I was cleaning out the garage on Saturday and among the bikes, sails, bottles of pesticide from the ’50s, and raccoon and opossum dens I found my old snowboard. Yes, I admit it, for a brief, bored time in the early ’90s, I joined the dark side, hung out with a bad crowd and learned to ride.
I remember my ﬁrst run with my now brother-in-law Gordo vividly—a much more humbling ﬁ rst experience than anticipated. Rather than James Dean surﬁ ng snow as I had envisioned, it was Jerry Lewis eating snow. With no one to ask for tips, let alone offer formal lessons, we learned in leaps and bounds the moment we got off the chair.
Having skied the same runs at my home hill since I was a child, this new challenge was welcome. The fear of broken wrists and tailbone subsided after the ﬁ rst weekend, and within a few days we were on nearly all our favourite runs. One day of the weekend I skied, the other I snowboarded.
Perhaps it was because the challenge was overcome so quickly that within a few years I’d drifted back to skiing-only. Gordo, on the other hand, only gave up his board when his wee waifs got up on skis. With the kids invariably uphill from him, he noticed how much more useful a dad is when his feet aren’t hobbled. Although some of my other buddies remained on boards and never looked back (and left the teaching of their offspring up to wives, instructors and West Indian nannies), some, like me, saw it as a passing phase.
Snowboarding has been a perfect ﬁt for today’s instant-everything society that was ready for a bandwagon to hop on. If it isn’t an easier sport to learn from the getgo, it certainly has a much faster learning curve than skiing. And the excitement that snowboarding has brought to the ski hill does not go uncredited.
As editor of a magazine that depends on readers who are skiers, I wasn’t worried about old-fart converts like me leaving their skis in the garage and pulling the switch when snowboarding’s big wave hit 10 or 15 years ago, but I’ll admit I was concerned for the ski industry for a while, wondering if we were going to lose the best and brightest kids straight to the sinister force before they even gave skiing a try. How long would it take before snowboarding overtook skiing?
But with inﬂuences such as the introduction of the twintip ski (or possibly the fact that there are even fewer females who snowboard than ski), the impending takeover has apparently stalled. Most skiers now grudgingly accept that snowboarding has positively inﬂ uenced our sport in certain ways, including what goes on in terrain parks (formerly known as snowboard parks.) Jibbers on twintips have realized that whatever can be done in a pipe or terrain park feature on a board can be had with greater ferocity on skis. And those who duck ropes to ski offpiste and explore the backcountry understand the obvious: skiers can trek easier and farther to get to bigger rewards simply because, like Gordo clambering about the bunny hill picking up his kids, one can walk on skis. We’re simply more versatile.
And despite lift line anecdotes of “everyone is snowboarding nowadays,” numbers from the Canadian Ski Council and the Print Measurement Bureau show it’s more like a third of those in the lift line are snowboarders. Data collected from the National Ski Areas Association in the United States shows even lower percentages of snowboarders vs. skiers. In the biggest markets, such as the North-East U.S. and the Rockies, snowboarders make up around 20 per cent, or slightly less, of ski area visits. The South-East and Mid-West have higher percentages (26 and 30 per cent respectively) and the Paciﬁc West has the highest percentage of boarders at 45.
Just north of there, my buddy Greg Daniells is the B.C. Regional Co-ordinator for the Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors. Greg is based in Whistler and was as excited as anyone when it was announced the Olympics would be coming to town in 2010. But it was a tiny photo caption later in Ski Canada that made his smile droop: all snowboarding events will be held at Cypress Mountain in Vancouver. Just last winter, CBC’s The World This Weekend radio news show had a 10-minute extended piece on Whistler and the Olympics—and spent most of it talking about snowboarding.
As much as I like to make fun of my buddies on boards, and offer a soapbox for readers in the form of the letters to the editor department, I’ll miss having the world’s best snowboarders and their entourage around Whistler skiers during the Olympics in four years. Just imagine if the end-of-season TELUS World Ski & Snowboard Festival at Whistler was without the snowboard part—at least we’d win the skiers vs. snowboarders hockey match.