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Return of the rebel riders

Special to the DailySome of the snowboards used at the sport's first competition at Ski Cooper in 1981.
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LEADVILLE ” It was the end of the season. The snow was starting to melt slowly. Mud season was close behind. It hadn’t been an epic snow year in Colorado ” in 1981 ” but there was no fear of a drought.

A group of 12 young hotshots ” the Dirty Dozen ” converged on the terrain at Ski Cooper for an experimental contest that included slalom and freestyle races.

All gnarly skateboarders ” the epitome of the nation’s “bad boys” ” they brought with them contraptions called snowboards and equipment they had manufactured by hand. Known for their sense of adventure and fearlessness, snowboarding notables like Tom Sims and Jake Burton took to these hills.



The contest ” “The King of the Mountain” ” became the first organized snowboarding event tin the country, said Kristin Lee, communications director of Ski Cooper.

Their carefree attitude and second-class status in society barred many of these snowboarding pioneers from experimenting at the nation’s top ski resorts.



So off the beaten path, huddled at 10,200 feet, a small, atmospheric hometown ski resort in the heart of Colorado tuned out the warnings from other ski towns and allowed these 12 men to play in the snow.

“Ski Cooper was the only one who would let us do it,” said Richard Christiansen, an organizer. “We contacted every resort in the state ” they thought it was strange ” and Ski Cooper said, ‘Come on up. If it doesn’t work or if there’s a problem, who cares? It’s the end of the season anyway. We’ll just close the mountain.'”

It took this transplant from California, who spent most of his time surfing, to shake things up that first year. Christiansen had left sunny California and moved to Boulder, where he opened a surf shop.



“People thought I was crazy to open a surf shop in Boulder,” he said.

Ski Cooper’s managers talked to Christiansen about new equipment, styles and the sport as a whole. Soon, things started to jib and jive, and the planning for the event came into fruition.

After the first event, managers at Ski Cooper told the Dirty Dozen that there was nothing wrong with the event, he said.

“Many of the rules that apply today we made up on that hill that day,” Christiansen said. “We proved it was good.”

Ski Cooper became the first ski resort ” at least in Colorado ” to sell lift tickets to snowboarders.

The history of the event might be hard to find at times, because so many resorts turned their noses up the prospect of a snowboarding contest.

Ski resorts around the country were reluctant to allow snowboarders on the hill because it was different, Christiansen said.

“It was a lot like golf,” he said. “Not on my golf course.”

It was the wrong kind of element for the ski resorts, he said.

“We were all skateboarders and snowboarders, and we weren’t really acceptable,” he said. “We can thank Tony Hawk. Tony Hawk made it safe for Wall Street.”

Nevertheless, managers at Ski Cooper had other plans in mind when it came to the fastest growing sport in the nation.

At the time, not only were snowboarders allowed on the hill but any kind of equipment that would get people down the hill was given a fair chance ” as long as nobody was hurt.

Most snowboards were homemade and snowboard boots were nonexistent, Lee said. Most competitors didn’t know how to control the boards and would just fall at the bottom of a run.

“It’s funny to watch the video,” Lee said. “Nobody knows how to stop. The equipment is ridiculous. They’re wearing regular boots, not snowboard boots. The snowboards look like skateboards.”

Christiansen laughed ” competitors at the time rode with tennis shoes or their Sorel hiking boots, he said.

Some bindings were bungee cords screwed onto the boards and wrapped around the rider’s feet, he said.

“They tied into those things like safety straps,” Lee said, laughing.

But, advances in technology were well researched by major manufacturers, Lee said, and the equipment improved immensely.

For the reunion this weekend, the riders must compete on the old equipment, Christiansen said.

Ski Cooper is hoping to create an event that will honor those who have dedicated their careers to the sport of snowboarding, Lee said.

“Hopefully this event will gain recognition for the history of the sport, as well as for its roots, which are at Ski Cooper,” Lee said.

Vail, Colorado


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