That edgy, bad-boy image that accompanied the arrival of snowboarding more than three decades ago has faded and opinions now vary regarding on who owns the edgier image and desired “cool factor.”
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“If you’re not on one board, you’re not cool,” said Rick Andersen, a Bay Area teenager who was snowboarding recently at Heavenly.
Though Anderson’s bias remains among avid snowboarders, 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 (SIA) 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, spokesperson 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. “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’s acceptance was gradual in the mid-1980s. In 1985, only 39 of the approximately 600 ski resorts allowed snowboarders.
However, progress was already taking place in the Lake Tahoe region prior to the mid-80s. In 1983, Tom Sims (founder of Sims Snowboards) and Mike Chantry started the first World Championship halfpipe competition at Soda Springs ski resort.
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 & Rental Operations at Kirkwood Mountain Resort, was a skier in 1989 but tossed the skis aside when he became hooked on snowboarding. But the advent of new ski equipment and some chiding from his wife brought Cooper back to his original love – skiing.
Despite a trend among young people that’s shifting back to skiing, there’s still plenty of kids getting their indoctrination on one board thanks to technology, alluring wrinkles such as snowboards no longer are one-size fits all, and resorts that are building terrain parks like Sierra-at-Tahoe’s Star Wars-themed park that’s combined with the Burton Learn to Ride Program.
Since skiing and riding both 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@example.com. Visit his winter website at examiner.com/skiing-in-san-francisco/jeffrey-weidel