Snowboarding is now a well established sport and has come in leaps and bounds; with its own culture, super stars and equipment. Competitions and events have become international staples, for example the Air and Style snowboard competitions, the Swatch Freeride World Tour and the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships. Snowboarding has also evolved into different styles including alpine racing, freestyle, free riding, backcountry and more, but where did it all begin?
Before the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994, when the International Olympics Federation found out that Norway were planning to include a snowboarding exhibition during the opening ceremony, they immediately vetoed the idea. Since then snowboarding has come on in leaps and bounds- even becoming an accepted Olympic sport in its own right. Some of the top US resorts are estimating that up to 50% of their visitors are snowboarders and the number of first timers choosing snowboarding over skiing are greater than ever. So how did it all start?
Well, in the beginning there was a plank of plywood. There was a clothesline and also some horse reins for bindings. This was 1929, and M.J. "Jack" Burchett could be seen surfing down hills, testing his new invention, and presumably falling over quite a bit.
Over 30 years later, in 1963, an eighth grade student from New Jersey called Tom Sims (who would go on to form Sims Snowboards) created what he called a "ski board" as a woodwork project. Sims was obsessed with skateboarding, which he had picked up on a holiday to California, and wanted to be able to skate in the winter as well as the summer. His invention was a rounded plank of pine with a nose kick in the front and carpet on top to supply the much needed traction. Underneath, aluminium and candle wax would supply the sliding action that he needed to surf across the snow. Not a bad start at all for an eight grader who just wanted to skate 365 days of the year.
Commercially the snowboard didn't catch on until 1965, when Sherman Poppen, a frustrated father trying to get his kids out of the house on a freezing winters day, invented the Snurfer (snow and surf together, clever eh?). Two childrens skis bolted together and a length of cord for balance later and Poppen soon had all the kids in the neighbourhood on his doorstep, begging him to build them one. 6 months later the snurfer was patented and a manufacturer started to mass produce them (see picture, left); over 1 million units would be sold over the next few years, but the Snurfer was seen by most people as a kids toy.
Meanwhile Dimitrije Milovich, inspired by sliding down snowy hills on meal trays, began producing boards for himself and friends. In 1972 he would begin to produce the first snowboards as we know them today and experimenting with iron edges. Winterstick, as he called his company, are still producing snowboards today- the classic swallowtail deep powder snowboard is especially popular.
History of Burton Snowboards. Photo credit: Burton Snowboards
In 1977 snowboarding showed its doubters that it was here to stay. Dimitrije Milovich and other snowboarding pioneers found that they were having trouble bringing snowboards onto the slopes- irritated ski resort managers would tell snowboarders to take a hike- muttering that the resorts insurance did not cover snowboarding. Milovich then obtained written confirmation from the major insurance brokers for Ski Resorts in the states, Petit-Morey and Kendall, that snowboarders were, in fact, covered to be on the mountain. Everything changed.
Tom Sims, Mike Olson (who would later found Gnu Snowboards) and Jake Carpenter Burton (of Burton fame) all began to produce snowboards in 1977. At this early stage everyone was feeling their way in terms of design- Burton would modify Snurfers, Olson was using planks of pine and Sims was creating his own wood boards with aluminium underneath.
Since the pivotal year of 1977 the innovations came on thick and fast. Sims began using fibreglass as the base of the snowboards in 1979 when Jake Burton was developing ptex and working on how to use the already advanced ski technology to make the boards glide better. As the snowboarding industry moved through the 1980's and became a popular phenomenon, board design became more standardised across the industry and the focus shifted to finding the best binding.
With the rise in snowboarding over the past decade, the sport is being recognised in the World’s best sporting events. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi showcased 12 new competitions across the games including snowboard Slopestyle and the snowboard parallel slalom. This made a total of ten snowboarding events at the winter games.
Team GB sent 7 snowboard athletes to Sochi to compete in Snowboard Slopestyle, Snowboard Halfpipe and Snowboard Cross. Jenny Jones blew the nation away by winning a bronze medal in the Ladies Snowboard Slopestyle and became the first ever British female to win an Olympic medal on snow. Plus both Jamie Nicholls and Billy Morgan made it into the top 10 Snowboard Slopestyle Finals.
With the success of Team GB at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, British Ski and Snowboard was awarded £4.89 million in Summer 2014 to progress the team in the run up to Pyeongchang in 2018. There is a very exciting future ahead for snowboarding in Britian.