Ski resorts have discovered over the last 10 years that snowboarding is rising in popularity, and lessons, lift tickets, clothing and equipment sales have become a big business.
Resort operators who initially banned snowboarders also learned that a family that vacations together expects to ski together - and will go somewhere else if snowboarding kids can’t share a mountain with their skiing parents.
The Northwest has shown the biggest growth in snowboarding during the past two years, according to the Transworld Snowboarding Business magazine. This is echoed by various trade associations, which report that snowboarding participation increased 50 percent from 1992 to 1993.
Although most boarders on any mountain are still young adults, the sport is attracting older generations. Some hills have instructors in their 40s. Most adult converts speak about a renewed exhilaration from snowboarding, and many say they’ll never go back to two skis again.
The main problem for adults learning to ride is that their bodies are not as resilient as when they were younger. Falling down is part of learning how to snowboard, and the posterior, back and arms can get very sore.
Not everyone who tries the sport will want to switch from two boards to one. While I was skiing at Maverick Mountain in southwest Montana, I watched 58-year-old Robert Marchesseault try out a snowboard for the first time. He is a third-generation rancher at the family’s 113-year-old ranch in the Grasshopper Valley near the ski area. He and several other local grandfathers had come to the mountain after completing their daily chores to see why their grandchildren were so excited about snowboarding. He commented that he’d been thrown fewer times during his lifetime of breaking horses than he had from the snowboard.
“Given a choice,” Marchesseault said as he returned the board to the rental shop, “I’d sooner break a bronc than ride a snowboard again.”
Since snowboarding got its roots from surfing and skateboarding, it is only natural for boarders to want to jump over and off anything that is stationery, catch big air, spin, slide, twist and twirl. Snowboard parks were the natural evolution, providing a place on the mountains for boarders to do their thing.
Snowparks are popping up on small community ski hills and brand-name resorts. Some ski mountains, like Schweitzer and Snoqualmie Pass, have actively sought the input of snowboarders when designing and locating snowparks. The jumps, rails and obstacles should be created to maximize the natural and man-made terrain features.
The growing popularity of snowcat and helicopter skiing in the backcountry has not bypassed the snowboarder. Snowcat skiing operators/guides at ski resorts, like Big Mountain in Montana and Brundage Mountain in Idaho, welcome snowboarders joining their regular clientele of alpine skiers and telemarkers.
Snowboarders have their own culture and language. In my experience, the boarders are usually less out-of-control than their young adult counterparts on skis, who are too often discourteous to other skiers.
Here are some tips for getting started:
Beginning snowboarders should rent a variety of models and designs while taking lessons. Renting lets you discover the characteristics of board designs before investing in your own equipment. All ski resorts in the Inland Northwest offer snowboarding lessons, and they frequently host multiple-day clinics teaching advanced boarding techniques.
Like alpine skiing equipment, a snowboarding package does not come cheap. The typical starting price for a decent board, bindings and boots ranges from $570 to $650. The length, width and design of the board determines its capability for tricks and slalom, just as alpine slalom skis are different from freestyle skis.
The board needs to be matched to the rider’s weight and height. The boots and bindings must be matched to the rider category and his or her board design. There are different categories (freerider, free-style skate park rider, and downhiller/carver) of riders, which will determine the proper snowboard needed. If you can only afford one board, the best compromise is probably a free-rider board.
Remember, board tuning is a must. The board should be rewaxed (ironed, not buffed) every 30 hours of riding. The edge sharpness depends on riding ability and style. Hand tuning is better than machine tuning.
Riding a board means getting wet, even if you don’t fall a lot. Boarders must sit to fix their bindings and kneel or sit to take a break, so waterproof pants are necessary to keep drier and warmer. The fabric should be durable and abrasion resistant and have a high tear strength. These important considerations increase the price tag on a rider’s clothing.
The clothing also should reflect the style of the rider. The downhiller/ carver would want tighter fitting and more streamlined clothing. The preferred loose-fitting clothing worn by most snowboarders is necessary to maintain mobility and freedom of movement.