HISTORY OF SNOWBOARD
With three Olympic appearances, snowboarding may no longer be considered the ‘new kid on the block’. However, it does continue to attract a reputation as the most dynamic, progressive and influential of winter sports.
It would be nearly impossible to credit the builder of the first snowboard ever made, because for as long as children have played snow, they are sure to have attempted to balance standing up while riding their sleds on backyard hills. The first marketed snowboard though, was invented in 1965.
The “Snurfer”, created by Sherman Poppen of Muskegon, Michigan, started out as two skis bound together and ‘stabilized’ by the rider holding onto a rope attached to the front. The snurfer started a 60’s surf-inspired winter revolution, with over half a million of the ‘toys’ being sold.
There are four other important names associated with the beginning of snowboarding. The first is Dimitrije Milovich. Milovich based his snowboard creation on surfboards combined with the way skis work. He started building snowboards in 1969, having formed the idea in College after sliding down some hills on a cafeteria plate. In 1972, he started “Winterstick” snowboards and increased the popularity of the sport through media attention from the likes of Newsweek, Playboy and Powder. Debate could continue to this day about who would be the next to deserve credit for this invention. In 1977, both Jake Burton Carpenter and Tom Sims, along with the help of Chuck Barfoot, were working on snowboard models that would eventually grow into the boards of today. Binding design evolved and production and popularity of the sport grew.
In the mid 1980’s snowboarding welcomed a major insurgence of newcomers. Attracting predominantly young-adolescent males, the sport was dubbed “rebellious,” and was for a while turned away from the majority of ski resorts in North America. But the rising tide of popularity made a wave of acceptance inevitable - it has come a long way since then!
Competitions have been around since the Snurfer days, but the international community of snowboarders became more organized at the beginning of the 1990’s with the creation of the Vancouver, BC based International Snowboard Federation (ISF). Shortly thereafter, (1991) the Canadian Snowboard Federation (CSF) was established. The CSF continues to develop and improve, progressing with the changing needs of Canadian athletes competing from grass roots to an international level.
In 1994, the International Ski Federation (FIS) added the discipline of snowboarding to its organization. The FIS Snowboard World Cup Tour debuted in the 1994/95 season and the first FIS Snowboard World Championships was held in Lienz, Austria in 1996. The decision of the FIS to adopt a snowboard tour caused a real rift among the snowboard community. The ISF had previously approached the FIS to work together and the FIS wanted nothing to do with the sport, claiming it was just a fad. For some snowboarders, their stand-off against the FIS continued until it became a decision between competing at the Olympics or not - the International Olympic Committee had recognized the FIS as the sport’s official governing body rather than the ISF and snowboarding would make its Olympic debut as a medal sport in Nagano, Japan in 1998.
The majority gave in to the idea of competing in the Olympics, save one. Norway’s Terje Haakenson, reputed to be the best snowboarder in the world, refused to compete in a single FIS event and denied what would have been a guaranteed entry to, and very likely a gold medal from, the 1998 Olympic Winter Games.
At its Olympic debut in 1998, snowboard expertise was contested in two medal events – Giant Slalom and Halfpipe. The very first snowboard gold medal awarded went to Canada’s Ross Rebagliati, in the GS. Karine Ruby of France won gold on the women’s side. It was the drama and controversy that followed Rebagliati’s win that grew snowboarding from a “what is that thing and how do you stop it?” sport to something that everyone knew about, for better or worse. In the halfpipe, the best one anyone had ridden to date, Switzerland’s Gian Simmen and Germany’s Nicola Thost were awarded top honors. The top Canadian in the pipe was British Columbia’s Maelle Ricker in fifth place.
At the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, snowboarding was back with PGS (Parallel Giant Slalom) replacing GS as the alpine discipline, and an improved, much larger halfpipe (sometimes called a super-pipe). These are just two examples of how snowboarding’s constant evolution ensures its enduring popularity with riders and spectators. A daily crowd of about 16,500 people was on hand to witness the competitions in Park City, Utah. The men’s halfpipe was the first event of the entire Winter Games to sell out of all available tickets and it was a worthy purchase for the American fans – the USA swept the men’s podium and was golden on the women’s side as well. Ross Powers, Danny Kass, J.J. Thomas and Kelly Clark became household names if they weren’t already. Powers added a gold medal to the bronze he won in Nagano four years earlier. In the PGS, Switzerland’s Philipp Schoch stood atop the podium for the men and France’s Isabelle Blanc upset her teammate and the favorite to win her second Olympic gold, Karine Ruby, who was left with silver.
In January of 2005, the FIS Snowboard World Championships were held outside of Europe for the first time. Whistler, BC was the host and five disciplines were contested - SBX, PGS, PSL, BA, and HP. Canadian medals were plentiful. Perhaps most memorable was the performance of Quebec’s Jasey-Jay Anderson, who won both the PGS and PSL competitions – a first in the history of the snowboard Worlds.
One year later, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) added a third snowboard discipline to the Olympic schedule. Snowboardcross (SBX) made its Olympic debut at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy. Arguably the most popular spectator event in snowboarding, SBX was one of the highlights of the 2006 Games. The Canadian team was favored for gold in both the men’s and women’s races, but the unpredictable nature of the race shone through and after a chaotic final race, the only podium position to see a the red and white flag raised behind it was bronze, awarded to Quebec’s Dominique Maltais. Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden had ‘lucked out’ to take gold ahead of the USA’s Lindsey Jacobellis, who fell, alone, on the second-to-last jump. On the men’s side, Seth Wescott of the USA contributed gold to the other six medals his team earned - gold and silver in both men’s (Shaun White, Danny Kass) and women’s (Hannah Teter, Gretchen Bleiler) pipe competition, bronze in women’s PGS (Rosey Fletcher) and Jacobellis’ silver.