Snowboarding Vs Skiing: The Dying Feud
By Sam Baldwin
Author of For Fukui's Sake: Two years in rural Japan
Published January 2006
“Hey knuckle dragger, pull your pants up, and get off your arse for once!”
“Screw you two plank w*nker, to ski snow is to waste it!”
This is one of the politer exchanges that have occurred between skiers and snowboarders over the last 20 odd years. It all started in the haze of the 1960s when some American dude named Sherman Poppen of Michigan, conceived the idea of riding a single board down the slopes after seeing his daughter balancing on a lone ski in the back garden.
From the depths of his tool shed, Poppen created the “Snurfer”, a binding-less board of plywood, with a leash attached to the front, to which the rider held onto as he rode the snow. He sold the idea to a manufacturer, and half a million Snurfers left the shelves in the 60s and early 70s, giving rise to a new form of snow sport. Many riders including the now legendary Tom Sims and Jake Burton devoted themselves to the development of this new practice, pouring new ideas and technologies into the design and construction of boards and bindings, eventually giving rise to the snowboards that we ride today.
However, in those early days, skiing was still very much an elitist sport. Seen as expensive, and catering largely to the more wealthy citizens, resorts weren’t about to let this new, dangerous craze into their exclusive runs. The young snowboarding crowd just didn’t fit the demographic that the resorts or their skiing customers wanted to see on their slopes.
Cast into the Wilds
So, right up until the late 1970s, snowboarding was cast out into the wilds. Outlawed from almost every resort across the globe, these renegade riders were banished to the backcountry, where a hardcore few continued to develop their skills and cultivate the sport away from the limelight of the world’s groomed pistes.
It wasn’t until 1977, that a man named Dimitrije of Salt Lake city, (founder of the snowboard company Winterstick), achieved getting snowboards covered under ski liability insurance, that snowboarding began to become more widely accepted by ski resorts, and this led to a surge in popularity.
But the boarding boom of the 1980s brought with it a very different type of personality to the slopes; droves of teenage skate punks with an accompanying ‘bad ass’ attitude that the average skier didn’t appreciate. This new form of snow sport brought the lawlessness of street skating to the arena of strict slope etiquette. Kids who never previously had any interest in what they saw as an upper class and snobby hobby, were now being attracted to the slopes and becoming obsessed, as snowboarding exploded across North America and Europe.
Instead of grinding a kerb to a pile of smoking rubble on the street where no one would care, this new wave of winter sports enthusiasts were transplanting their accompanying fashions, attitudes and skate tricks to the resorts, sliding picnic benches, parked cars, ski lodge handrails – anything they could get their boards over. This did not amuse the skiers, who saw it simply as reckless vandalism and pressure was put on resorts to do something about it.
Trash and Thrash
And so the war began; on one side, the traditionally upper class, rich kid skiers, who wanted the slopes free of these rude, dangerous, disrespectful hoodlums with their baggy trousers and “trash and thrash” attitude. On the other, a rapidly growing army of young, enthusiastic new snowboarders, scornful of skiing’s conservative yuppie style, pumped full of teenage angst and revelling in the sport’s rebellious image.
Fuelled by propaganda in the snow sports media on both sides of the trenches, it seemed that an essential trait of a skier or snowboarder was to berate the other. For boarders, it was seen as fashionable and a core part of your identify to mock skiers at every opportunity, with one piece ski wear being a favourite target. Skiers were equally guilty, believing that they had more right to the slopes, claiming that boarders didn’t follow the laws of the piste, scraped off all the best snow, and were a danger to others.
“Bloody w*nker two plankers – always waving their poles around, in their day glow one pieces, and moaning about snowboarders, they want to ban us from everywhere!”
“Bloody gays on trays, always sitting around in the middle of the slopes, blocking the runs, and vandalising picnic tables with their trousers halfway down their ankles”.
Ski Resorts Battle Ground
The ski resorts were the battle ground and were caught in the crossfire. Whilst they wanted to keep their loyal, typically more wealthy skiing customers happy, at the same time, they could see the huge injection of cash that this new wave of boarders was bringing in.
Some resorts proclaimed snowboarding nothing more than a passing fad. Not wanting to lose custom from their regular skiers, they denied access to boarders, believing interest would soon wane and that snowboards would end up gathering dust alongside mono-skis and other such relics of the past that now hang in winter sports museums or decorate alpine bars.
Other more foresightful resorts realised that snowboarding was here to stay and could be a much needed financial saviour in the waning world of skiing. They started promoting their grounds to snowboarders, creating special areas where snowboarders could perform their jumps and slide their rails without creating friction with skiers. These resorts were soon attracting more customers to their slopes than ever before, reaping the financial rewards, and other ski areas slowly began to follow suit. In the early eighties less than 10% of US resorts permitted access to boarders, nowadays, few exclude it.
A Twist Unforseen?
But the skiers weren’t to be left behind in this rapid development. In a twist perhaps unforeseen, the boom in freestyle snowboarding only served to attract more skiers to the terrain park areas. The traditional competition between to the two parties simply motivated skiers further – “if a snowboarder can do it, so can a skier”.
What snowboarding took from skateboarding, skiing took from snowboarding, thus skiers began sliding rails, riding switch and performing huge aerial spins, which served to attract new, young recruits to the skiing crowd. Skiing, like boarding, was once again super cool and a symbiotic relationship was born, with both sports influencing, inspiring, and benefiting from each other.
Of course there will always be some differences between to the two disciplines. Skiing will always be more practical, but many think snowboarding to be more graceful. Skiers can travel faster and with twice the edges have more bite on hard pack and ice, but snowboarders have the advantage in deep powder and slush, where their larger surface area keeps them floating on top.
The Freestyle Skiing Revolution
Whilst there is still some friction between the two groups, it tends to largely come from older skiers, who the freestyle skiing revolution has passed by. They still see snowboarders as rude young punks, trespassing on their slopes, performing dangerous manoeuvres and generally causing trouble. Many are ill informed, unaware that their own kind are just as likely to be found in the park, going just as high in the pipe, and slaying just as many rails as snowboarders are. They are blind to the fact that without the financial boost that snowboarding brought, which in turn revived the skiing industry, some resorts may not have survived to the present day.
Reports of snowboarders injuring skiers and vice versa, are often used as ammunition by the media to fuel the feud. But very often, in these cases, the underlying reason for the accident is neither being a skier nor a snowboarder; it is simply being a beginner.
People new to either discipline are the most likely to be unaware of the rules and etiquette and will simply have less control over their chosen piece of hardware. I’ve been ploughed down by a beginner boarder and taken out by a beginner skier, but have a little tolerance; we all had to start somewhere.
A Clash of Classes?
There is no longer a class boundary between the two disciplines as both skiers and boarders are coming from all backgrounds. There exist both snobby rich kid boarders, as well as rude young punk skiers, so much of the traditional discrimination has left the slopes.
The vast majority of ski areas now allow boarders on the slopes, yet there are still a handful that permit only skiers. They market themselves as being skier exclusive as they have found a selling point for the remnants of the older generation of die hard skiers who still think of boarders as a danger and pine for the days when the slopes were board free. But as these people retire from the sport,and make way for the new wave of younger snow sports enthusiasts, it is inevitable that these resorts will lose their niche market and will have to open their pistes to boarders, or face financial ruin. To limit your ski area to only one discipline is to exclude paying customers, which is simply bad business sense.
So as we leave the tale, we can see that each sport has at some time, relied on the other. Snowboarding on skiing, for it was that young Miss Poppen who inspired her father to create the mother of the modern snowboard - the Snurfer, by riding a single ski, and of course for ski resort infrastructure, without which snowboarding never could have grown to what it is today. Yet skiing needed boarding too, to revive its own industry and to breathe fresh styles and ideas into the tired downhill sport.
And so the feud is fading. As the older generation hang up their poles, the new generation of skiers and boarders are enjoying the same terrain on the same mountains. The skiers are on their twin tips in the park, going big alongside boarders, and with the aid of fat powder skis, both are riding shoulder to shoulder in the backcountry.
The two sports, which originally brought together two very different types of fashion, style, attitude and personality to the same arena, have now blurred their boundaries to a large extent. What was once thought of as nothing more than a passing fad has dug its edge deep into the pistes of the world, from Austria to Australia, and the park and pipe, once thought of as exclusive snowboard territory, has now become home to skiers too.
Of course there still exists a slim minority of younger skiers who have blindly swallowed the words of their elders, and in the same way that racism is learnt, they have learned to discriminate against all boarders. There are also some boarders who misguidedly think it’s still cool to be seen slating skiers, wrongly believing that it’s still part of the snowboarder’s image.
In it for the snow
In reality, the war was never really about snowboards and skis, it had more to do with a clash of classes, an older generation fearing the changes brought about by the younger generation, and that younger generation rebelling - a scenario that repeats itself in many facets of our culture. Indeed, even within the world of snowboarding itself there are factions; the hard boot carvers vs. the rail jibbers, the backcountry powder hounds vs. the corduroy shredders. Will today’s park rats be complaining about tomorrow’s snow bikers in years to come?
The bottom line is, young skiers and snowboarders today don’t care whether you ride one plank or two, they don’t care whether you face forwards or side ways and they don’t care whether you’re a “gay on a tray” or a “two stick prick”.
Today, we are all just in it for the snow.
Sam Baldwin is the editor and founder of SnowSphere.com and the author of For Fukui's Sake: Two years in rural Japan . He also writes monthly travel columns for Snowboard UK and Fall Line Skiing, and is a contributor to White Lines, Cross Country Skier, Tribe Snowsports, The World Snowboard Guide and other non-snow publications. Click here to view Sam Baldwin's Portfolio.
The Way of the Snowboarder