Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Specialisation of Snowboarding

Back in the 70s and 80s snowboarding was a bit simpler. You grabbed a snowboard which would be pretty much the same as everyone else’s snowboard, you went to one of the few places that allowed snowboarding, hung out with the small but close-knit community of fellow snowboarders, if you got good you could compete with any other snowboarder in the slalom and the halfpipe in the few events that existed and if you were really good you could star that season’s film.
Then all of a sudden things started to get a bit more complicated…

More specifically, it got complicated at exactly this point... 
This was the point that snowboarding saw its first split as it broke into two groups; freestyle snowboarders and alpine snowboarders. All of a sudden the two sets of people found that they actually didn’t have as much in common as they had previously thought, in fact they didn’t much like each other and thought it would be best if they went their own separate ways.  Half of the people decided to start wearing a lot more neon and the other half started to wear more spandex.
After this fist split the differences kept coming. The original snowboard disciplines started to become more specialised and more competitive, then at the start of the 90s a whole load more ways to snowboard were invented.
Here’s what went down...
The specialisations started where the lines become horizontal. Some of the disciplines had defined start dates, like the first boardercross, but others evolved without a clear start date so we had to estimate. Some like speed snowboarding and snowboarding Mt Everest have pretty much died off entirely. You could probably argue that there are even more disciplines that we haven’t included, like Jeremy Jones’ recent foray into unsupported snowboard expeditions and cross country snowboarding, but you get the idea. 

Today if you are a snowboarder you are one of millions, you have a snowboard which is likely to be very different than anyone else’s, you can snowboard anywhere, hang out with a whole load of other people you don’t know and don’t really like the look of, and although you’ll never be good enough to compete at the top you can get your mate to film you and stick a dodgy edit on YouTube.
If you do fancy your chances at becoming one of the best snowboarders you have to focus on one or two disciplines at most, you have to be born in the mountains, eat the right food, get fit, find the right support team, and practice for years until you become the master of your niche. If you do all that you stand to become famous once every four years and rake in millions, but on the downside at least half of the snowboarding population who happen to prefer a different type of snowboarding will automatically dislike you immensely.
The differences in the specialisations is clear when you look at examples of the snowboarders, events, films and snowboards. 
Today it’s no longer possible to excel at all the aspects of snowboarding and someone who is good at one niche is not automatically going to be good at another. That’s why our sport can have Shaun White at one end of the scale and Jeremy Jones at the other. Two very different people, using very different equipment in very different environments and media, and perhaps most significantly with very different ideas on what the culture of their sport is. Snowboarding is no longer a single homogenous sport but a series of vaguely related sports.
Interestingly, although the more extreme specialisations are the ones that get the most attention, it’s worth remembering that two thirds of all snowboarders are people who snowboard for less than 10 days a year and stick to the pistes.  

You Might Also Like:
If you fancy reading a good book on the history of snowboarding this is a good one 
Here’s our interactive snowboard history timeline if you want more detail on how and when the different specialisations started.


  1. You guys seriously f* up the last infographics. Torstein on Baderstscher's board, Halldor on his brother's and Jp on a Salomon? Something mighty wrong there! :P

  2. Sorry, Jp on a Bataleon and Tr on a Salomon!

  3. We weren’t suggesting they do. We were just showing examples of snowboards, riders, films and events that fit in each category. Some of the examples just happen to match up.

    We’re pretty sure that Torstein Horgmo wasn’t the star of the chick flick Chalet Girl, or the porn version.

  4. Oh thanks! Sorry for the misunderstanding, and yea, I was wondering about the movie too... Nice article tho, as always!

  5. Stoked that you guys noticed and appreciate our movie "This is my winter" and Xavier's skills.

    keep up the good work, big fan of your website.



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