That edgy, bad-boy image that accompanied the arrival of snowboarding more than three decades ago has faded.
These days, the opinions are varied among young people regarding who owns the edgier image and is pushing the envelope in terms of new skills and owning the desired “cool” factor.
“If you’re not on one board, you’re not cool,” said Rick Andersen, a Bay Area teenager who was snowboarding recently at Heavenly ski resort in Lake Tahoe.
Some bias remains among avid snowboarders like Andersen, but skiers are definitely gaining ground. For many years, the majority of kids enjoyed straying from their parents, choosing snowboarding over skiing. It was partly due to the “rebel” factor that emerges in most teens. And let’s face it, riding on one board simply looked cooler.
Not so any longer, and statistics back up the viewpoint. According to the National Ski Association, more than 42 percent of all beginners age 14 and under started on a snowboard in 2003-04. Last year, that number had dwindled to 34 percent.
A Snowsports Industries of America survey reveals that 11 percent of all skiers fall in the 6-12 age group, while that group makes up 10 percent of snowboarders.
“Skiing has shaken the stigma of only being for old people,” said Jon Slaughter, spokesman for Boreal Mountain Resort. “It has moved beyond just racers in tights and mogul skiing. Now it has the ‘cool’ core factor that snowboarding grew up with.”
Technology has helped skiers develop and nudge their way into the spotlight with riders, who for many years were doing tricks and stunts in terrain parks that could only be admired by gawking skiers. But today skiers are taking on the halfpipes and enjoying boxes, rails, jumps and jibs on slopestyle courses.
“The advancement of ski equipment and the acceptance of skiing in terrain parks is really what we are seeing,” Slaughter said. “Ten to 15 years ago and beyond, terrain parks were looked at as just for snowboarders. Now with twin-tip skis, the sport has progressed to the point where now even X Games and the Olympics have embraced freestyle skiing.”
Although in hindsight it might be hard to fathom, snowboarding was reluctantly being given the hall pass back in the mid-1980s when the snow sport was starting its breakthrough. Yet the acceptance was gradual. In 1985, only 39 of the approximately 600 ski resorts allowed snowboarders.
However, progress already was taking place in the Lake Tahoe region before the mid-1980s. In 1983, Tom Sims, founder of Sims Snowboards, and Mike Chantry started the first world championship halfpipe competition at Soda Springs ski resort where Chantry was a snowboard instructor.
Fast-forward 15 years later and snowboarding was making its Olympic debut at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. And the arrival of the Shaun White phenomenon lifted the sport to a higher level with much more general acceptance.
Kevin Cooper, director of retail and rental operations at Kirkwood Mountain Resort, was a skier in 1989 when a friend visited him at Squaw Valley. His friend brought along one of the “first generation” snowboards from a South Lake Tahoe shop where he worked.
After learning some basics on the snowboard, it wasn’t long before “Coop” was tossing the skis aside. “I took a look at the first generation ‘kick’ series (snowboards) and was hooked. I pretty much bailed on skiing from that point on,” he said.
But the advent of new ski equipment and some chiding from his wife brought Cooper back to his original love — skiing.
“We were at a demo day in Mammoth so I charged over to the Lange/Dynastar booth to don a pair of boots, grabbed some skis and I was once again hooked on skiing,” Cooper recalls. “Now add rocker, side cut and waist-width skies and I’m back to skiing 145-plus days a year.”
Despite a trend among young people that’s shifting back to skiing, note that plenty of kids are getting their indoctrination on one board, not two.
Just like the technology has helped increase the number of youthful skiers, snowboarding has come up with some new alluring wrinkles as well. Snowboards are no longer one size fits all. Newer ones are smaller and geared for young children. And some resorts are building terrain parks with kids in mind.
That’s definitely the case at Sierra-at-Tahoe, where the “Star Wars”-themed park has combined with the Burton Learn to Ride Program to attract plenty of youngsters.
“Snowboarding continues to steadily grow at Sierra resort thanks to these programs,” said Sierra spokesman Steven Hemphill. “These learning experiences make it fun and easy to learn how to snowboard. While we are still seeing higher ski numbers, our snowboard numbers are growing. We have not seen a decrease in the amount of snowboard lessons.”
Since both skiing and riding share a “cool” factor, heading downhill on one board or two planks may now just be decided by personal preference.
“I do both. However, I prefer snowboarding mainly because I am much better at snowboarding and just love the feeling of it,” Slaughter said.
— Jeffrey Weidel can be reached at [email protected]. Visit his winter website at http://www.examiner.com/skiing-in-san-francisco/jeffrey-weidel