I must disclaim I am a skier but that doesn’t mean I have any more “right” to be on the mountain than a snowboarder.
Snowboarders started life as chairlift crashers sneaking into ski resorts after last lifts to try their hand on the snow from which they were originally banned. When resorts finally understood they, like skiers, were just looking to enjoy the freedom of sliding down snow and let them in, along came Ross Rebagliati at the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Rebagliati won the first snowboarding Olympic gold medal in history, only to have it taken away when marijuana was found in his system. A claim of second-hand smoke resulted in it being re-instated but not before the damage to snowboarding’s reputation had been done. Though for some, it just made it cooler.
What started out as an underground minority sport has morphed into a billion-dollar industry and a legitimate and revered elite sport (think Shaun White) that accounts for nearly half of snowsports enthusiasts at a ski resort.
Yet still the myths continue, with many believing that snowboarders are out of control, dangerous young blokes who ruined skiing the day they were officially allowed to purchase lift tickets.
The truth, according to the National Ski Areas Association in the US and research from Rochester Institute of Technology, is that snowboarders are 30 per cent less likely to be killed than skiers. Why? Because the risk of collision with fixed objects where somebody is going at relatively high speed, is higher when on skis.
Almost 40 per cent of snowboarders are female and almost half of snowboarders in North America earn more than $US100,000 ($104,000) a year. Statistics on Australian income is not available but based on the cost of snowboarding gear, lift passes and accommodation at home, let’s assume they are not poor.
The average snowboarding age is mid-20s and older snowboarders now call themselves “grays on trays”, with dedicated websites celebrating their hobby.
As for ruining skiing, at a time when skier numbers were declining, snowboarding inspired more freestyle skiing in line with snowboard terrain parks. Skiing became “cool” again and sales of skis increased.
Clearly it is long past time for those old-school skiers who still partake in “us” versus “them” snowsports banter to accept the hill is for everyone, or at least everyone who can afford it.