How snowboarding set the evolution of winter sports back three decades (column)
February 10, 2017
I don't hate snowboarders. I hate snowboarding. This is not because I think they go too fast or make loud noises as they scrape snow off the ski runs or even because a few snowboarders cuss and smoke cigarettes in lift lines.
For me, it's simpler than that; I think snowboarding set the evolution of winter sports back about three decades, and now I don't think I will live to see simple adventurers snatch skiing back from wine sippers.
I came to this conclusion through experience at the time snowboarding was gaining fast popularity and the experts predicted it was going to revolutionize the snow-sport industry. A friend of mine, who was an instructor, gave me a free invite to participate in a three-day clinic that was guaranteed to "blow my mind."
In the first hour of the clinic, I was admittedly an uncoordinated mess and could barely figure out which end of the board went in front. By noon, I discovered that the front and back of the board were completely irrelevant. By the third day, I was a bona-fide expert and I knew with certainty that I had gotten all I was ever going to get out of the sport.
I outlasted the sport. Yes, I may be old, but snowboarding is dead. How do I know? You don't see kids riding them anymore. Snowboards may have been the first snow-carving tool, but modern skis came along and do it much better with far more versatility. Ask any 7-year-old which is better and you will instantly appreciate the stubbornness of the last of the snowboarders you see riding out into their looming midlife crises.
OK, you see a few tourist kids now and then on them, but you can blame that on the parents who told them that it was the cool thing to do and who garnered this information from watching the X Games on TV and still think that three-day infomercial during a mid-winter lull in the real sports world is a harbinger of hip trends. The main reason kids show up at the venue anymore is for the concerts after the events.
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When snowboards were predicted to be the salvation of the ski industry, skiing was dying. Skier days had been flat since the 1970s. People in the business were panicked. Snowboarding was new, came with a cool surfer-ish attitude and people with braided pony tails were into it. It was sure to reconnect young people to sliding around on snow.
Twenty years later, skiing is still flatlining, but not because it isn't any fun. The experts severely miscalculated what was wrong with skiing. They thought people were bored with it. They should have actually tried it before deciding that. The truth is that skiing was, is, and probably will continue to be one of the most exciting forms of recreation since saber-tooth tiger wrestling.
The only problem with skiing is that it became too dang expensive for all but the most spoiled children to get a taste of. Ask any drug dealer; you can't get anyone hooked on something they can't afford to try. With skiing, the people who are addicted are too old to do it much longer. Young people are into financially healthier alternatives.
Let's get back to the history, though. With everyone all in about snowboarding being the surefire salvation to bring youth back into the sport, euphoric confidence about the future caused the ski industry to keep raising prices, which only exasperated the one problem skiing ever really had.
To push a bad situation into the worst possible outcome, as the industry glowered so effusively about the gnarliness of snowboarding, they inadvertently, but securely associated skiing with have-been old fogies of yesteryear. In the mind of the young, skiing now ranks right up there with polo and America Cup sailing as the activities of choice for rich geezers who need a break from milling around their vineyards.
OK, I've been a little harsh on snowboarders here and I apologize. As I said in the beginning, I have no hard feelings about them. If that's how you get your cold weather jollies, I am thrilled for you getting out there and doing it. I am happy to share the slopes and consider us cousins on the quest for wintertime thrills. If my angst seems to be aimed at you, be sure that I had the industry experts in my sights. I think they went for a fakie backside grab and let the golden goose slip out of their grip.
Roger Marolt will grow a ponytail before he rides a snowboard again. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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