At least 80 years before snowboarding became an Olympic sport, people were riding down snowy hills on single boards – similar to surfers – in a practice predating what we now call “snowboarding.” Vern Wicklund is credited with inventing the first single board for snowboarding in 1917 when he modified a sled to ride down his parents’ backyard in Cloquet, Minnesota. Wicklund eventually patented his idea, though only a few models were ever produced. Snowboarding gained significant traction in 1965 when Michigan’s Sherman Poppen invented the Snurfer, a board made up of two skis and a string at the front for steering. He went on to sell nearly one million of them by 1970.
Tom Sims and Jake Burton Carpenter are credited with pioneering modern snowboarding. Sims, a professional skateboarder from New Jersey, founded SIMS Snowboarding in 1976. Carpenter, a racing enthusiast from Long Island, created Burton Boards one year later. As the two men contributed significant innovations, their rivalry helped popularize the sport and made snowboarding go mainstream. When snowboarding first came onto the scene, it was not allowed on many ski hills. However, Burton revolutionized the industry with their early designs for boards with bindings, eventually becoming the most successful snowboarding company at the time. The features of the Burton boards quickly became the standard in snowboarding.
In 1979, Jake Burton Carpenter revolutionized the snowboarding world by entering the National Snurfing Championship in Muskegon, Michigan, with a snowboard of his own design. This sparked protests, and a “modified” “Open” division was created, which he won as the sole entrant. This was considered the first competition for snowboards and marked the beginning of snowboarding as a competitive sport.
In the decades that followed, pioneers such as Dimitrije Milovich, Jake Burton Carpenter, Tom Sims, David Kemper, and Mike Olson developed new designs for snowboards and related equipment. This eventually led to the creation of modern snowboarding equipment, which consists of a snowboard, specialized bindings, and boots.
In April 1981, the “King of the Mountain” Snowboard competition was held at Ski Cooper in Colorado with a variety of snowboarders in attendance, including Tom Sims. The following year in 1982, the first USA National Snowboard race was held at Suicide Six near Woodstock, Vermont, and was won by Burton’s Doug Bouton. Then, in 1983, the first World Championship halfpipe competition was organized by Tom Sims and Mike Chantry at Soda Springs, California. Finally, in 1985, the first World Cup was held in Zürs, Austria, which marked a major milestone in the recognition of snowboarding as an official international competitive sport.
By the 1990s, snowboarding had become widely accepted in ski resorts across North America. Additionally, many created terrain parks specifically for snowboarders. The International Snowboard Federation (ISF) was established in 1990 with the goal of creating a unified set of rules and regulations for snowboarding competitions. The United States of America Snowboard Association (USASA) is responsible for providing teaching guidelines and organizing snowboarding competitions in the United States.
At the 1998 Winter Olympics, snowboarding was introduced as an official Olympic event. Karine Ruby of France won the first-ever gold medal for Women’s Snowboarding, while Canadian Ross Rebagliati became the first-ever gold medalist for Men’s Snowboarding. The Pipe Dragon, a machine for cutting halfpipes through snow, paved the way for new aerial stunts, and the halfpipe proved to be a major draw for snowboarding in the Olympics.
The sport of snowboarding has grown tremendously in recent years, gaining recognition and popularity worldwide. In May 2012, the International Paralympic Committee announced that adaptive snowboarding would be offered as a medal event at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. Appearing in high-profile events such as the Winter X Games, Air & Style, US Open, Olympic Games, and others, snowboarding is now accessible at 97% of all ski areas in North America and Europe. Since its introduction at the 1998 Winter Olympics, snowboarding has become a central event, captivating viewers with its display of skill, speed, and stunts. During the 2022 Winter Olympics, a total of 11 snowboarding events were held, with 233 athletes from 31 nations competing. Snowboarding has grown to encompass numerous styles, all of which require different types of equipment and techniques.