Snowboarding

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 a relatively short time.

Origins

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. Credit for this invention is given to Sherman Poppen, a chemical gases engineer in Muskegon, Michigan. While sledding behind his house one day with his daughters, he noticed one of them riding down the hill standing on her sled. In the decade that followed, Poppen sold over half a million "Snurfers." Jake Burton Carpenter, a New York investment broker who loved "Snurfers" as a teenager, modified the original design by adding lighter construction material and stationary foot bindings, which increased maneuverability and control. However, because of the weight it was meant exclusively for backcountry use: it was virtually impossible to turn in anything but very deep powder.

The snowboard's major transformation came at the hands of Tom Sims, a descendant of the Californian surfer/skateboarder culture. Sims's interest in skateboarding led him to develop a skateboarding manufacturing company that would be the early manufacturer of his patented "ski board," which was called the "Flying Yellow Banana." Along with partners Jay and Jeff Grell, Sims made the board a lighter weight, like that of a skateboard, and added high back bindings so that it had the maneuverability of a surfboard.

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. Eventually, resort owners had no choice but to let snowboarders share the runs with skiers. At first, smaller, poorer ski areas let snowboarders on their runs. However, as the profile of the sport as well as the ability of its participants rose, the invitations to the larger resorts increased as well.

Competition

As athletes improved their abilities, many competitions at levels ranging from local to international evolved to allow snowboarders to demonstrate and hone their skills against their peers. The types of events in these competitions include the big air, boardercross (or "snowboardcross"), slope-style, half-pipe and slalom events. In big air events competitors perform acrobatics in mid-air. In boardercross events a group of racers race against one another over a tough course to the finish line. In half-pipe riding boarders do tricks and acrobatics on a U-shaped course with high walls and rounded sides. Slope-style courses have flat areas, jumps and moguls that racers must go through in an effort to achieve the best time. In slalom events boarders race one another on a downhill course. The World Snowboarding Championships, the Extreme Winter Games and, as of 1998, the Winter Olympics, are the most widely televised platforms for the sport that feature events for both men and women. The Extreme Games is geared toward professionals and features prize money in excess of $200 000. All types of events are featured in the World Championships and Extreme Winter Games. The Winter Olympics snowboarding competition originally included only the slalom racing and half-pipe riding, with snowboardcross events added in 2006.

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).

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 secondhand 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.

Despite its critics, the sport continued to gain widespread recognition both for fun and on the international competitive scene. In addition to Ross Rebagliati (Olympic gold medal winner at Nagano in 1998) many Canadians had featured prominently in World Cup standings around the time of Rebagliati's 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 managed a 6th-place finish in the men's parallel giant slalom and Trevor Andrew placed 9th in the men's half-pipe. Jasey-Jay Anderson, a medal favourite prior to Salt Lake City, placed 29th in the men's parallel giant slalom. At Salt Lake, it was the Americans who showed their dominance in the sport of snowboarding. Their clean sweep of the half-pipe competition, in which Ross Powers, Danny Kass and Jarret Thomas took gold, silver and bronze respectively, marked an international first for the sport. American snowboarder Chris Klug overcame liver disease and a subsequent transplant to win a bronze in the parallel giant slalom.

The 2006 Olympic Games took place in Turin, Italy. Québec snowboarder Dominique Maltais won a bronze medal in the snowboardcross, becoming the second Canadian athlete to win a snowboarding medal at the Olympic Games. Maëlle RICKER, from British Columbia, reached the women's final snowboardcross 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.

The snowboarding World Cup in 2008 was dominated by Canadians. Matthew Morison, from Ontario, won the gold medal and Jasey-Jay Anderson won the bronze medal. Canadian women also performed well at the 2008 championship, with Calgary's Kimiko Zakreski winning silver.

The 2009 snowboarding World Championship took place in Gangwon, South Korea. Canada finished third overall in medal standings, with Jasey-Jay Anderson winning gold and Matthew Morison winning silver 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 snowboardcross events, represented by Tom Velisek and Maëlle Ricker.

The World Cup and world championship results left Canada in a solid position for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. In the men's snowboardcross 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 snowboardcross, the first Olympic gold medal for a Canadian woman in the sport. 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 in his final Olympic showing when he overcame a 0.75-second deficit between himself and Austrian Benjamin Karl, the top-ranked snowboarder in the world.

See alsoOLYMPIC GAMES, WINTER.