Rebel with a Cause
“They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself” – Andy Warhol
You’re a chump.
Yes, you – with the pants hanging off your butt and the slick attitude that you picked up with your $130 goggles.
You think you’re a renegade, huh? You think that just because you ride some rail or drop in on the pipe that you automatically get a membership to the club – that you understand snowboarding, just because you look and want to be like the guys you see on ESPN.
Kid, you don’t know the first thing about renegade.
You need to rewind the tape back a bit. Go past the 98 Nagano Olympics and the Winter X-Games. Keep going, past twin tip decks and terrain parks, before “mountain” resorts and equal opportunity chairlifts. Just keep going back, all the way to 1980, when snowboards looked more like ballistic missiles, and snowboarders were fringe athletes shunned by the skiing industry.
America’s ski resorts were segregated institutions in 1980, and nowhere was the disenfranchisement of snowboarders and their fledgling sport more fierce, more pointed than in Colorado.
Almost a quarter century later, it’s hard to imagine resorts as skiers-only establishments, after snowboarding has gained such mainstream appeal and credibility, but in the early 80s, the sport and its devotees were shut out – relegated to riding sledding hills or strapping in atop highway passes.
Things have changed obviously, so much in so little time, that it is easy to forget the dark ages, to skip past the silly neon clothes and the bad equipment and just revel in the good times.
But, one should never forget the names and faces that pioneered their respective sports, the people who carried the load in the beginning and refused to take no for answer.
Which is why no one should forget Kevin Delaney.
People do, though. Some don’t know who he is or was, and don’t really want to know now. It’s just easier this way, easier to look at Shaun White on TV or Tara Dakides on the cover of FHM magazine and not ponder once about how they ever got there.
If such is true of you, then stop reading. Now. You’re a chump anyway, so why should you quit?
One of a kind
He may be the most thick-skinned, cocky SOB snowboarding has ever seen – an accomplishment in itself considering snowboarding is a sport brimming with explosive personalities.
His doggedness, his persistence was almost nonhuman. Somehow, despite being called a hundred different names and being shown the door more times than a dog, he refused to ever give in, refused to think that he was wrong.
Growing up in Boulder, Delaney had been raised on skiing, ice hockey, skateboarding and windsurfing, but after his first turn on a snowboard, a 16-year-old boy and a state would never be the same again.
“The feeling that I received form snowboarding was just pure fun,” said Delaney. “It was like an infant, childlike giggle, something that I wanted to get again and again.”
To get that feeling, though, Delaney had to go off into no-man’s land to carve turns. He hiked Berthoud and Loveland Pass over and over and over. He still skied as a Jr. Ski Patrol Volunteer at nearby Eldora, but more than ever he pined to be able to ride his board on the groomed runs, to show everyone else the unparalleled joy of riding.
Soon enough, after persisting with Eldora officials, Delaney was finally given the go-ahead, although it wouldn’t come as easily everywhere else.
By 1985, after placing fourth in his first competition, Delaney had come to the decision that he wanted to make snowboarding his life, not just his hobby.
“It wasn’t ever a monetary goal. It was, “this thing is fun.'” said Delaney. “That’s what I based my long-term efforts on. It was hard work, but it was something that I was really passionate about and believed in with enough enthusiasm to slay the nonbeliever. People applauded me to have the fortitude to take no for an answer 1,000 times.”
To Telluride and beyond
Some of the first 100 “No’s”‘ came after Delaney moved with close friend Chris Pappas, a snowboarding legend in his own right, to Telluride.
More meetings with resort management, and more persistence, though led to one more Colorado skiing mountain turning over its slopes to snowboarding – grudgingly at first, perhaps – but gratefully in the hereafter, after the young, self-confident Delaney was named the first director of snowboarding for the corporation.
And with a better hill to train on, Delaney’s riding and teaching skills improved exponentially. He won the 1988 U.S. National Championships and coached two Telluride locals to wins in the Junior’s and Women’s Halfpipe Competition.
But there were still battles to be won – nonbelievers who still needed a comeuppance.
In 1989, when Delaney moved to Vail, he was already one of the sports biggest names, a national champion in halfpipe and an entrepreneur in equipment design.
That meant absolutely nothing, though, to almost every skier on the mountain who still considered snowboarders trash and snowboarding a second class sport and who were more than happy to share their opinion with their single plank nemesis’s.
“Mountain employees would even be yelling stuff at me,” said Delaney. “Most people thought then that most people snowboarded because you couldn’t ski, which is such crap. I’d grown up skiing, and I was like “I know what you know, so don’t tell me I’m lame.’ I got the reputation of being cocky and a loud mouth, but I believed it took whatever to get people to shut up.”
Delaney realized that it took a little more effort than just firing back at people on the lift to get them to suck down their words, though -that if he was to successfully silence the harshest of critics, he would have to do it on the hill.
“I’d be like “pick your tool,'” said Delaney. “You want me ski? I’ll kick your ass. I can do 720s on skis, flips, moguls. I had to go head-to-head with a few loudmouths, just so they could get shut down by a snowboarder. Once they knew that I could hang with them and that I snowboarded as a choice, they stopped talking.”
A World Champion
As snowboarding’s status began to flourish in the early “90s, so did Delaney’s budding professional career.
He won the 1990 Body Glove Halfpipe Championship, the 1991 OP Wintersurf Championship, the 1992 U.S. Open Super-G and was also the 1992 NASTAR national pacesetter.
From 1993-1995 he was the International Snowboard Federation’s Overall World Champion – a distinction that highlighted Delaney’s versatility as both a freestyler and an alpiner.
“The cool thing about Kevin Delaney is that he was in that same mold as Craig Kelly and Terje Haakensen,” said Greg Johnson, the competition director at The Session this year, who has worked as snowboarding competition judge since the mid “80s. “They could do everything. They raced, they did freestyle. You don’t see that anymore.”
“Revvin’ Kevin finally retired from the professional ranks after his last world title, capping a 10-year career in which he had won over 50 times.
He had already plotted out his second life in snowboarding long before that, though, establishing the Delaney Adult Snowboarding camps in 1993 at Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain.
Along with his brother Brian, Delaney began to teach snowboarding to anyone who wanted to learn from the best – moms and dads included. While it may not have been as fun as his younger days, in which he had made converts out of skiers by trouncing them on the hill, his camps still served the same purpose of bringing people to the sport.
In 1994, Delaney Inc. had expanded the camps to eight resorts, with two franchise centers in Japan.
“Snowboarding really changed people”s lives,” Delaney said when asked about the motive for starting the camps. “With the adult camps, we could take the CEO’s and boardroom guys and show them that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
“Winning trophies and stuff like that was great, but it really wasn’t the best reward. Infecting people and showing them snowboarding is a fun aspect of the mountain experience was the best thing.”
Hall of Famer
Kevin Delaney has come a long way – far, far removed from that 16-year-old boy who used to ride an edgeless board with rubber bindings down the slopes of Berthoud pass – but, in the midst of all his success, all his money, his passion for riding and giving back to snowboarding has never wavered.
As the first snowboarder to be inducted into the Colorado Ski and Snowboarding Hall of Fame in Vail, an honor that is voted upon by members themselves, his place in history has already been etched at 38, but he still refuses to slow down.
He still has his hand in the sport that defined him as a snowboarding commentator for NBC, and he still rides as much as he can, along with telemarking some, too.
“The one thing that I guess stands out for me is that I was right,” said Delaney. “People always said, “that’s never going to happen,’ with snowboarding – but it did happen. I took a risk, thinking this sport was going to grow into something great, and I was right.”
So now you know – maybe too much – but all of it important, nonetheless.
Delaney is one of the reasons why you get your ticket scanned in line or why those rails in the snowboard park are there at all. He changed the face of the ski industry in Colorado, and for that he was voted into the Hall of Fame.
And by a bunch of skiers to say the least.
Nate Peterson is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at 970-949-0555 ext 608 or via e-mail at email@example.com
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.