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On board at the start

November 01, 2005|Eric Blehm | Special to The Times

I WAS WALKING through the parking lot at Snow Summit, circa 1985, and I felt as if I had just pushed through the double swinging doors of a saloon in an old western. I was an outsider. The looks of suspicion, if not contempt, made that clear. I was a snowboarder in a skiers' world, a renegade just asking for trouble.

Decked out in neoprene surf booties and carrying an all-wood snowboard called a Slicker, "mounted" with a binding system I had dreamed up -- moon boots duct-taped to the board -- I was primed for the slopes when the aged crone (or so she seemed; I was, after all, just 17) at the ticket window looked at me, then my Slicker, and chuckled.

"We don't allow those ski boards here, sweetie," she said, "But there is a sledding area down the street."

Sledding area? No way.

What followed wasn't pretty -- for Snow Summit or for me -- and only today, almost 20 years later and a little wiser, perhaps, do I understand the reasons. Truth be told, at that point in history, snowboards weren't the safest snow-sliding tools around -- P-Tex and steel edges were mostly the stuff of dreams -- but that wasn't about to stop me.

So with my all-wood board -- knuckle-dragger that I was -- I left Snow Summit and drove over to a one-lift ski hill in Big Bear called Snow Forest, where there was no snowmaking and grass was poking up through the icy runs. I beat myself up pretty good that day, but it was great.

Years passed, but respect came slowly. In 1987, Time magazine quoted one dowdy skier as saying, "Snowboarding is not about grace and style but about raging hormones. It is adolescent boys with their newest toy." A year later, Parade magazine called snowboarding the "Worst New Sport." In 1994, the television show "American Journal" reported that snowboarders were "knocking down skiers like bowling pins."

Then, later that year, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed: "Snowboarding Scores as the Fastest Growing Sport."

Those of us who remember the fledgling days of our sport revel in the knowledge that today at least half of the paying customers at resorts worldwide are snowboarders, whose equipment, riding style and ultimately dollars have breathed life into a flat, if not dying, ski market.

We were outcasts. Yeah, we were cool, or -- to borrow the name of the world's first snowboarding magazine -- we were Absolutely Radical. Too radical for some.

Today only a few dinosaur resorts don't allow snowboarding. Their reasons? Well, I won't guess, but change, as we all know, is inevitable.

Just last season I was at Snow Summit's snowboard park (that ban didn't last long) when a suspect-looking kid slid up to me while I was psyching myself up to hit a jump. He was wearing an army-drab helmet, his lip was pierced, and a tattered flannel shirt was exposed underneath a thrift-store windbreaker with a Dead Kennedys patch sewn onto the chest.

I was certain that under the helmet was a flattened Mohawk. His demeanor suggested some classic resurgence of punk rock. No doubt he had some shin-high Doc Martens on the floorboard of his car in the parking lot where he'd changed into his ski boots.

Yes, ski boots.

He was one of those. And he asked me in a polite voice, "Excuse me, is it OK to ski in the terrain park?"

Looking down, I saw his were the new twin-tip, snowboard-inspired jib skis, and he looked like he knew how to use them.

For me, watching that kid float a slow-motion 540 on those twin-tip skis and land gracefully backward was nothing less than a rewind button to 1985. Pick your flavor -- it's all good


Eric Blehm is the coauthor of "P3: Pipes, Parks, and Powder." His website is

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