VIDEO: Reno ski simulator business seeks to grow snowsports community
May 4, 2018
RENO, Nev. — It's a Friday in late April and I'm stepping into ski boots and clicking into skis for the first time this year.
Full disclosure: first time since I was a kid. Raised in southern Wisconsin, the only skiing I know is cross-country, traversing the flat forest trails and fields covered in an unwrinkled snow blanket.
Fast-forward to present day, I've been a resident for nearly three years in Reno, which I quickly realized is a hub for ski and snow sports enthusiasts of all skill levels. And so, finally, I'm being introduced to downhill skiing.
But it's sunny and 70 and I'm miles from the nearest mountain. In fact, I'm not even outdoors.
Snapped into 3-foot training skis, I'm standing on what looks like a giant treadmill track — inclined at roughly a 45-degree angle — covered in soft gray carpet, thrumming beneath me at a steady clip.
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The machine is a ski simulator, also known as a ski deck, designed and fabricated by Kris Buttenberg, a local ski coach and racer, and founder of Reno-based Biste Technologies.
"Eyes. Knees. Skis," says Buttenberg, standing on the floor in front of me.
Gripping onto a balance bar, I bend my knees and ankles to the right, glance to where I want to end up, let go of the bar, and smoothly glide over to the right side of the track.
"Look at that!" Buttenberg shouts encouragingly. "Two seconds on the ski deck and you're already skiing."
I have plenty to work on, though. Observing my form and technique while on the ski deck, Buttenberg points out that I'm putting too much weight on my right foot, causing me to have a knocked-knee, A-frame stance. He also spots that I'm leaning back slightly, affecting my control of the skis.
'NO BAD HABITS'
These are all flaws Buttenberg could've noticed if he was watching me ski shakily down a snowy hill at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe. But he would've had to observe me take numerous runs down the mountain, which could span a full day.
Five minutes on the ski deck, Buttenberg already has me starting out on the right foot. Best of all, I don't have to endure the cost of a lift ticket and rentals — or suffer any bumps and bruises from taking a spill.
"You get on this thing for a half hour, it equates to a full day of skiing," Buttenberg said. "Nonstop, no chair lift, no bad habits created. You take all the variables out of skiing — all the undulations, wetness, coldness, wind, sunlight. And you learn new skills, you learn new balance points, you develop the proper muscle and functional movement four times faster skiing on this (machine)."
In other words, a ski deck can quicken the process for beginners who are learning how to ski or snowboard. What's more, it can keep competitive skiers and riders sharp all year round; especially those who can't afford to migrate to parts of the globe like New Zealand or Chile for offseason training or simply want to train locally.
"When you want to be competitive in any type of winter sport, you can't just think, OK, I'll start training come November," said Buttenberg, who's coached Mt. Rose junior racers, Sierra League adult racers, and Reno and Galena high school ski teams. "You've got to think, I've got to start training in June."
LAYING THE FOUNDATION
Just ask local ski legend Bob Howard, a three-time world champion in freestyle ski ballet, who first introduced the ski deck concept to Buttenberg back on a hot October day in 2002.
Howard said the ski deck was instrumental in his training regime as a world champion skier.
"You could do all your basic ballet tricks on the ski deck, so it builds great strength just like regular skiing," Howard said in a phone interview with the NNBW. "Oftentimes, when you're a competitive skier you have to take the whole summer off. But nothing simulates skiing like skiing. You can feel that resistance (on the ski deck) and that builds tendon ligaments and muscle strength."
Offering an analogy, Howard added: "If you were to lift weights on a bench press you wouldn't take six months off and then go, OK, now I'm going to bench press today. That's what a lot of skiers do (with skiing)."
After experiencing a ski deck firsthand back in 2002, Buttenberg quickly saw the benefits of such a machine. He even created a curriculum for it and tried to sell the idea to other local coaches. It didn't take.
"They all kind of looked at me like 'what are you talking about?'" Buttenberg said.
However, eight years later, Buttenberg, by sheer happenstance, bumped into an old friend in San Francisco who was using a small ski deck to train skiers. Observing that her ski deck was "way too small," Buttenberg designed a bigger one — what became the first Snow Biste ski simulator — and sold it to her.
It inspired him to dust off his curriculum and design a second ski deck, a mobile version, which he started teaching and training skiers on in Reno in 2015.
In the process of launching his business some three years ago, Buttenberg said a point of emphasis was sourcing the materials for his ski machines locally. He pointed to the recession as a motivating factor.
"I started really getting fed up with watching all these great people with great talents not getting a job," he said. "So my business model went as far to say, I'm going to source everything from here, even if I can get it cheaper online. I'm going to work with Reed Electric (and Field Service), Johnson Bearing (and Industrial Supply) and Eikelberger Awning (and Drapery). I'm going to keep jobs right here. And I know that's expensive because it's a whole lot cheaper to buy stuff somewhere else, but I refuse to do it.
"I want this to be a Northern Nevada, Reno thing, and it really was a driving force when this whole company started."
STRENGTHENING THE SKI COMMUNITY
For the past two years, Konrad Rickenbach, a former U.S. Ski Team coach and current Diamond Peak Ski Education Foundation (DPSEF) head coach, has been encouraging his skiers to train with Buttenberg. In the summer and fall, the DPSEF even shuttles kids down from Incline Village to Reno for sessions on the Snow Biste simulator.
"The kids that use it quite a bit, you can see the difference, especially going into the season," Rickenbach told the NNBW. "They are a lot more prepared than those not using it.
"For basic elements and foundations, it's a great place to get into 'automatic mode' and get it into your subconscious. And it's good for conditioning."
This summer, Buttenberg is taking bigger strides in an effort to foster the next generation of skiers.
Come June 1, Buttenberg is kicking off a summer season pass program. The program, which costs $350, includes 14 weekends (Friday-Sunday) of outdoor lessons on a new, bigger Snow Biste ski simulator (four times the size of his current machine) that can fit more than one person at a time. Notably, Buttenberg provides the skis used on the simulator and has ski boots for those newcomers who don't own a pair.
Buttenberg said he hopes the program grows and strengthens the ski community in the greater Reno-Lake Tahoe region.
"We're missing all of the great athletes that otherwise could never afford it whose parents are maybe working two jobs," he said. "So why not create a stronger community that welcomes all of those kids. If they're willing to put in the time and effort, then we should be supporting them and giving them pathways to get scholarships toward college, mentorships toward jobs and ultimately create career pathways for them. That's my big vision."