Far from Resorts, Riders Are Shaping the Future of Snowboarding— Often by Returning to Its Roots
Photo compliments of Snurfer
The latest chapter in snowboarding’s evolution continues to unfold far from lift lines and manicured kickers. According to recent data stemming from SIA’s Downhill Consumer Intelligence Project, more than half of all snowboarders will strap in at some point this winter without worrying about a season pass or lift ticket. Armed with creativity, these riders are forgoing resorts to capitalize on alternate terrain—be it city streets, remote peaks, or their own backyard. And while their efforts are fueling progression, they also help illuminate snowboarding’s current state.
Whether riders are splitboarding or lapping the local golf course, they cite similar reasons for venturing outside resorts. A common refrain is that “The resorts are too crowded, too expensive, and often too far away,” says Jay Moore, founder of World Boards in Bozeman, Montana. “The usership shifting away from resorts is definitely happening right before our eyes.”
This shift is infusing snowboarding with fresh energy. “From a cultural standpoint, this is ground level passion at its best,” explains Capita Founder and President Blue Montgomery. “The ‘I’m going snowboarding no matter what’ mindset is great for us all—especially when it’s contagious.”
Many riders and retailers cite the price of lift tickets and passes as the primary catalyst for this interest in alternate terrain. “The cost of riding a resort increases every year while the cost of equipment has gone down,” offers Scott Oreschnick, owner of Cal Surf in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Staying away from the resort eliminates that barrier to entry.”
Josh Carreola takes the stairs. Photo by Chad Otterstrom and compliments of Nightmare Snowboards.
Riding fresh terrain can also be an exercise in creativity. “Now, more than ever, snowboarders want to define their riding on their own terms—and without a price tag,” offers Joe Suta, owner of Nightmare Snowboards. “Snowboarding is taking even more cues from skateboarding, embracing simple moments with terrain and landscapes that a board has the ability to redefine.”
This sentiment is especially common among those riding urban terrain, such as rails, walls, ledges, and man-made transitions. With such features, riders are limited only by their imagination. As a result, “The DIY stuff is among some of the most interesting things happening out there,” offers Dinosaurs Will Die Cofounder Sean Genovese. “And for this, riders don’t need any special equipment.”
Josh Carreola proves you don’t need a bullwheel to make things happen. Photo by Jeff Brockmeyer and compliments of Nightmare Snowboards.
Riders are also applying this DIY mentality to their own backyards. For proof, look no further than the 33,500 YouTube videos that arise from a simple search for “backyard snowboarding.” Many of these videos showcase hand-built terrain parks, such as the one Fredrik Jonsson crafts in his backyard each winter. “I don’t have any parks nearby,” explains the thirty-year-old from Köping, Sweden. “[Building my own] came naturally when I started snowboarding. I just wanted to ride as much as possible.” Jonsson spends a few weeks each year riding resorts, but sessions his backyard nearly every day. “It’s perfect to have a snowboard park just outside the door and to be able to ride whenever I want,” Jonsson says. “I can be creative and ride things I wouldn’t be able to if I did not make them myself.”
Thanks to the park he built in his backyard, Fredrik Jonsson has thoroughly honed his skills.
According to Jonsson, backyard parks can also play a strong role in supporting a rider’s progression. These parks “are for everybody because you can build them to your own skill level,” he explains. “Sometimes I find the features in a resort’s park to be too big or too small, but when you [build your own park] you get things the way you want them.” Jonsson often films himself and although one of his YouTube videos has amassed over 22,000 views, he still appreciates the privacy of his backyard. After all, he explains, “It’s good that no one is watching when you try some weird stuff.”
The interest in riding outside resorts is also fueling a return to snowboarding’s roots. “Back in the day, snowboarders were told they couldn’t ride resorts and they fought to ride this forbidden terrain,” Oreschnick explains, “Now lift tickets are priced beyond what many can regularly afford, so snowboarding is moving back to where it started.” As part of this shift, riders are looking to unlock the potential of their immediate surroundings. “People are realizing that all this free, untracked terrain beyond resorts is just sitting there unclaimed,” explains Steve Geiger, founder of PHNX Boards.
With just a little snow, Brew Moscarello uses his Snurfer to full effect.
This has helped lead to a plethora of boards that find inspiration in the past. With an emphasis on simplicity and affordability, these decks often feature laminated plies of wood, traction pads in lieu of bindings, and a rope attached to the nose that aids riders in turning. Essentially, they look much like the Snurfer that Sherman Poppen first crafted in 1965. Consequently, they remind riders that “All you need is a board and some winter boots to have major fun,” explains Brew Moscarello, owner of Balance Designs. “It makes you feel like you’re ten years old again, expecting to hear your mom calling you inside for supper.”
There’s nothing like riding with friends. Photo compliments of Snurfer.
In addition to paying homage to the past, these backyard boards aim to make snowboarding more accessible. With Poppen’s blessing, Moscarello began pressing Snurfers in 2014, resurrecting the iconic brand. “We strongly believe there is an entirely new generation that has yet to have the chance to slide sideways on snow, mostly due to the cost and hassle of resort-based riding,” explains Snurfer Vice President of Sales and Marketing Dave Schmidt. “Give everyone a chance to try the sport in their backyard and just watch how many new riders come into snowboarding.” Geiger’s PHNX Boards give a nod to the original Snurfer as well, updating it with a patented binding and brake system that aims to enhance safety and control.
With a nod to the past, a handful of brands have debuted simplistic boards that are perfect for lapping the backyard. These decks include (from L to R) offerings from Signal, Grell, Snurfer, PHNX, Novak, East Coast Customs, and Burton. Photo compliments of PHNX Boards.
Signal and Burton also offer retro-inspired boards designed for the backyard. Modeled after the Backhill board that Jake Burton introduced in 1981, Burton’s Throwback aims to “allow more people to try the sensation of snowboarding without spending a lot of money on gear, lift tickets, rental equipment, and transportation,” explains Jeff Boliba, Burton’s Vice President of Global Resorts.
Not unlike their big brothers—noboards and powsurfers—these backyard boards appeal to riders by offering a new experience. “Riding a board without bindings puts a new challenge under your feet to say the least,” explains Moscarello. Consequently, such boards can transform how riders look at terrain. According to Moscarello, “The thrill is entirely different than being strapped-in and can make the smallest hills feel like a black diamond.”
Steve Beard enjoys the trees with his PHNX Board.
Brands and retailers assert the importance of understanding why riders are exploring terrain outside of resorts. “The end user is usually ahead of the curve and the industry is playing catch up,” offers Oreschnick. Consequently, he encourages shops and brands to “get behind riders hosting backyard events and off-hill gatherings . . . There is a great opportunity to engage with customers in their chosen environment—and often for little cost.”
Many acknowledge that snowboarding’s relationship with resorts is increasingly complicated. Oreschnick emphasizes that in the midst of a growing interest in riding alternate terrain, “We are also thankful for the support resorts have shown us and we make sure we recognize that support.” Others note that much can be learned from the interest in riding outside resorts. “When the industry left the backyard, it created an awesome new sport but left something special behind,” Geiger explains. He asserts that rekindling support for this type of riding—with its emphasis on affordability and inclusivity—stands to enhance participation. And this, in turn, will benefit resorts as well. “I love resort riding and off-resort riding,” Geiger offers. “They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
After all, a number of brands and retailers emphasize that snowboarding’s fate is ultimately tied to that of resorts. “It’s great for people to ride wherever there is snow,” offers Warren Currie, owner of The Easy Rider in Edmonton, Alberta. “But for the sport to survive and grow, resorts need to get their lift prices down.”
No lift ticket needed. Photo compliments of Nightmare Snowboards
Nonetheless, some experiences simply cannot be accessed with rope tows and chairlifts. “Whether somebody took the time to set up an urban spot, build a backyard kicker, or skin a chute, non-resort riding is generally a more fulfilling experience,” Oreschnick states. “And hopefully, it allows more people to become snowboarders.” According to Moscarello, such experiences also stand to alter one’s perspective. “Why should anyone be bound to the limits of a resort?” he asks. “You have a board and snow. Go play—anywhere.” Increasingly, riders are heeding this advice. After all, they don’t need a lift ticket to make their own memories.