As competitors all over the world gear up for the 2006 Winter Olympics, millions of snowboarding
fans anticipate a big year for the sport. A U.S.A. tradition, snowboarding has only recently been part of the Winter Olympics, and many predict 2006 will make the sport even more successful. Snowboarding has a complex and fascinating history, evolving from humble beginnings.
The first snowboard inventor is a contested subject, with several inventors being credited. M.J. “Jack” Burchett is believed to have built the first crude snowboard in 1929 by using a piece of plywood. Securing the board to his feet with clothesline and horse reins, Burchett may well have been the first snowboarder.
The earliest evidence of modern snowboarding appeared in 1939. Vern Wicklund, along with teammates Gunnar and Harvey Burgeson, designed and patented the first snowboards. The very first board consisted on three wooden boards and a rope attachment. Wicklund’s other patents included foot straps, nose cords, and a turned up nose- similar to several modern boards.
The “Snurfer”, what many believe to be the first real snowboard, was invented in 1965 by engineer Sherman Poppen. He simply attached two skis together and used a rope at the nose for control. Poppen patented his idea and sold over a half a million in 1966. Snowboarding quickly became popular children.
After the introduction of the Snurfer, snowboarding fans and entrepreneurs worked to improve on the design. In 1969, Dimitrije Milovich began making snowboards. Combining snowboarding and skiing techniques, he is an iconic figure in snowboarding. He started his own company, Winterstick, in 1972.
Another snowboarding fan, Jake Burton, began improving on the Snurfer in 1977. He created the very first snowboard “binding”, giving boarders more control over their movements. He launched a modern, technical board in 1980, cementing his mark in the history of snowboarding. He has continued to create new boards, and is still an leader in the industry today.
The First National Snowboard Race, held in 1982, was in place designated “Suicide Six”. Snowboarding popularity grew quickly, as did the ‘bad boy’ image it carried. Most early snowboarders were young males, with their daring and competitive attitudes on the slopes, caused many to see snowboarding as a rebel sport. Several ski resorts banned snowboarding, deeming it dangerous and reckless. Despite the image, snowboarding quickly became an international sensation.
As snowboarding became more popular, new challenges were needed. Thus was born the halfpipe and boardercross events popular today. The first major halfpipe competition was held in 1983 at the Soda Springs ski bowl in California. Snowboarding still faced years of prejudice and disdain, but finally made it into the Winter X Games in 1997.
Snowboarding made its Olympic debut in the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. It consisted of four competitions: men’s & women’s halfpipe and men’s & women’s giant slalom. Halfpipe and slalom were chosen to demonstrate the different styles of snowboarding; the giant slalom is a dedicated, disciplined technique that has specialized equipment and techniques. Controversy swirled around the snowboarding event as Norway’s three-time halfpipe world champ, Terje Haakosen, skipped the games in protestation of the International Skiing Federation’s supervision instead of a snowboarding association.
The 2002 Olympic games replaced the slalom with a parallel giant slalom, adding more difficulty and excitement (for the fans) to the event. The halfpipe size was also increased. Unites States riders Danny Kass, Ross Powers, and J.J. Thomas swept the men’s halfpipe competition, making Olympic history. American Kelly Clark won the women’s halfpipe also.
The Snowboard Cross has been added to the 2006 Winter Olympics. In this event, four riders race down the course, jumping, launching,and passing through gates to the finish line. Challenging and dangerous, the boardercross’s addition to the games is another step for the snowboarding sport.