Even though snowboarding events are now some of the most popular at the Winter Olympic games, their inclusion in the Games is very recent. This is mostly because snowboarding, in general, is a very recent invention.
In fact, snowboarding as we know it today didn’t exist until the 1970s and 80s, when enthusiasts officially started calling it “snowboarding” rather than “snurfing” (a combination of snow and surfing), which it had been called since its inception in the 1960s. And actually, courses and events just for snowboarders didn’t come around until the mid-1980s.
Initially, snowboarders, when they were allowed in ski resorts, tended to stick to Alpine Snowboarding, which meant they used the infrastructure already in place at the resorts. Eventually, snowboard enthusiasts wanted to branch out to find other ways to use this unique snow toy, and begin building their own courses. By the 1980s, official snowboarding competitions for racing and tricks were held. By the 1990s, these competitions had become extremely popular with younger viewers because of the advent of the X-games.
Because snowboarding and X-Games had become so popular, the Olympic committee began seriously considering adding snowboarding to the Olympics in hopes of capturing the younger audience. In 1998, snowboarding was added to the Winter Olympics with four events: Men’s and Women’s Giant Slalom, and the Men’s and Women’s Half-Pipe. These events were the most well-known: Giant Slalom was very similar to the skiing event of the same name, and halfpipe was the most popular way to show off snowboard tricks.
More events would be added in the next two Olympics, with the Giant Slalom growing to allow racers to go against each other head-to-head in 2002, and Snowboard Cross, a downhill race with obstacles, being added in 2006. As snowboarding has seemed to only increase in popularity, two more events for both men and women have also been added to the Olympics permanently, Slopestyle and Big Air.
Who has benefitted the most from these Olympic additions? The answer is probably the United States, who have won 31 medals from snowboarding events alone since they were added, as opposed to 13 for Switzerland, the next highest country. As snowboarding continues to increase in popularity, however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more countries in the mix for medals in the future.