When I was in high school, my mother was constantly bothering me to go to more basketball games. "Where is your school spirit?" she would ask. I would respond with the usual, "Mom, I would much rather spend my nights snowboarding than cheering in a stuffy gym." I began snowboarding my sophomore year of high school. (I admit that I at least tried skiing my freshman year, but after a near tree collision gave it up.) Then I started dating a snowboarder, who also happened to be in a band. "He's in a band; he snowboards; he must be smoking dope!" my mom would complain. And unfortunately this response to snowboarding was far too common during its beginnings.
"Ski hill operators are banning these new snowboarding 'smart alecs' from the slopes." That was part of a now semi-famous television CBC news clip which aired on November 10, 1985. Since then - possibly as a result of the sweeping ban on snowboarding - the "battle" between skiers and snowboarders has grown. But as snowboarding has become a mainstream sport are the traditionalists and the newcomers starting to get along? As a high school snowboarder in the late 1990's, I realized that many ski industry insiders were saying the on-slope rivalry was very hot. Snowboarding was also reaching new heights in popularity. The animosity was evident. I would hop on a chair lift with my friends, decked out in our cool snowboard gear, complete with baggy pants and large Burton jackets. We would go straight into the terrain park; not only was that the most challenging, but it was the only place to be with our fellow snowboarders. Skiers didn't dare venture in to the park for fear being ridiculed and chastised about how uncool their sport really was. There was no respect on either side. Older skiers just assumed you were out to get them, steal their slopes, and hit a few innocent children while you were at it.
Kids vs. Parents?
The separation was very cultural. Skiers were seen as the monarchs of the slopes, the "haves;" snowboarders were the young, stoned, irreverent kids with no money and no discipline. Despite that fact that the only thing true about that description for me was that I was young, some people were downright disrespectful to me. But, with any sport where the majority of its participants are younger - its medium age being just 22 years old in 2004 - there is going to be conflict between the kids and adults. That's nothing new.
Snowboarding hit the mainstream at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan and was among the most popular sports in the most recent Winter Olympics. Today, though, the controversy continues.
Places like Deer Valley in Utah market their skiing experience as the ultimate in luxury - complete with a discrete "No Snowboards Please" on the bottom of their Web site. Others, such as Sun Valley, have relegated snowboarders to certain slopes.
And under a recent blog heading titled "Idiot Snowboarders", Italian Skiier writes:
"Does anyone hate freaking snowboarders as much as I do!?... Snowboarders need to die."
"They should make their own slopes where they can get high and not endanger us skiers. I hate them," agrees Gobode.
The debate is as much about appearance and, at least in theory, technique, as anything. The androgynous, baggy clothes of the snowboarder contrast with the tight-fitting sleek ski apparel; and most skiers will claim, perhaps because the younger boarders surpass them, that it takes a lot longer to learn the nuances of proper skiing form.
Fashion statements - or lack of them - aside, there remain plenty of differences. Snowboarders tend to be male, age 12 to 17; skiers are 18 to 24. And most ski areas depend on the coveted baby-boom generation, now 35 and over.
The animosity has simmered; but the two groups have learned to respect each other, a little, without admitting it.
Of course, money is involved, too. One recent estimate has snowboarders buying 30 percent of all lift tickets. In fact, according to Grays on Trays.com, snowboarding has been the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. since 1997 with an average growth of 20 percent per year. In the 20004-2005 season, the total number of snowboarders surpassed the total number of skiers by loose estimates. And, while there are conflicting figures about the "over-35s" who participate in snowboarding, it seems certain that with some 60 percent of the younger crowd - those under 20 - snowboarding, not skiing, the snowboard craze is not going to slow down anytime soon.
To ski or to ride? The debate has cooled, some. But snowboarders are here to stay.