As we've seen with past debuts like the Snolo Stealth-X and Snowbull, sledding isn't just child's play anymore. The snowbound activity is moving from neighborhood front yards to high-mountain bowls. The all-new Zibock packs small and light for hiking deep into the mountains, then assembles into a full-suspension sled in minutes, providing a sit-down alternative to backcountry skiing and snowboarding.
Sledding is still looked upon largely as a kids' activity around the United States. Occasionally, adults get involved after one too many drinks during après ski, but for the most part, it's a way for kids to romp on the rolling, snow-blanketed hills of the local golf course on a Saturday afternoon.
Over in the Alps, it's a different story. It's not uncommon to see sleds being loaded onto ski resort lifts by both adults and children, and sledding seems to be a legitimate alternative to skiing and snowboarding. It's in these Alps – the French variety, to be specific – that the new Zibock was born. The vessel is designed to take sledding far beyond the boundaries of ski resorts and golf courses.
The Zibock is modeled after the classic wooden paret sledge, a simple type of French sled with a seat, single runner and handle to hold onto. According to Zibock and other modern-day purveyors of paret equipment, the design dates back to the early 1900s. Ski resorts in the Alps offer it as an activity today, and modern designs like the Yooner, from TSL Outdoors, are modeled after the classic sled.
What separates the Zibock from the traditional paret and modern-day versions is a multi-component design that allows it to break down into two skis, a folding seat/telescoping handle unit and a carbon spring. The design allows the rider to use the skis for climbing uphill. After all, the ski has a long history of being used as a means of winter transportation, not just a form of downhill recreation. While downhill skis aren't made to climb, all it takes is a pair of skins to give skiers the traction they need to ascend mountains. That's why the splitboard was created as a backcountry snowboard option, and that's why the Zibock design includes a pair of skis instead of a single runner.
Still a prototype, the Zibock is designed to provide an interesting alternative to backcountry skiing and snowboarding. A snow lover can slap a pair of skins on the Zibock skis, carry the rest of the gear (about 4 lb/1.8 kg) in his or her backpack and climb to a fresh snowfield, whether it be a quick jaunt up a local hill or an all-day slog on a challenging high-mountain ascent. At the top, the user removes the bindings and skins from the skis, stacks the two skis on top of one another other, and assembles the seat and shock. The telescoping handle pulls up to give the rider something to hold onto.
Zibock says it only takes a few minutes to put the sled together, about as long as it takes for a snack and water break. The two quick-release clamps that hold the bindings in place release and unscrew, then screw back in to secure the handle/seat, carbon spring, and two skis together. The skins and bindings go into the rider's backpack, and from there, it's all fast downhill sledding – big-mountain, fresh-powder style. The carbon shock helps to prevent a sore backside by eating the bumps and drops of the terrain below, and the ski-based runner should provide much tighter control and quicker stopping than other sled designs.
Zibock doesn't mention the specific type of terrain that it envisions being shredded with its sled, but it does say that, like traditional sledding, it's an activity that can be done by anyone, no prior experience needed. That contrasts with skiing and snowboarding, which have relatively steep learning curves.
Of course, climbing mountains where avalanche danger exists should never be treated like sledding a hill at the local schoolyard. Such travel requires specific knowledge and equipment. However, the Zibock could also be used on safer, non-threatening terrain where avalanches aren't a concern. You'd certainly want to start out with small, gentle hills, anyway, before graduating to anything too steep or dangerous.
The Zibock looks like it could be a fun alternative to skis and snowboards. It could also serve as a fun way to play on small, safe hills on a day when higher, steeper ski-touring terrain poses too much threat of avalanche, a day you might otherwise spend stuck inside a backcountry hut on an expensive multi-day trip. The sled hardware can even be secured to an existing set of skis, so you don't have to use Zibock skis exclusively.
One of the selling points of the Snolo Stealth-X was that it was lightweight and could be worn like a backpack when climbing uphill. However, at 9 lb (4 kg), the carbon fiber sled puts twice as much weight on your back as the Zibock, in the form of a big, broad sled instead of a standard backpack. Also, it's a rather ridiculous US$3,200. Snolo doesn't mention the option of sled-packing the newer, more affordable Scion sled uphill, and at 16.5 lb (7.5 kg), it'd be a heck of a lot heavier. The Zibock seems like a much better option for anyone that's serious about backcountry sledding.
The Zibock is the brainchild of Cyril Colmet Daâge, a self-described mountain leader that thought of the idea in 2007. He credits some insightful professionals with providing key design input along the way, including polar explorer and guide Eric Philips, who helped him design a durable, functional binding, and prosthetic expert Fabien Tourneux, who worked on the shock absorber. He's since put together a team and is trying to raise Indiegogo funding to see the design through, hoping to begin production this year. (Note that the English version of the Indiegogo campaign is below the French version, accessible by the familiar Union Jack button below the video.)
Zibock is offering a complete model starting at a pledge level of US$749. That might sound quite expensive for a sled, but it's much more in line with the costs of ski touring and splitboarding equipment than the toy-store plastic saucers that the Zibock shares little in common with. Zibock also offers the option of a $449 DIY kit, which includes the seat, handle, carbon spring, and instructions on how to install them on the skis of your choice. It says that kit is an Indiegogo exclusive.
Shipping is not included in the prices and averages around $60, according to Zibock's estimates. The specific shipping cost will be delivered to individual pledgers prior to delivery, which, if all goes according to plan, will begin in November.
For those that aren't sure they want to invest that much money in a product they never tried, Zibock also offers several trial tours, starting at $49. If you drop $99 on the "discovery" package, Cyril Colmet Daâge will introduce you to the activity personally. Of course, to make those demos cost-effective you'll have to live near or be traveling to Briancon, France. Otherwise, it'll be an awfully costly test ride.
We're not sure that a backcountry sled is really the type of product that appeals to the "crowd." We could see it gaining a small, passionate following in the mountains, and selling well in ski and outdoor gear shops. The DIY kit seems like it could be especially popular with ski town residents that have plenty of old skis lying around, though the price might have to come down for it to really catch on. Since launching last week, Zibock has made a 4 percent dent in its $55,000 goal.
The top video below has some good shots of the Zibock going airborne and navigating through trees and rock-covered ravines. It's definitely worth a watch if you're curious about how it rides. The short, animated second video shows how the Zibock transforms from skis to sled.