With four Olympic appearances, and continued growth in popularity of events such as the X-Games, snowboarding is no longer 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 (now known as Canada Snowboard) 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. Since then, a new goeverning body specific to freestyle snowboarding, called the Ticket to Ride tour (or TTR) was spearheaded by Haakenson to be a federation for snowboarding, governed by snowboarders, not skiiers. The tour has since evolved to be known as the World Snowboard Tour, which most of the professional freestyle snowboard athletes compete on.
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, in the lead 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.
In 2010, when Vancouver was hosting the Winter Olympic Games, Canadian snowboarders stood out by capturing two gold medals and one silver. After 14 years on the international scene, with 26 victories and 59 podium finishes as well as four World Cup titles, Jasey-Jay Anderson achieved the penultimate of his career by winning gold in Vancouver in Parallel Giant Slalom. For her part, Maëlle Ricker also took home gold in Women’s Snowboard Cross, while Mike Robinson brought home a silver medal in Men’s Snowboard Cross. In the Halfpipe, it was the Americans who took home most of the hardware in both the men’s and women’s discipline. Shaun White dazzled the crowd with his gold medal performance while teammate Scott Lago earned bronze. In the women’s competiton, Australian Tarah Bright won gold, with Americans Hannah Teter and Kelley Clark taking silver and bronze respectively.
Sochi 2014 became the inception point for a new discipline of snowboarding at the Olympic games. Slopestyle – a freestyle event with a mix of jumps and rails, typically 3 -4 of each, quickly became one of the most popular and viewed events at the games. Early freestyle riding spawned from skateboarding, where snowboarders took to the streets, performing tricks on hand-rails and man-made features, often filming video parts captured throughout the season. Terrain parks continued to evolve to host a variety of jump and ‘jib’ (man made object) features, which has widely become popular with recreational snowbaorders at wki resorts around the world. Capitalizing on the drastic increase in ‘park’ riding globally and an expanding tour of professional slopestyle events, Sochi proved one of the biggest courses, with massive jumps the riders had seen to date. Canadian Mark Mcmorris became a household name after taking home the bronze medal only weeks after fracturing a rib at the X-Games. Fellow male teammates Sebastien Toutant, Charles Reid and Maxence Parrot narrowly missed the podium in a finals that was mired with judging scientism and controversy. On the women’s side, Canadian Spencer O’Brien was a podium contender, but failed to land a run in the finals.
Canadian Dominique Maltais also took home a medal, her second at the Olympics – a Silver in Snowboardcross.