How would you like to strap a three-by-one foot fiberglass plank to your
feet and then hurtle down a mountain? Sound like fun? Thousands of snowboarders
With about 600 ski areas in North America, snowboarders have plenty of
places to defy gravity. You might see beginners starting out on tobogganing
hills. This cross between skiing, surfing, and skateboarding is catching on.
Snowboarding got a big boost by being a medal sport for the first time
at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. In 2006, when Torino, Italy hosted,
the sport got even more attention in North America.
The sport has grown incredibly fast in its short history. It was in the
late 1970s when a small group began experimenting with a single-board concept.
The group included Chuck Barfoot, Tom Sims, and Jake Burton. Burton is now
the largest snowboard manufacturer in the world.
The inspiration for the sport was a sledding toy called a snurfer. It was
shaped like a small waterski with a rope tied to the front. The rider stood
near the back on a rough surface. Burton raced snurfers, and began to easily
win when he put a foot strap on his board.
Of the hundreds of thousands of people who flock to North American ski
hills every winter, about 30 percent are snowboarders. After initial resistance,
ski areas are now accepting snowboarders with open arms. In 1985, only seven
percent of ski areas allowed snowboards. Today, about 98 percent allow snowboards.
"I think, as resort operators, we've taken the attitude it doesn't
really matter what's strapped to your feet," says Rob Linde with the
National Ski Areas Association. "It's getting you up the hill that matters."
Snowboarding continues to grow in popularity every year. In the past, people
learned to ski before they learned to snowboard. No more. It's more and
more common to see kids go straight into snowboarding. "We've had phenomenal
growth, as high as 18 to 20 percent [per year]," Linde says.
In the 1997-1998 season, 610,000 snowboards were sold in North America,
according to the International Snowboard Federation. This was up from 490,000
the year before.
Most ski areas now have half pipes. They resemble the bottom half of a
pipe, hence the name. Snowboarders -- as well as skiers -- use the lip of
the half pipe to "catch big air." At competitions, points are awarded for
the level of difficulty, smoothness, and height of the techniques.
Tricia Byrnes is a champion snowboarder with numerous World Cup wins to
her name. She sees her sport changing from year to year.
"It's always changing," Byrnes says. "Everyone's always trying
to push the envelope and get more technical, but still keep it big."
Snowboarders also compete in boardercross events, where the aim is to finish
first. (Boardercross is when there are four or five riders in a course filled
with gap jumps and bank turns.)
The combination of speed with the possibility of wiping out draws a lot
of attention at competitions. "They're getting the big crowds because,
I think, of the carnage factor, which is kind of sad," Byrnes says, laughing.
Says Juliann Fritz with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association: "Snowboarding
is one of our more popular sports with a general audience, because it's
easy to pick up and it's exciting to watch on TV."
Most snowboarders are male, though more females are joining the sport every
year. Females make up 30 percent of snowboarders, according to a 1998-1999
national demographic study by the National Ski Areas Association.
It's not easy making a living snowboarding. A few top athletes are
team riders, traveling from event to event. Sponsors give them equipment and
a salary. Most competitive snowboarders, however, only get equipment and perhaps
some money for travel and accommodations from sponsors.
The number of professional snowboarders -- team riders -- will likely increase
as the sport matures. "This is only a 20-year-old sport, and as it grows there's
no question there are more and more team riders," says Peter Lane. He is the
manager of a snowboard shop. His business sponsors several snowboarders.
Snowboarding isn't a cheap sport. You can expect to spend from $400
to $1,200 for the basic equipment. The essential items are a board, bindings,
and boots. Of course, you'll also need warm clothing.
Snowboarders also have to pay for lift passes at resorts. Most resorts
charge $30 to $60 for a full-day pass. Full-season passes can be a good bargain
if you go often.
Taking lessons using rented equipment is a good way to start. Most resorts
rent equipment and many offer lessons for beginners.
One appeal of the sport is the feeling of progression as you learn new
techniques and tricks. A good start is getting tips from an expert. "It's
kind of a good sport because you can progress really quickly at it," says
snowboarder Lyndon Cormack. "Take a lesson -- that's the way that works
Snowboarding, just like skiing, requires a good level of fitness. A strong
back and legs, along with a good sense of balance, are important. People as
young as six and as old as 70 participate.
Injuries are about as common as with skiing, experts say. A snowboarder
is much less likely to injure their knees than a skier. However, they're
more likely to injure their ankles, feet, wrists, and hands, according to
a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.
The Internet is a great place to find out more about snowboarding. It's
easy to find tips on buying equipment, snowboarding techniques, and much more.
Contact your area ski club or resort to find out about equipment rentals and
lessons. Soon, you'll be able to get on-board and enjoy the ride!
United States of America Snowboard Association (USASA)
P.O. Box 3927
Christopher Van Tilburg
The Good Skiing and Snowboarding Guide 2000,
edited by Peter Hardy and Felice Eyston
The Illustrated Guide to Snowboarding,
Snowboarding: A Complete Guide for Beginners,
Frequently Asked Questions About Snowboarding
Everything you ever wanted to know about snowboarding
National Ski Council Federation
Links to ski and snowboard clubs across the U.S.
News, features, profiles, snow reports, and more
Board reviews, gallery of photos, boarding tips, and information
on resorts and events
Extensive resort guide, photo gallery, chat room, and more