Snowboarding history, where and when did it all begin? Well, it is not hard to imagine that someone over the course of human history slid down a slope covered in snow by standing sideways on some sort of plank. Unfortunately, that person(s) will remain in oblivion for the foreseeable future. What we do know is that in the 1920’s it was quite common to see folks strapping a discarded piece of plywood onto their boots using a rope or leather belts. They would slide down the local hill in the snow and try to stay clear of obstacles. No one called it “snowboarding” per se but I am pretty sure they did call it fun.
Fast-forward to 1965 when a fellow from Michigan named Sherman Poppen began thinking of ways to keep his kids occupied in the winter. The sleds they brought with them were bottoming out on the dunes of Lake Michigan where they lived. So Sherman, being a surfer, got the idea to strap pair of old skis together and ride down the hill standing sideways on the contraption. Then, on his father’s suggestion, he attached a tether to the nose, which made riding and steering it a bit easier and kept it from getting away from you if you fell. And with that was born the Snurfer. as coined by Poppen’s wife, a conjunction of “snow surfer”.
Pretty soon people began asking Poppen to let them try his new invention and he realized that there was a place in the winter recreation industry for the Snurfer. He refined the design and added some cool racing stripes and put it on the market. It became so popular that he started hosting events at local hills in Michigan. People from all over the country would show up to race and jump their Snurfers. Soon enough, young entrepreneurs began to take notice and the ideas for the first snowboard designs began to take root.
In the early seventies, Tom Sims, a skateboarder kid from New Jersey then living in California started fixing sheet metal to pieces of plywood that were shaped like rocket ships. He put straps on top to hold the board to your feet. At the same time, a surfer named Dmitri Milovich came up with a board design that emulated the feel of carving up a wave the way surfers do, except this time you could do it on snow. He called his board the Winterstick. And those were the first true snowboards. The Sims and Winterstick boards got lots of media coverage and word started to spread about this new radical sport where you surfed and skateboarded… on snow!
Snowboard design and technology progressed rapidly throughout the 1980’s with the development of mounted binding systems, p-tex bases, steel edges and various types camber and non-camber profiles (camber having a convex shape). The boards also took on a more hour-glass shape, a.k.a. sidecut, which greatly improved how they turned and in combination with the camber profile gave them extra stability, edge control and pop for launching off the ground. The camber also allowed riders to make more powerful turn and carve through the snow instead of scraping across it as was previously the norm.
In 1982, the first National Snowboard Championship race was held at Suicide Six ski resort in Vermont and in 1983 the first National Half Pipe contest was held in California. In 1985 the first World Cup for snowboarding took place in Austria. Following that, in the nineties, new national and world events began to pop up like the X Games, Air and Style, the U.S. Open and eventually the Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Japan.
But the evolution of snowboarding was not without its challenges. When snowboarders first started showing up at ski resorts they were met with some heavy resistance. The new youth-driven sport was viewed with suspicion and often met with outright belligerence. Most every ski area refused to let sell them lift tickets. So snowboarders turned to the backcountry to surf the powder and build their own jumps and half pipes. Others took their skills to the streets and parks posting up onto man-made features like handrails and picnic tables creating new tricks. They were doing what skateboarders were doing but on snow.
In 1985 only a handful of ski areas in the United States and Europe allowed snowboarders on their premises. By 1990 most did due to the economic advantages of tapping into that market. Today only three ski areas in the United States do not allow snowboarders on their property. With millions snowboarders getting after it every season, the sport of snowboarding is a great way to have fun, adventure and spend time with friends. For those of us who ride out of passion and love of surfing the snow, it is a way of life and it ensures that the sport itself will always be here for future generations. Snowboarding history lives on!