Snowboarding is a winter sport that involves a rider going down a snowy or icy hill on a wide board in a position that resembles a surfer or skateboarder.
Most people ride snowboards for enjoyment. The sport is an alternative to skiing, often appealing to younger people who also love to skateboard or surf, but snowboard in the winter months. In alpine snowboarding, the purpose is to get down the hill using controlled turns. In competitive snowboarding, this may include controlled jumps and speed. Halfpipe and slopestyle involve airborne tricks, such as flips and twists, reaching down to grab the board, and combinations of these tricks. Contestants are judged on their technique, speed, and how high in the air they go.
Participation in snowboarding increased more than 300% from 1998 to about 2010, to more than 6 million people in the United States. At the same time, fewer people were skiing. Part of the reason was the action involved in snowboarding, and part was that it costs less to get started in snowboarding than in skiing. More men than women ride snowboards. In 2015, about 38% of people who rode snowboards were women. Snowboarders tend to be younger than skiers (averaging in the early 20s), and many ski and snowboard schools offer programs for children as young as three to five years old to begin learning the sport.
Snowboarding is a young sport compared with other winter sports. In 1965, an engineer named Sherman Poppen from Michigan bolted two skis side by side to make a toy for his daughter. He placed steel tracks on top to hold the rider's feet in place and added a rope for steering. His wife called the new board the “Snurfer” for its combination of snow and surfer, and the name stuck. Other inventors began working on similar designs soon after. An East Coast surfer named Dimitrije Milovich made snowboards based more on surfboards, but with metal edges, around 1970. A few years later, Bob Webber tried to obtain a patent for a design he called a “skiboard.” As these early pioneers continue to refine their designs, Milovich started production and his design was featured in a national magazine in 1975. The boards began to catch on around the world.
In 1979, Paul Graves put on a freestyle boarding demonstration at the annual Snurfer contest in Michigan by performing complete turns, dropping down to one knee while riding, and dismounting the board with a flip. Jake Burton Carpenter had been modifying Snurfer designs and also wanted to demonstrate his board. After some protest, he was allowed to enter a one-man competition at the event. Graves rode his Snurfer on television later that year in a North American commercial and magazines began running features about snowboarding.
The sport of snowboarding has gained popularity in recent years and now nearly outranks the winter sport of skiing. Snowboarding takes place at ski resorts and special terrain parks during winter months. The sport grew from a combination of skateboarding, skiing, and surfing. Instead of the two skis used in skiing, snowboard riders use a single board that they ride in a fashion that is similar to skateboarding or surfing. Around the world, snowboarders now share ski runs with skiers and enjoy riding on some slopes of their own, along with doing special tricks in terrain parks with bumps, a U-shaped trench that is called a half-pipe, and other ways to challenge freestyling riders. Snowboarders can learn on very small and gentle slopes in ski and snowboard school yards with group instruction or private lessons. They can advance to beginning, intermediate, and advanced runs as they gain ability and confidence.
Riding a snowboard is different from skiing. Skiers generally shift their balance over their feet from side to side to control ski edges for turning and weight changes on the skis. The snowboarder shifts his or her weight from heel to toe. The stance and technique are similar to surfing or skateboarding. Shifting weight forward tends to make the board go downhill and shifting weight over the heels, or digging the heels into the edge of the board, drags it into the snow to stop. A regular stance on the board places the left foot in front of the right, and the goofy stance has the right foot ahead of the left.
There are several styles in snowboarding. Freeriding or all-mountain riding mean the boarder rides on whatever natural terrain is available. This most often is a groomed ski run, but the boarder may opt for moguls or off-trail riding, or may perform some aerial maneuvers. Freestyle or slopestyle is performing tricks using manmade structures, such as rails or boxes. The half-pipe is a U-shaped trench with high walls that help the rider get airborne to perform tricks such as twists and flips above the walls. Boardercross is a competitive race that combines snowboarding with elements of motocross for a race against other riders instead of just the clock.
Rules for recreational snowboarding vary, depending on ski resort policy. Usually, resorts have policies about riding their ski lifts, accepting risk, and safety to others. Other rules are really etiquette, but should be followed by riders to keep them and others safe. For example, skiers and snowboarders must look out for people on a trail when merging and always are responsible for seeing anyone before them on a run (the skiers or riders in front have the right of way). Riders always should be in control and should use a security leash so that if they crash, their riderless boards do not go sliding down the hill and crash into someone. Riders should observe rules that are posted at resorts. Competition rules vary depending on the event.
Boots, bindings, and boards can be purchased or rented. It is advised to rent these items until deciding which style of boarding is preferred. All boarders need waterproof pants, jackets, and gloves. Goggles also are essential, and safety experts recommend wearing a helmet to prevent head injury.
Snowboarding uses foot and core muscles extensively. U.S. Snowboarding member Kevin Pearce says he works to keep his core and legs strong to be able to blast out of the half-pipe and perform aerial maneuvers. Recreational boarders also want to keep their quadriceps and gluteal muscles strong by lifting weights or doing squats. Calf raises will keep calf muscles strong to help with foot stability. Practicing balance with summer sports or on a balance board can help with snowboard balance. While at ski slopes, riders need to remember that they may be exercising at much higher altitudes than normal and drink plenty of water and other clear fluids. Healthy breakfasts with plenty of carbohydrates and a healthy lunch in the middle of the day that is not too heavy can help keep performance up. Riders also might want to keep a light energy snack in their jackets.
There are about 600,000 skiing and snowboarding injuries every year in North America, and many of these occur in children. Up to 20% of these injuries are head injuries. In fact, about 50% to 88 % of all deaths from skiing and snowboarding are caused by traumatic brain injuries. Wearing a helmet can reduce chance of a head injury. Other common injuries to snowboarders are wrist and elbow injuries that occur when snowboarders stretch out their arms to catch themselves when falling. Riders also need to take caution when exercising at high altitudes and in extremely severe weather. Avalanches and sudden winter storms are possible dangers for extreme snowboarders who hike to backcountry areas or ride on unmarked trails.
Riding a snowboard demands that people be able to move well on the board and be able to exercise for long periods of time. For these reasons, it is an excellent way to improve physical fitness, especially in the winter months. About 45 minutes of snowboarding burns more than 280 calories. It also is a sport that people love for being in touch with nature. It gives riders a chance to be close to trees, mountains, and sometimes wildlife in the winter months. Renting or buying boots and bindings that fit properly and getting lessons from certified instructors make snowboarding more enjoyable and safer.
See also Winter sports .
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U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, 1 Victory Ln., Box 100, Park City, UT, 84060, (435) 649-9090, Fax: (435) 649-3613, http://www.ussa.org .
Teresa G. Odle, BA, ELS