Hoka One One

Like fat skis, but for running

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Price: $130

Sizes: 7-14

Features: From the website: "Quite possibly the smoothest-riding shoe on the market, the CLIFTON offers incredible cushioning at an almost impossibly light weight."

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If you live in California or Utah, chances are your running shoes have gotten more use than your skis so far this 2015. Whether you think of running as an endorphin rush or a suffer fest, it is still one of the easiest and quickest ways to maintain fitness when you can’t ski. You can do it anywhere, it doesn’t require expensive equipment, and you get a decent workout in a half hour.

But for skiers who are a few knee surgeries into their career, running—pain-free running, anyway—is often no longer an option. Enter the Hoka One One (pronounced O-nay, and from the Maori for “time to fly”). Developed by former Salomon employees and long-distance runners Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud, the Hoka was designed for long-distance trail racers. The philosophy is that more cushioning and protection would help you run faster downhill and cause less fatigue after long distances. Accurate or not, more than a few people and media outlets have compared the Hoka’s benefits to fat skis or oversized tennis racquets.

Though originally intended for off-road ultra races, the shoes have caught on across all running disciplines and enthusiast levels, and earned “trend” status from the New York Times. Hoka’s best-selling shoe is now a road running version (The Clifton), and the brand is branching out into lightweight hiking shoes.

There is more to the Hoka than just throwing more rubber on the bottom. The shoes also incorporate a rockered sole designed for a more natural and efficient transfer from heel strike to toe spring. The cushioning is more than double a normal running shoe, but uses a lighter and softer density material that doesn’t add a lot of extra weight. The outsole is also wider than a traditional running shoe for better lateral support.

A note to skiers: Barefoot running is not for you. PHOTO: Derek Taylor
A note to skiers: Barefoot running is not for you. PHOTO: Derek Taylor

In my personal experience, the Hokas have been a savior. After two ACL reconstructions and three meniscectomies (cartilage removals), I was advised to simply avoid running. Faced with a month-long trip with no bike and no gym, however, I decided the downside of putting on a beer gut out-weighed whatever damage running would do to my knees. I invested in a pair of the Hokas and tried running again. While I’m not about to rival my high school 3000-meter time, running is at least a fitness option again. I’ve talked to other skiers who have had similar experiences.

“Running in Hokas was a total game changer for me,” says Chris Davenport. “After four knee surgeries, running distance or on roads was pretty painful. Hokas gave me so much cushion and support that I am now able to run pain free and even did a 50-mile trail race last year.”

I’ll leave the “minimalist vs. maximalist” debate to actual runners. As a skier who is missing some cushion between the leg bones, however, I appreciate having a little extra under the foot. After all, you’re not going to find many powder landings when you’re pounding asphalt.