A peek in the mirror
Yes, apparently, we can all just get alongSnowboarders fight back in the snowsports perception warBy Scott WilloughbySince he first began selling snowboards in 1977, venerable snowboard icon Tom Sims has lobbied long and hard for acceptance alongside the two-planked ranks (of which he was once a member) at ski resorts worldwide. Now, with all but an imploding nucleus of four ski-exclusive areas clinging to an anti-snowboarding sentiment and lines between the two tribes worn so thin elsewhere they are hardly perceptible, this former mediator has fallen off the fence.”I actually have come full circle,” said Sims, now 51 and a father of three. “I probably have the strongest feelings that I’ve encountered against skiing right now.”Ironically, the root of Sims’ animosity was not seeded during those years he fought to bring down barriers holding his favorite pastime in check. It’s only now, after snowboarders have established themselves as an integral third of the snow-sliding market and the fastest-growing sport in America, that Sims has come to question the integrity of the skiers he shares the slopes with.”The perception from skiers has always been that snowboarders are all out of control,” he said. “But I think it’s the opposite. My kid had a skier land on top of him in the halfpipe at Mammoth last year. To me they’re just a big pain in the ass.”Talk about switchstance.As an industry player fighting to hold his turf amongst a ski enterprise suddenly emulating all he’s represented for a quarter century, Sims may be entitled to some privileged venting. Not only are skiers making their way into snowboarding’s sacrosanct domain of pipes and parks in unprecedented droves these days, but major ski manufacturers like K2 and Rossignol (both of which dismissed Sims and his snowboards as a “fad” back in 1980) now account for large chunks of snowboard sales.On the slopes, however, anecdotal evidence suggests he represents a vocal minority.While many dedicated riders and resort operators agree that skiers once looked down on snowboarding, the unjust characterization of snowboarders as unruly knuckle-dragging hooligans has, for the most part, fallen by the wayside. In general, they say, the days of ski-snobbery have passed, and most have yet to recognize a reciprocation of the trend.Older snowboarders cite an increased tolerance of skiers stemming from their years of exclusion from resorts and a general sense of gratitude simply for the opportunity to ride a chair lift. Younger riders, more often than not, spent some time on skis before hopping on a snowboard. And according to a survey by the Leisure Trends Group of Bolder, a full 28 percent of adults on the slopes today both ski and snowboard, effectively eradicating conflict within that group.”Back in the day, there was way more animosity. Now it’s pretty tame,” said Todd Richards, a 32-year-old pro rider and former Olympian who skied until he was 15. “If you’re a kid getting on the slopes these days, even if you start out skiing, more than likely you are going to jump on a board at some point because that’s what everybody else is doing.”Indeed, a close look at the Leisure Trend statistics seems to indicate an amicable future among the two factions. Of the 37 percent of kids under 16 who snowboard, 14 percent also consider themselves skiers. While the remaining 63 percent of those under 16 ski exclusively, the current trend indicates a full 70 percent of all 16-24-year-olds on the slopes switch over to snowboards at least a portion of the time, 45 percent exclusively.”The beauty is that damn near everybody who snowboards chose to do it themselves,” said Jake Burton, founder of Burton Snowboards. “I got all three of my kids on skis first, and they all decided to start snowboarding by the time they were six.”But even as this next generation of skiers and snowboarders swaps sides like playground ball players in a pick-up game, it’s impossible to predict when the cultural divide between skiers and snowboarders will be erased completely. Like Sims, some riders have grown surly with new school skiers borrowing from snowboard style to create the cutting-edge discipline of “freeskiing.” Young freeskiers are using short, wide, twin-tipped skis (sound familiar?) to perform daring stunts in the same terrain parks and halfpipes originally designed to occupy snowboarders away from the slopes.Others, like Richards, give props to the latest skiing revolution.”I’m a fan for sure,” Richards said. “A lot of people are saying freeskiing bit off of snowboarding, but whatever. Snowboarding bit off skiing too, and off of surfing and skating. It’s progression. Whatever you are doing to progress, it’s cool.”Events like ESPN’s Winter X Games help blur the line by including both freeskiing and freestyle snowboarding competition at the same venue. Organizers of last season’s edition at Buttermilk to date the only event to incorporate halfpipe and slopestyle competition for both disciplines hold it up as a model for the future, right alongside sister resort Aspen’s coinciding repeal of a 50-year ban on snowboards.”There really is a spirit of advancing tricks and progression of both sports and what I see as mutual respect,” said X Games general manager Chris Stiepock. “It’s essentially a big winter sports conglomeration with the common denominator being kickers, rails and pipes.”Most agree that freeskiers still have some ground to make up to catch up to snowboarders on the technical front, but X Games slopestyle and U.S. Freeskiing Open champion Tanner Hall believes the friendship he shares with pro snowboarders like Andrew Crawford and Olympic silver medalist Danny Kass will help put him and his peers on the same level soon.”All my friends here at Mammoth snowboard and we give each other huge props. They don’t give a damn if I’m on skis. Danny Kass could care less,” said Hall, 19. “I’m not saying they like every skier out there. You got to be down with what both sides are about and down with style. But they invented style. Skiing looked pretty whacked until we figured that out. No one ever looked at ski racers and said, ‘That looks cool.'”So it seems the current generation of snow-riders is learning how to succeed where their parents struggled for so long. Even at the highest level, skiers are suddenly looking up to snowboarders and snowboarders are showing respect for skiers. Olympic gold medalist and born-again freeskier Johnny Moseley may have summed it up best:”No one has any gripes anymore about snowboarding. All the skiers I know love snowboarding. You can’t call it dumb, because we’re, like, copying it. It would be like calling ourselves dumb.”Scott Willoughby is a skier and snowboarder who’d like to think he’s down with style. He can be reached at Scott_Willoughby@hotmail.com.