Students' device seeks harmony on the chairlift

Students' device seeks harmony on the chairlift

By Kaitlin Gurney, Inquirer Staff

Rowan University junior Jeff Gladnick, who skied before he could read, met his snowboarder friends in the Canadian Rockies for a spring-break getaway last April.
The guys had a blast coasting down the mountains.

Riding back up was another matter.

On the chairlift, they met the great divide between ski bums and their upstart snowboard counterparts: Skis face forward. Snowboards face sideways, like a surfboard with the rider attached. Skis end up getting scratched by the snowboards' heavy metal, and snowboarders strain their knees and ankles trying to maneuver their equipment on lifts designed for skis.

Inspiration hit Gladnick, 20, as he rested after his trip.

He says he realized that snowboarders needed a simple chairlift extension - a device that would allow them to stack their gear peacefully on top of the skis.

They needed what he and fellow Rowan engineering students Matt Eberhardt, 20, and Peter Boyle, 21, now know as the SnoRhino.

"All my buddies kept complaining about their snowboards on the lifts, and my skis got scraped," Gladnick said. "This would give us a way to exist in perfect harmony - at least going up the mountain."

The trio, incorporated as UpHill Enterprises, has a patent pending on the simple clamp with metal pegs that creates a snowboarders-only footrest without interfering with skis.

With luck, the students say, the SnoRhino will be on chairlifts by next winter. They say they plan to market their product - which will retail for less than $50 - to ski resorts eager to cash in on the snowboarding craze.

"Whether the resorts like it or not, snowboarders are the wave of the future," Gladnick said, reflecting on the sport's popularity, which, if anything, has been boosted by the five medals Americans won in Salt Lake City. "They have to appeal to them. They need to get that business."

More than four million Americans tried the sport at least once in 2000, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Although not nearly as numerous as skiers, snowboarders are hardier customers who do not complain when the snow is not in perfect condition, said Boyle, an avid snowboarder for six years.

"The mountain [resorts] tell us that when the weather conditions aren't very good, 95 percent of their customers are snowboarders," Boyle said. "The skiers are the picky ones."

Since September, the engineering students have worked on their project for about 15 hours a week, and they receive school credit for their work. The SnoRhino concept was so simple that faculty adviser Anthony Marchese said he almost did not let them proceed with the project.

"I said, 'Wait a minute. I'm not letting you all work on a bar the whole semester,' " Marchese said. "It was so simple. But the idea was so original."

Marchese helped them secure financing: $2,500 from Rowan and $8,375 from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. They bought a spare chair from a chairlift - $30, plus a $200 delivery fee - at a nearby ski resort, and began work, practicing with Gladnick's skis and Boyle's snowboard.

Eberhardt, who does not ski or snowboard, has concentrated on making the SnoRhino light, less than two or three pounds of a high-strength polymer.

Gladnick has concentrated on the business end of UpHill Enterprises. He surveyed snowboarders, all of whom said they would use the SnoRhino, and 86 percent of whom said they would pay extra to ride lifts equipped with the device. He also applied for a patent from the federal government and created a Web site:

Snowboarder Boyle helps build the prototypes - and tests each one on their demonstration chair.

The students say they hope to try their product at a resort in the Poconos before spring, adding the SnoRhino to certain chairlifts and watching whether snowboarders prefer those seats.

If resorts express interest in buying the SnoRhinos, UpHill Enterprises should have no difficulty securing a manufacturer, Gladnick said.

"It's a great idea that just hadn't occurred to anyone," he said. "I think the [chairlift] manufacturers will be kicking themselves a year from now that they didn't think of this."

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Date Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2002 (All day)
Source URL: The Philadelphia Inquirer