Snowboarding is the sport of riding a large flat ski downhill over snow. Unlike downhill skiing, snowboarding does not require the use of poles and both feet are placed sideways on the same board. A relative newcomer to the family of winter sports, snowboarding began to gain popularity in the 1960s and rose in status from the latest "gimmick" to an accredited Olympic event in 1998, a relatively short period of time. Canadians have had great success over the years in international snowboarding at the Olympic Winter Games, Winter X Games and World Snowboarding Championships. Eight Canadian snowboarders have won Olympic medals — Ross Rebagliati, Dominique Maltais, Mike Robertson, Maëlle Ricker, Jasey-Jay Anderson, Mark McMorris, Max Parrot and Laurie Blouin. Rebagliati, Ricker and Anderson won Olympic gold, while Maltais and McMorris are multiple medallists.
The snowboard itself was originally derived from the idea of the surfboard. In North America the earliest marketed snowboarding device, the "Snurfer," came out in the height of the 1960s surfing culture. Subsequent modifications resulted in a lighter, more maneuverable board and by the 1980s, the snowboard had become widely popular. Like the culture from which it came, snowboarding was perceived as recreation for rebellious, daredevil youths who performed seemingly dangerous and reckless stunts with unrefined equipment. Snowboarders were met with hostility by skiers at local hills, who claimed that they tore up the slopes and cut crossways across the trails, ruining the runs for skiers. At first, few resorts welcomed snowboarders on their runs. However, as the profile of the sport rose alongside the ability of its participants, invitations to resorts increased.
As athletes improved their abilities, many competitions at levels ranging from local to international evolved allowing snowboarders to demonstrate and hone their skills against their peers. The types of events in these competitions include the big air, snowboard cross (or "boardercross"), slopestyle, halfpipe and slalom events. In big airevents competitors perform acrobatics in mid-air. In snowboard crossevents a group of racers race against one another over a tough course to the finish line. In halfpipe, boarders do tricks and acrobatics on a U-shaped course with high walls and rounded sides. In slopestyle snowboarding, athletes are judged for the height of their jumps, flow, difficulty, speed and execution. They snowboard down a course that includes rails and jumps, with the final jump often known as the “money booter.” In slalom events boarders race one another on a downhill course.
The World Snowboarding Championships, the Winter X Games and, as of 1998, the Olympic Winter Games are the most widely televised platforms for the sport that feature events for both men and women. The Winter X Games is geared toward professionals and features prize money. All types of events are featured in the World Championships and Winter X Games. Other major events where Canadians have excelled include the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships and the Winter Dew Tour.
The Olympic snowboarding competition originally included only parallel giant slalom and halfpipe with snowboard cross added in 2006. Parallel slalom and slopestyle snowboarding joined the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. At the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, big air snowboarding was added and parallel slalom was dropped.
Snowboarding in Canada
The Canadian Snowboard Federation was established in 1991 as the governing body for the competitive sport of snowboarding in Canada. The CSF sanctions, monitors and assists all competitive snowboarding programs held in Canada. The CSF is recognized as the official representative of snowboarding in Canada by national and international groups such as the Canadian Snowsports Association (CSA), the Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS), the International Snowboard Federation (ISF) and the Canadian Olympic Association (COA). The Canadian Snowsports Association (CSA) represents Canada on the world governing body for skiing and snowboarding —the Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS).
Rebagliati Wins Olympic Gold
Snowboarding made its Olympic debut in 1998, albeit somewhat marred by controversy. Canada's Ross Rebagliati won the first gold medal in the newly sanctioned snowboarding event. Because of his fearlessness and prior experience, he was able to overcome the fierce weather that came in during the first and second runs of the event and emerge the victor.
However, three days later the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that he had tested positive for marijuana, and stripped him of his medal. He adamantly insisted that he had not used marijuana since 1997 and had most likely been exposed to it second-hand during a party held for him by his friends prior to his departure for Nagano. The Canadian Olympic Association appealed the decision and, five days after he won the gold medal, Rebagliati was reinstated by the Court of Arbitration in Sport. Marijuana was a banned substance on the FIS (International Ski Federation) list, but not a banned substance on the IOC list. Since the IOC is the governing body of the Olympics the medal was returned. (Rebagliati had never actually surrendered the medal.)
Critics of snowboarding felt that such antics were to be expected in a sport so closely tied with youth and alternative culture, and that these events simply affirmed what many had thought of the sport since its inception in the 1960s. Others, however, credited Rebagliati for his grace under pressure and his unrelenting loyalty to his friends, and claimed that these were traits inherent in snowboarding culture.
Canadians in International Competition 1998–2010
Despite its critics, the sport continued to gain widespread recognition both for fun and on the international competitive scene. In addition to Ross Rebagliati, many Canadians had featured prominently in World Cup standings around the time of his win. Among them were Jasey-Jay Anderson(FIS Overall World Cup Champion in 2001), Darren Chalmers (FIS World Cup gold medal winner in 1998 and 1999) and Mark Fawcett (World Cup gold medal winner in 1999 and 2000). Prominent female athletes included Natasza Zurek (FIS World Cup gold medal winner in 2001) and Alexa Loo (FIS Europa Cup gold medal winner in 2001).
At Salt Lake City in 2002, Canadian snowboarders were unable to repeat Rebagliati's success at Nagano in 1998. Jérôme Sylvestre finished 12th in the men's parallel giant slalom and Trevor Andrew placed ninth in the men's half-pipe, while Jasey-Jay Anderson placed 29th in the men's parallel giant slalom.
However, at the 2005 World Snowboarding Championships, held in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada won the medal standings, winning five medals overall. Anderson won gold in men’s parallel slalom and giant slalom, Franҫois Boivin won silver in men’s snowboard cross, Justin Lamoureux won silver in men’s halfpipe and Maëlle Ricker won bronze in women’s snowboard cross.
At the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy, Quebec snowboarder Dominique Maltais won a bronze medal in the snowboard cross, becoming the second Canadian athlete to win a snowboarding medal at the Olympic Games. Maëlle Ricker, from British Columbia, reached the women's final snowboard cross event at Turin, but missed a chance for a medal and took fourth place after she crashed. The Canadian men did not achieve medal standing in any snowboarding events in 2006. Maltais and Ricker were first and second respectively in the World Cup women’s snowboard cross standings.
In the 2007–08 season, Ricker won her first Crystal Globe in women’s snowboard cross, with three World Cup gold medals in Chile, South Korea and Japan. Also that season Brad Martin won a World Cup men’s halfpipe gold in Calgary, and Matthew Morison and Anderson won World Cup parallel giant slalom gold medals.
The 2009 snowboarding World Championship took place in Gangwon, South Korea. Canada finished third overall in medal standings, with Anderson winning gold and Morison winning bronze in the men's parallel giant slalom. Ontario's Jeff Batchelor won silver in the men's halfpipe competition. Austria won first in the medal standing with a total of six medals and Switzerland won four medals. Canadians placed fourth in both the men's and women's snowboard cross events, represented by Tom Velisek and Ricker.
2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver
The World Cup and world championship results left Canada in a solid position for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. In the men's snowboard cross, Canadian Mike Robertson won the silver medal after US snowboarder Seth Wescott took a slight lead in the final moments of the last run to win gold. Days later, Maëlle Ricker won gold in the women's snowboard cross, the first Olympic gold medal for a Canadian woman in the sport. In a dominant performance, Ricker led for most of the final race, wobbling slightly before the final jump but still managing to finish ahead of Deborah Anthonioz of France who won silver, and Olivia Nobs of Switzerland, who claimed bronze. Canada's most veteran snowboarder, Jasey-Jay Anderson, won the gold medal in the parallel giant slalom when he overcame a 0.75-second deficit between himself and Austrian Benjamin Karl, the top-ranked snowboarder in the world.
International Competition Since 2010
In 2010–11, Dominique Maltais won her second Crystal Globe of her career after winning three women’s snowboard cross World Cup events. She added a bronze medal at the 2011 World Snowboarding Championships in La Molina, Spain, and won three more Crystal Globe Titles in women’s snowboard cross from 2012 to 2014. At the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Maltais returned to the Olympic podium and won a silver medal, before retiring from the sport in 2015.
At the 2012 World Snowboard Championships in Oslo, Norway, Canada’s Spencer O’Brien won gold in women’s slopestyle and Sebastien Toutant won silver in men’s slopestyle. The 2013 World Snowboarding Championships took place in Canada for the first time since 2005 with Stoneham, Quebec, hosting the event. Canada won two gold and two silver medals. Ricker and Maltais won gold and silver respectively in women’s snowboard cross, O’Brien won gold in women’s slopestyle skiing and Mark McMorris of Regina, Saskatchewan, won silver in men’s slopestyle skiing.
McMorris, who had dominated the Winter X Games, became the face of Canadian snowboarding heading into the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. However, he almost did not compete in Sochi because he broke his rib at the 2014 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado. McMorris bounced back and won the bronze medal in the first ever Olympic men’s slopestyle snowboarding competition.
Starting in 2015, snowboarders and freestyle skiers participated in the same world championships. In 2015 in Kreischberg, Austria, Canadians placed second twice as Darcy Sharpe won silver in men’s big air and Kevin Hill won silver in men’s snowboard cross. In 2017 in Sierra Nevada, Spain, Laurie Blouin won gold in women’s slopestyle, while Hill and Christopher Robanske won bronze for Canada in the men’s snowboard cross team competition.
Canadian snowboarders were also successful at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Max Parrot won the silver medal in men’s slopestyle, while McMorris (who had suffered serious injuries in 2017) won his second Olympic bronze medal in the event. In the women’s slopestyle competition, Blouin won silver.
Susanna Howe, Sick: A Cultural History of Snowboarding (1998); Paolo Codeluppi, Luciana Rota, Stefano Martignoni, Massimiliano Angeli, Extreme Snowboarding (1998); Kevin Ryan, The Illustrated Guide to Snowboarding (1998); Jim Smith, The Art of Snowboarding: Kickers, Carving, Half-Pipe and More (2006); Ross Rebagliati, Off the Chain, A Renegade History of Snowboarding (2009).