DAWN COMES TOO EARLY. LAUGHTER AND THE RASP OF SNOWMOBILES AWAKEN ME. I PEEK OUT THE BLINDS, AND IT’S SHEER GLORY – BLUE CLOUDLESS SKIES AND A FRESH SHEET OF SNOW AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE. A COUPLE OF PROFESSIONAL SNOWBOARDERS HAVE STARTED THE TOWROPE AND GREEDILY SLASH UP THE FRESH POWDER ABOVE THE TERRAIN PARK.
10 Crucial Moments – A Snowboard Time Line
Sherman Poppen invents the Snurfer for his daughter – a stand-up board for the sled hill
Winterstick™ starts snowboard production in Utah – gets an article in Newsweek
Jake Burton Carpenter starts what became Burton Snowboards® in Vermont, now the largest snowboard company in the world
Tom Sims starts Sims snowboards in California
Metal edges are used on both Sims and Burton snowboards
Major ski resorts including Squaw Valley, California; Mammoth Mountain, California; Vail, Colorado; and Snowbird, Utah, allow snowboarding
Ride Snowboards is the first snowboard company to go public on the NASDAQ® stock exchange; in approximately one year, the stock is worth nearly six times its original value
First Winter X Games is held at Snow Summit resort in California; benefiting from TV exposure, corporate dollars follow
Snowboarding hits the big time at the Nagano, Japan, Olympics; U.S. rider Ross Powers medals in halfpipe
U.S. team sweeps the halfpipe in the Winter Olympics at Park City Mountain Resort in Utah – snowboard mania ensues
Shaun White wins the Winter Olympics gold medal in Turin, Italy; he graces the cover of Rolling Stone and becomes a household name like Tony Hawk, bringing the sport to the masses
It’s an average morning at the DC Mountain Lab, a private snowboard training facility near Park City, Utah. But as far-fetched as it sounds, I forsake this private playground with all its well-manicured park jumps and handrails. Snatching the resident “house car” keys, I’m free and clear.
MOUNTAIN OF CHANGE
The road is littered with debris from last night’s storm. Rutted-out snowy hairpins usually induce white-knuckle steering, but I’m at the helm of Subaru Rally Team USA driver Ken Block’s Subaru WRX STI. It’s riotous fun with six speeds and a hot cappuccino.
Driving to Park City, I can’t help but reflect on how far the sport of snowboarding has come. When I moved to the mountains nearly two decades ago, snowboarders weren’t driving turbocharged rally-winners. We were hitchhiking and washing dishes at local ski resorts. Although big money and worldwide notoriety were still years away at that time, some of us did enjoy full use of the ski lifts and snowboards with ski technology such as metal edges.
I started as an avid skateboarder who skied. When I first made plans to move to the mountains, I was to become a ski patrolman. But then one of my pals introduced me to snowboarding. He rode with a skill and style I’d never seen before and I’ll never forget. His every movement was flowing and relaxed.
I skied behind him down a cat track (left by a trail-grooming vehicle) at Homewood Mountain Resort in Homewood, California, near Lake Tahoe. He personified catlike grace, ducking into a powder-laden gully and floating lackadaisically off every bump and jump. This was the next level – skateboarding down a mountain. I was smitten!
Since I was a skater, the transition came naturally for me. Becoming proficient at this sport is easy, provided you can bear a few days on your backside – no more than a week. Afterward, you’ll be riding the green and blue runs while your skier buddies are still learning on the bunny run.
This sport isn’t just for young men, either. Snowboarding has a broader audience. A father who wants to bond with his son can be up and turning readily, which is not a reality for vertical skateboarding, for instance. My mom loves snowboarding. A petite 4 feet 11 inches, she was all smiles as she linked turns and brimmed with entitlement on her third day.
The only thing easier than learning is enjoying the sport. Try not to crack a grin while snowboarding – I dare you.
When I reach the Park City Mountain Resort, the lift line is brimming with skiers and snowboarders. On this sunny Saturday, it’s more heavily weighted with the latter. They’re all surprisingly well dressed and appointed. The duct-taped maverick scene of the ’80s clearly has passed. Snowboarding is now a sport for everyone. The chairlift floats above children and baby boomers grinning ear to ear as they side-slip down the bunny run.
Since the crowd is heavy today, I head for the backside and some solitude. It’s quiet back here, even on the weekend. I suppose that’s what separates snowboarding from skateboarding or even surfing today – snowboarding’s quiet anonymity. You can get away from it all on skis, too, but you can’t “surf” powder – the sideways orientation of your body on a board evokes a completely different emotion.
There’s a fundamental simplicity here. Sliding sideways changes forever how you approach the mountain. With a short, single board and two edges you find yourself heading into areas where an intermediate skier would have no business skiing. A snowboard pivots quickly, and once-terrifying ski glades are now an all-out blast. Gone are the always-crossing ski tips and cumbersome poles with their annoying clankity-clack.
By contrast, making powder turns is quiet poetry – butter-smooth transitions from toe side to heel side and then back again. The power at the apex of my turns sends powder hurtling overhead. It’s rhythmic and riveting. Turning in deep snow feels like a surfer’s top-turn or high-speed carves on a skateboard. But these are where the similarities end, because a world-class wave is deemed a short, inconsistent ride compared to my mountain runs. And few skaters could approach the speeds I’m reaching.
POETRY AND POWER
I hedge the tree line at Park City Mountain Resort’s Jupiter Bowl, which harbors plenty of powder. Bracing, sharp gusts of wind spit across the ridgeline and sting my face. I spot my line, drop in, and work through choppy powder and moguls toward the dense tree line. It takes some effort, but I’m soon rewarded with the weightless, champagne powder that made Utah famous.
This is where it all started and where a snowboard truly excels. A wide plank simply floats better than two narrow skis.
Effortlessly I flow into the tree line, gathering speed as the woods envelop me. I wonder if a skier dare follow me. My stance is set back in the “powder” position. Like a speedboat, the nose of my board defiantly rises out of the snow as I accelerate downhill.
The forest is my slalom course now – right, left, right again. It’s a dangerous game, so I dial it back down. Burning off speed with arching power turns, I ease into a hypnotic groove as the terrain opens up ahead of me. Effortless turns throw blankets of snow toward the sky. Over and over again, the rhythm of the run is trance-inducing.
Freeriding with speed feels poetic and powerful. My snowboard is my weapon, and I use it – bulldozing through jumbled crud on the lower part of the mountain, running over bushes and clutter in my path.
THROUGH ANOTHER SET OF EYES
Shredding is not better than skiing, it’s just markedly different. You see through another set of eyes when snowboarding – seeking out terrain on a board that you intentionally avoided as a skier and searching out powder on the side of the trail instead of looking for groomed slopes. You look at the mountain in a whole new light.
Many runs later, my face has frozen into a wry grin. The endorphins are still flowing, but my legs are burning.
It’s time to pack it in.
Author Cody Dresser was drawn to the ski-bum lifestyle early, after his father’s stint as a ski patrolman in Tahoe during the 1980s. Fresh out of high school, Dresser made a name for himself as a professional rider. After a career filled with international travel and reckless living, he called it quits, taking the reins of Transworld SNOWboarding magazine as senior editor.
Dresser is a member of The Machine Design, a youth marketing agency in Oceanside, California. He’s still out surfing or skateboarding every morning.
Gearing Up, To Get Down
Snowboarding is about the most fun you can have outdoors regardless of age or experience. Part of ensuring a comfortable day on the hill is preparing well for the elements – both in dress and properly fitting equipment.
Layer your clothing to quickly accommodate weather changes. Most importantly, start off with a moisture-wicking first layer – there’s nothing colder than sweat-drenched cotton long johns on a gusty chairlift ride.
Eye protection is key in a highly reflective snow environment. While skiers often choose glasses, goggles offer greater warmth and wind protection. They’re also more durable, and tend not to get snowpacked on the inside from light spills. So goggle up!
Skin protection – use both sunscreen and lip balm. Between windburn and the reflective surface of the snow, you can easily get burned. For the extra-fair, a bandana or ski face mask is also beneficial.
Drink fluids. Snowboarding is so much fun that people are often oblivious to the energy they’re expending. Dehydration happens easily. Forsake the alcoholic beverages and load up on water at lunch. A major factor in altitude sickness is dehydration, so be vigilant in maintaining your fluids.
If the boot fits, wear it! Nothing is more frustrating and uncomfortable than boots that fit incorrectly. Your boots should be snug without jamming your toes into the end of the toe box. The most important test is making sure your heels don’t “lift” and move around – this makes initiating a toe-side turn uncomfortable and annoying.
Check Your Head
Like skiing, snowboarding is a dangerous sport. It contends with varying snow conditions and natural terrain – including, but not limited to, hazards such as rocks, trees, and lots of other people. Factor in that you're learning a new sport. One can never be too safe.
Helmets have become increasingly popular on the slopes. The newest helmets are comfortable, light, and have many features, including built-in audio. When you’re learning to snowboard, you often “catch an edge,” meaning accidentally applying pressure to the downhill edge. This can throw you on your noggin. So helmet up!
Wrist guards are a safe bet because wrist injuries are common when snowboarding. Some gloves have built-in wrist guards, but any wrist guard will do. If you have a set from rollerblading or skateboarding, it’ll work fine.
Wrist guards are inexpensive and can be found at sporting goods or discount department stores.
Note: Be sure to test fit your wrist guards before hitting the slopes – you can usually wear them either under or over gloves, whichever works best.
Impact shorts are not a necessity, but I wear them (keep that on the hush). Simply put, I don’t like falling on my bum and feeling it into next week! When you’re learning, a lot of time will be spent on your backside. That’s just the breaks. Impact short are well padded and well appreciated.
A snowboard lesson might be the best safety measure you can take. Sure, it’s possible to learn yourself, and you’re also free to drive around town lost, not asking for directions.
A snowboard instructor will share critical advice and techniques to save you hours of frustration. You could learn to play the piano without lessons, too, but why would you?
Snowboard Terrain Defined
Freeriding essentially is riding the mountain’s natural terrain and enjoying the alpine environment. Whether you’re taking high-speed laps down fresh-groomed corduroy (tracks left by a snowcat trail-grooming machine), riding powder on the upper circle, or shredding the bunny run, you're having fun freeriding.
Terrain Park: Halfpipe and Slopestyle
The terrain park houses the disciplines you see on TV during the winter X Games or Olympics. It’s not for beginners, and there’s usually a sign stating “experts only” or “advanced snowboarders recommended.”
That isn’t to say you can’t carefully ride along the edge of the park and watch the action. Just be sure not to ride up the jumps and stand on the takeoff or, worse yet, the landing.
Halfpipe: Most people are familiar with a halfpipe after watching Shaun White win the Olympics in Italy and from the Winter X Games. The halfpipe is essentially half of a large tube, and it’s taken directly from vertical halfpipe skateboarding. The big difference is that the snowboard halfpipe is angled downhill and very long. Halfpipe riding is the most technical aspect of snowboarding and requires great skill and understanding of your edges.
Slopestyle: Though not an Olympic sport yet, slopestyle is a very popular event in every other contest. Slopestyle combines all aspects of a terrain park, requiring straight jumps, hip jumps, handrails, and box obstacles together in one run.
Commonly referred to as boardercross, snowboard cross is a multi-person, downhill race over various jumps and obstacles and through banked turns.
Like its downhill-skiing counterpart, snowboarding is about high speed and control. The irony here is that snowboarding has a history in skateboarding and surfing and, aside from the Olympics, giant slalom snowboarding garners little attention in America.
Snowboarding: A Proposal for Snow Freedom
LIKE A KID WITH UNOPENED PRESENTS, YOU WANT TO SCREAM FROM THE ADRENALINE CAUSED BY SCALING THE MOUNTAINS ON THE MORNING’S FIRST CHAIRLIFT. ONCE OFF THE LIFT AND LOOKING DOWN AT UNTOUCHED POWDER, YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’VE RIPPED OPEN THOSE GIFTS. MOVING FROM TOE-SIDE TO HEEL-SIDE ON YOUR SNOWBOARD, YOU BEGIN TEARING AND RIPPING APART THE PURE SNOW. IT’S ALL YOURS TO SHRED!
The Great Divide
At first, snowboarding’s alien-like design, maneuverability, and burgeoning popularity made snowboarders unwelcome on traditional skiing trails. They’re still banned from some mountains. Some detractors argue that snowboarders destroy mountain trails with their deep edge carving movements. Others note that the mountains lack space, either on trails or chairlifts, making it impossible to accommodate both skiers and snowboarders. As a result, snowboarding began in off-piste areas.
Skiers and snowboarders seem to have a love-hate relationship, with skiers referring to snowboarders as “knuckle-draggers” and snowboarders referencing skiers as “two-plankers” and “fairy-wand swingers.”
Thankfully, both parties agree that they love the exhilaration and freedom of winter sports.
Freedom of Expression
Snowboarding isn’t just a trend. It’s a way of expressing one’s own liberty and freedom from gravity’s limits. When attempting a 180-degree nose grab, the exhilaration of weightlessness epitomizes liberation.
Snowboarding’s main draw is the opportunity for individual expression. Some snowboarders seek waist-deep powder in the tree lines, while others enjoy hitting rails and jumps in a terrain park.
In addition to being physically unrestricted, snowboarding is a way for skiers who have grown uninterested in skiing to express themselves. A lot of ex-skiers have switched to snowboarding because of their drive for perpetual challenge. Ex-skiers also seek snowboarding as a way of perceiving the mountain through transformed eyes.
Not only does snowboarding appeal to ex-skiers, but it also attracts people who participate in other board sports such as skateboarding and surfing. They see snowboarding as a way of taking their skills into the winter season.
In addition, snowboarding allows freedom of expression through fashion. Professional and celebrity snowboarders such as Shaun White and Tara Dakides produce boards, bindings, boots, and clothing that exhibit their personal tastes and offer choices in fashion to other snowboard riders.
When choosing where to snowboard, a rider’s skill level and preference of terrain should determine the ideal mountain location. One of the main things to keep in mind when organizing a snowboarding trip is trail design – how wide they are and how they’re laid out on a mountain.
Because snowboarders have both feet attached to the board when in motion, areas with fewer traverses are more inviting. If wider turns are of more interest, seek a location with broader trails such as Loveland Mountain in Colorado. If tighter, more edge-to-edge riding is preferred, a place like Killington, Vermont, would be a good choice. Before planning a trip to the mountains, go online and look up trail maps or ask your local ski shop for recommendations.
On the mountain itself, certain areas will feel more comfortable than others. Novice or expert, a rider can gauge what conditions feel best – from groomers to moguls and tree lines.
A final point to keep in mind when choosing the right mountain for a snowboarding trip is lift accessibility. There’s nothing worse than being all geared out and ready to take on the day’s fresh powder, then having to wait forever in a lift line. Check the mountain’s total number of lifts and, if possible, their speeds. This information can help you determine overall crowding. It’s sweet to have an adrenaline-filled ride down the mountain and be able to hop right on the next available chairlift.
Sensation of Movement
The best way to characterize snowboarding is to say that it gives you an inexplicable awareness of your body’s senses.
When your body shifts toe- to heel-side as you speed with precision through the silence of snow-capped trees, it overpowers your senses. Your body becomes more aware of every movement.
A simple shift in pressure from toe to heel makes the board carve from edge to edge, gradually picking up speed. The wind blows harder on your face, contributing to the adrenaline rush. Trees fly by, along with loose powder. As you cut through untainted snow, you see flashes of vibrant colors – glistening whites, holly greens, and baby-blue skies. The only sound is whistling snow.
In a charge of independence and exuberance, you let out a “Wahoo!” No matter how fast or slow you go, you feel the carve underneath your feet – the vibration of movement starting from the soles of your feet and moving upward.
With every sensation, your body yearns for more. It’s up to you to quench the hunger.
Freelance writer Amie Simpson, a 23-year-old New Jersey native, began skiing at the age of eight, when her family took her to the mountains of Sugarbush, Vermont, every weekend. After years of boredom and complaining of ski-boot discomfort, Simpson decided to take up snowboarding. From that point on, she has been snowboarding and submerging herself in the snowboarding industry. Simpson currently works at a snowboard shop in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.