Here we are on the eve of the Dew Action Sports Tour’s night-time snowboard rail jam at the Rose Quarter in Portland. The Dew Action Sports Tour used to be the Gravity Games and is now owned by NBC/ Universal and Live Nation, a spin-off from Clear Channel. I heard the snow for the event is going to be delivered late tonight, but the rails and stairs are all in place, waiting for the snow. No one is sure where the snow is coming from, maybe it’s from Mt Hood, maybe a skating rink.
I don’t snowboard any more. I used to ride a racing snowboard, but I never raced competitively. My favorite part of snowboarding was going fast and turning hard, usually under the lift so people could see that we could actually turn. My second favorite part of snowboarding was watching my friends ride, stopping to hit jumps, logs, or steeps on the way down. My third favorite part of snowboarding was watching videos. My fourth favorite was going to the Burton Snowboard US Open to watch my heroes ride. My fifth favorite part of snowboarding was getting new boards, jackets, hats, t shirts and stickers. My sixth favorite part of snowboarding was going to Burton. My seventh favorite part was reading snowboard magazines. I think beyond that, I was usually doing or thinking about something else.
Snowboard racing today is for snowboard nerds, it’s a super-niche thing called “carving” now. No one in the industry cares about racing because it does not make any money. Years ago, companies made a conscious decision to stop making product for racing, therefore dooming that side of the sport and riders out of existence. They felt they’d wasted enough money on a side of snowboarding that did not make enough money in sales to justify the development of race-specific products. The ripple-effect this had on the sport was interesting to watch. Freestyle snowboarding BECAME all that snowboarding was. Now, there was only one way to ride: Look cool, get new shit, go bigger, grab right (god damn it) and spin.
The emphasis in snowboarding was placed on the segment that made money: fashion freestyle. Companies forced the trend by focusing product and marketing on specific styles of boards, jackets, bindings and one style of riding. Magazines and smaller companies followed, because they needed to make money too. Snowboarding was transformed into an activity that attracted corporate sponsorships for events, videos and magazines, and the pro riders followed the money trail. And if any part of snowboarding, or the riders involved, did not attract those types of dollars in sales or sponsorships, they were abandoned as worthless.
Imagine if this had happened in bicycling. No Tour de France, only BMX Park at the XGames! Talk about doping scandals!
The most interesting part of what’s happened in snowboarding is the relationship between the most influential professional riders and the industry. The riders (who were “driving” the sport) were convinced by the industry and their sponsors to conform to what sells best: dope style, attitude, rails, backcountry jumps. Halfpipe is barely hanging on as a viable part of the sport, mainly because it makes for good TV (see “Advertising”). Not many people go out and buy halfpipe-specific boards any more. If the Olympics did not pick up Snowboarding, who knows if halfpipe would even exist now? The US Open and X Games cannot prop up this part of snowboarding alone. Boardercross (Snowboard Cross?) is the land of ex-alpine racers and is doomed for the same reasons.
So, what does this mean for the “sport” of snowboarding? It means that there is a very narrow definition of what snowboarding is today. There’s a single, narrow path for snowboarders to follow. Snowboarding likes young kids who have parents that buy them things and parents that send thier kids to resorts and kids that work in shops at resorts. And that means that everyone outside of this definition (including most girls and women) do not really fit what the industry needs snowboarding to be. The snowboarding industry needs snowboarding to be young, rich, male and stupid. Or it needs to succeed in attracting more women to the sport, which is hard because they don’t relate to the current singular definition.
Everyone else (usually older male riders) buys product, wears it, rides it and enjoys it, much like golf clubs and shoes. It goes in the basement in the off season, get’s replaced every 3-5 seasons. My guess is that these riders are increasing in number, and decreasing in stoke on snowboarding. It’s possible they like feeling younger when they go ride. It’s possible they’ll watch the Dew Action Sports Tour Rail Jam in a week on NBC prime-time and say “Fuck! I am such a pussy. I am going to Mammoth to practice sliding rails all season next year.” It’s not possible, though, that these dudes will buy as much shit as a young wiseass kid with parents who have money. (PS: I was this kid until recently. It’s a good thing I had friends in the industry…)
What about backcountry or big mountain riding? People in Chamonix, Jackson and Tahoe love that. There are one or two respected professional riders in the entire sport who are hanging on to thier sponsorships by putting their asses on the line in situations that would make an SLC rail-jockey crap his saggy drawers.
Snowboarding began in powder and on hills that had to be hiked. It began with makeshift equipment, NO style and only fun with friends in mind. When it moved to resorts, it attracted more people and made more money for everyone. When it moved into the mainstream media, it attracted more people and made more money for everyone. Some parts of the sport and riders were left behind for the ones that attracted more people and made more money for everyone. Now, there’s no where else for snowboarding to go. And what are we left with? Too much emphasis on style, fashion and attitude. Not enough emphasis on accessibility, creativity and the feeling of snowboarding with friends.
Many people would say that they love snowboarding, they love the part of snowboarding that they now have. So do I. I loved it so much. Snowboarding got me to where I am today and I met the most amazing people in my life. I have vivid memories of snowboarding that I still daydream about. There’s no way I am going to ruin those memories by trying to fit into snowboarding today.
People will say that snowboarding is not about the industry, it’s about getting out before dawn to hike the ridge and make a few turns before anyone else gets there. Super nice. That’s perfect. Get out there and do it.
People will wonder why I care to comment, or what right do I have to try to influence what snowboarding is today. I don’t know why I care. Maybe it’s because I don’t want snowboarding to disappear for you too, because the industry could not make enough money from your favorite part of snowboarding.