event in 1998.
Regardless of who you consider to have been the pioneer, the following years saw a dramatic increase in the popularity of twin-tip skis. Their prevalence in ski movies and slopestyle events only bolstered this popularity, and the upturned tails were soon joined by a another renaissance in ski design: fat skis. The Volant Spatula, one of the first true twin-tip powder skis that featured ‘rocker’ design, was released in 2002 under the guidance of freeski pioneer Shane McConkey. The Spatula’s chief innovation was its adoption of water-ski design, much like snowboarding’s attentiveness to surfboard design years earlier. Working in conjunction, twin tip and fat ski tech completely altered the way that skiers could approach the mountain. ‘Porpoising’ (a term used to describe the necessary method for using straight skis in deep-snow) became antiquated. Skiers could slash, lean into the infamous slarvy ‘McConkey turn’, and land in deep snow switch without being launched into a reverse hand-spring.
By 2008, when I was first introduced to twins via the K2 Juvy, the twin-tip market was in full swing. A New York Times piece published that year titled “A New Direction With Twin-Tip Skis” cataloged this market explosion, noting that in bindingless ski sales twin-tips were beginning to outpace every other category. This jump in sales was clearly demonstrated by a remarkable 167 percent growth in online twin tip sales. However, Bill Pennington, the Times reporter responsible for the piece, wondered aloud how twin-tips, a tool designed for a more niche variety of skiing (hitting and riding jumps switch) were becoming popular for mainstream skiers who spend little to no time in the park. While his ski industry interviewees pointed towards both trendiness and ease of use (twin tips typically ski shorter than their flat-tailed counterparts, making them more forgiving), questions about their suitability for everyday skiers never quite went away.
For the past couple of seasons a friend of mine has been a member of Blizzard’s team. While his primary dedication is big-mountain riding and freeride competitions, he’s still a strong park skier, making him someone both capable of and interested in using twin-tip skis. However, while he was still a member of the team in 2017, Blizzard discontinued the last of their true twin, the Gunsmoke. This relegated him to a strange position. Without a season-of twin-tip ski offering, if he wanted to use a true twin-tip he was forced to rely on an ever-aging pair of Gunsmokes. While most of Blizzard’s current offerings still feature a slight rise in the tail (I’ve successfully taken the Rustlers off of park jumps switch), I doubt anyone would want to find themselves going switch in powder with their currently available skis.
Blizzard’s choice to leave the twin-tip market may be indicative of a broader industry shift away from the ski designs that dominated the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. While many ski manufacturers like Line and K2 appear fully committed to offering twin-tip options, others, like Salomon (who introduced the first twin-tip so many years ago), seem to be showing more interest in another category: big mountain freeride and backcountry touring.
Figuring out the chicken vs egg situation vis-a-vis the fall of twin-tip ski sales and usage, along with the rising popularity of both big mountain and backcountry is tricky. First off, my stating that twin-tips are less popular than they used to relies more on anecdotal assumptions rather than hard data. I make this assumption purely by what I see on the hill, and the declining offerings of twin-tips by several major ski manufacturers [Editor's note: this assertion is largely born out by SIA Sales Data]. Regardless, it is undeniably true that more ski companies are now selling flat-tail skis that employ modern designs (like increased width or rockered bases) than they used to. Now, if you want to enjoy new and trendy ski tech but don’t want to go switch you don’t need to buy twins, a fact that my dad took advantage of when he purchased a pair of Line Sick Days.
Similarly, the backcountry market is exploding in popularity. According to Outside mag, backcountry ski sales were up 81 percent as of November 2020. Skis designed for purely backcountry usage are typically flat-tailed, as this allows the ski greater versatility in variable conditions due to more effective edge contact in the rear of the ski. No one wants to get caught on an icy couloir 6 miles away from the parking lot with a ski that can’t hold an edge. Big mountain skiing (which can almost certainly be lumped in with the increase in backcountry popularity) presents the same conundrum, as true twins with tail rocker suffer considerably in situations where the snow isn’t soft and untouched. If you’re looking for a ‘one ski quiver’ a twin-tip may not be your best choice. And the fashions have moved on too. It used to be that a twin tip ski was a must for your fashion-conscious weekend warrior. Now the trend is for resort/backcountry hybrid skis and bindings.
With several bigger brands pulling their twin-tip offerings entirely, and many more significantly reducing their marketing focus on twin-tip models, you could argue the future of the twin looks bleak. Of course, startups like ON3P, and more recently Vishnu and Jet Skis demonstrate that twin-tips cling to enough of the market pie to remain viable, even if that portion may appear to be shrinking. And, plenty of brands who have expanded their modern flat tail options still dedicate themselves to the production of twins, like Line and K2. For me, this is a win. I’m more than willing to make room in my quiver for a pair of Mindbenders or Rustlers as long as ski companies don’t forget that some of us still like to go switch sometimes. But could it be that the days of the twin tip ski are numbered?