Alessandro Casson:
Snowboarding History

Alex is an experienced back country skier and rider whose main haunt is the Dolomites. -ed


January '97: Snowboarding is a young sport. Only in the last ten seasons has it become known to the general public. But by looking at the origins of our beloved sport we can see that it has come a very long way.

Snowboarding is based on the surfing spirit and an artist's passion for the custom product. So it's hard to write a good history of the development of this sport and its tools. If you have more information or find inaccuracies in this text, contact me at alecss@mbox.vol.it.

I suppose there was someone somewhere who tried putting a piece of wood under his feet to slide on snow before the people I cover here. But it's impossible to define a real start based on individual experiments and prototypes, so I prefer to fix the birth of snowboarding with the first commercial product. This was the Snurfer, made by Shervin Popper in the second half of the 60's.

He was a surfer who wanted to provide a tool to allow surfers to continue the sport during the winter on snow, so he started production of this funny board. It was wide, without any kind of binding and true to the surf approach. To provide sufficient stability it had a string at the tip. Shervin Popper was good at promoting his product, and he was able to sell about 100,000 Snurfers. The price was US $15.

A second snowboard pioneer was Dimitrije Milovich, a surfer on the east coast. He started limited production of custom boards with iron edges at the beginning of 70's. In 1972, Bob Webber received a patent for his Skiboard, another board directly from the surf philosophy, without edges.

In 1975 Dimitrije Milovich developed the Winterstick, the historic brand so famous for the first videos in powder (see below). He started production of a swallowtail board for deep powder, often using iron edges as on his earlier boards. During the following two years Dimitrije Milovich also reached an important agreement with Petit Morey and Kendall, the two main insurance companies of American ski resorts, to cover liability for snowboarding.

In 1977, the main snowboard factory of today started production: Jack Burton made and sold his prototypes, with handmade bindings, but with some elements more similar to the modern design. Tom Sims also started production of some boards based on the Snurfer. In 1979 Tom Sims and Chuck Barfoot created the first board made of fiberglass.

At the end of 70's and the beginning of 80's, the snowboard began to appear in some sports magazines (especially skateboard magazines). On American and Canadian TV, a beer commercial showed Paul Graves riding a snowboard. So the snowboard was introduced to a larger public -- although it was still seen as a strange sport.

The three main factories -- Burton, Sims and Winterstick -- started introducing P-tex bases on their boards in 1980-81. The same year, the Struck brothers began production of a snowboard with two little skis under the base, making the board easier to use on packed snow and turns easier to carve. This one was named Swingbo and had good success during the 80's.

In fact, one of the big problems with the early snowboards was driving them on trails/pistes on packed snow, because they were originally designed for use in soft or powder snow. For this reason Jeff Grell built the first binding with a back spoiler to hold the legs in the backside turns on hard snow. In my opinion this was one of the major innovations that allowed snowboards to take off with the general public.

In 1983 the Hooger Booger started production: it was the first board produced in a European factory. Hooger Booger introduced the asymetrical concept in snowboard shapes.

Snowboarding took off in 1984 with the release of Apocalypse Now, the first real snowboard video. The video featured the magic Regis Roland surfing on his Winterstick followed by a troupe of bad skiers and monoskiers on Rossignol skis and Salomon boots. The video was a great success and two sequels followed. Also, James Bond 007 wanted a snowboard scene in his movie and Tom Sims played Bond in some of the most spectacular scenes.

If 1984 was the year of snowboard in the movies, then 1985 was the year of the snowboard in races: there was the first Mt. Baker slalom (for a long time the main event of the competition season), the first North American Snowboard Championship in Calgary and the first European Championship in Schnalstal.

1985 also saw an important change of direction in the design of boards, with greater use of iron edges for packed snow and different shapes for different uses: freeride and freestyle. And the first issue of the International Snowboarding Magazine was published in March. Named Absolutely Radical, it was the first "all snowboard" magazine.

Year after year, some of the greatest names in the short history of snowboarding were coming up: Craig Kelly, Jose Fernandez, Jean Nerva, Terry Kidwell, Bert Lamar, Peter Bauer. Snowboarding was on its way to becoming a professional sport. New factories were being built and the number of the boards on the market was increasing every season.

So here we are. It's the end of the pioneering era and the start of the modern snowboard age.