Outdoors Magazine

The Trouble With Snowboarding

By Kimkircher @kimkircher

Snowboarders_High_CampbellSeems like everyone is talking about it. Snowboarding is on the decline. Old Hat. Yesterday’s news. The National Ski Areas Association, or NSAA, came out with their latest stats that yes indeed fewer people are buying snowboards, out their riding the slopes, and overall participating in the sport. The NSAA recently published an article titled, The Future of Snowboarding, and the news isn’t pretty. At least not for snowboarders. Traditional media outlets followed suit. First the New York Times ran a story then Seattle Times wrote a local version, interviewing retailers and snowboarding schools in the Pacific Northwest.

The problem with snowboarding, and in my opinion the reason for the decline, is simple. A snowboard is an inefficient tool. Unless you are ripping fall line powder across an Alaskan spine, which, I have to admit, looks even more fun on a board than on skis, then you’re going to rue the day you locked yourself onto a single plank. The chances of riding deep powder without having to traverse, hike, skin, pay for a cat ride or maybe even a helicopter are slim. Really slim. Let’s just say the chances are nonexistent. So, the very thing that could make snowboarding awesome is basically an illusion. Now I’m sure many snowboarders would disagree. Go on. Tell me that I’m wrong. But day after day I watch riders strap, unstrap, hike, hop, crow hop, and crawl with their hands in order to navigate traverses, dips in terrain and other natural mountain features. It’s inefficient. There’s no other way to describe it.

The other day I stopped at the top of Blazing Elk, a steep, groomed swath of goodness that ends in a shallow basin. The other side requires a little speed, or at the very least, some herringboning to reach. No problem on skis. It’s worth it to actually ski the last ten turns rather than start an early traverse. I watched a snowboarder as she stopped short of the edge of the piste at the top. Her friends had already dropped in. She crow-hopped to the edge, windmilling her arms furiously and heaved a sigh. She dropped in and carved beautiful turns. But at the bottom, she didn’t have enough speed. As I skated up the other side with little effort, she stopped, leaned over to unstrap and crab-walked up the the top. Later, at the bottom of the chair, she leaned over again and unstrapped. At the top of the chair she strapped back in. Snowboarders strap and unstrap a hundred times a day. It must get really old. As far as efficiency goes, that’s a lot of wasted energy. Maybe snowboarders are getting tired of it.

I’ve tried snowboarding. I actually liked it. When the snow is soft, maybe even a little heavy, a wide snowboard stays on top, troweling the snow like it’s putty. But then I caught my downhill edge on a cat track, flopped onto my stomach and threw up my lunch. That was the end of my short snowboarding career.

KimKircher NthSum2
I like to think of myself as an open-minded snow sports enthusiast. I’ve tried snowblading (ridiculous) and telemark skiing (excruciating) and have my sights set on trying out monoboarding soon (ego-shattering), just so I can sashay my way down the slopes and remember not to take myself so seriously. I’ve yet to try snowskating, but that’s definitely on my list. I could relive my old skate punk wannabe days when I wore my hair in a short, spiked style and nervously flicked a cigarette between my fingers as I skated in the local grocery store parking lot.  So when I say that snowboarding’s decline might actually be a good thing, I’m speaking from a place of broad-mindedness. At least as broad as my mind can get. Perhaps snowboarding started its meteoric rise because it wasn’t our father’s sport. It was a little rebellious, like skateboarding back in the day. But it’s grown old. Dads are snowboarding now. Kids are skiing again, taking their twin tips to the park, slashing the spines with their rockered fat skis. Snowboarding just isn’t attracting the incoming hoards it once did. And maybe that’s okay. 

Perhaps snowboarding took off because it was easy to learn. The joke was always, “If it were easy, it would be called snowboarding.” Unlike snowboarding’s next of kin, surfing and skateboarding, riding on snow is pretty forgiving and there are no tips to cross, no difficult paddle outs to overcome. But I disagree with the easy theory. Snowboarding is a pain in the ass. All that strapping, unstrapping, crowhopping, crab walking takes away from the turning, carving, floating and even jibbing that’s supposed to make the sport fun. So maybe we should all just step back and watch snowboarding’s slow decline without attempting CPR. Maybe we should just let snowboarding go.

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