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Taking the Kids

Going Bonkers on the Slopes

March 12, 1995|EILEEN OGINTZ

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Wearing oversize jackets and baggy waterproof pants, the children are goofy or regular, bonking and jibbing through half-pipes and down rails.

Confused? I was too. That's snowboarder talk. Here's a rough translation: Decked out in the latest snowboarding gear, the kids are standing on boards that resemble surfboards, either left foot (goofy) or right foot (regular) forward, bouncing (or bonking) off obstacles as they fly down the mountain, through pipes (channels) of snow or alongside fallen trees.

"There's this adrenaline rush," explained snow-covered Joy Avedesian, a 16-year-old high school junior from Arcadia who had abandoned her skis to concentrate on snowboarding. "It's more of a challenge than skiing. You can just go crazy snowboarding and that's cool."

Look around most ski areas and you will see snowboarders. It's the latest craze--particularly for preteens and teen-agers on ski vacations with their parents and trying hard to avoid doing anything their parents are doing.

Mostly young and more male than female--though more girls are joining the ranks--snowboarders are now buying one of every 10 ski-area lift tickets, according to Ski Industries America, the industry trade association.

In fact, snowboarding is the fastest growing of all snow-related recreational activities, wooing an estimated 2 million people last season alone. Snowboarders take to the mountains in greater numbers earlier and later in the season than do skiers and they are buying lift tickets more often--15 days a season compared with five for skiers. Nearly half report they've quit skiing in favor of the new sport. At the same time, about 200 companies have sprung up to produce and distribute snowboards and related gear.

So many kids want to snowboard that SKI-WEE, the respected Ski magazine program designed to teach children to ski, is piloting a "Mini Rippers" program for pint-size snowboarders at about 30 ski areas around the country. (Call 800-2-SKI-WEE for information about the programs.)

"It's pretty typical for a family to have one child in snowboarding," said Dana White, executive editor of Skiing magazine. "It's redefined the kind of things a family looks for in a ski resort."

Parents should take comfort from the fact that experts say snowboarding causes no more injuries than skiing--roughly three for every 1,000 people. And it costs about the same for lessons and rentals. Most important: It's hip.

That's a big part of the appeal, adolescents say. Here's a sport that's decidedly different from the one their parents are enjoying on the mountain. It has its own language and clothing and--perhaps most important--attitude. "Skiing is for old people," Joy Avedesian said.

Maybe that's why more aging baby boomers and Generation X skiers are opting for the thrills that come with learning a new sport. "It's a new kick and it's easier on the body," said Roger Lohr, education director for Ski Industries America.

White, for one, doesn't downhill ski much anymore. "Snowboarding makes me feel younger," said the 34-year-old. "I was as good as I could get on my skis. This is a way to rediscover the mountain. And the people who do it are far less conservative."

Another appeal is less gear--just the board with its bindings and soft boots, rather than clumsy, stiff ones.

The demand among adults is growing so much that former international snowboarding champion Brian Delaney, along with his brother Kevin--also a champion--now run special snowboarding camps for adults several weekends a season at Aspen Tiehack and Beaver Creek, both in Colorado (call 303-920-7528).

No matter what your age, it may be hard to get started, Delaney said, but it's easier to progress than on skis. And there are plenty of opportunities.

Only a handful of the nation's more than 550 ski areas--Utah's Park City and Deer Valley among them--don't permit boarders on their slopes. "We get more skiers telling us they like things the way they are without snowboarding," Park City spokesman Charlie Lansche said.

But areas such as Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Snowmass in Colorado, Stratton Mountain in Vermont, Sierra at Tahoe in California and Mt. Baker in Washington, are touting their snowboarding programs. Many, including Beaver Creek, are carving out special "terrain gardens" full of jumps and bumps for the snowboarders.

"The biggest challenge is staying up and balancing," Delaney said. "It's a lot like water-skiing or surfing. But once you find your balance, like on a bike, you're fine."

"Once you can stand up, it's awesome," said 12-year-old Katherine Rhinehart, a new snowboarder from Atlanta. "I'm going to stick with it."

Taking the Kids appears weekly.

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