We’re Never Going To Get Old! Snowboarding 1990

Snowboarding 1990? The sport was still if not in infancy barely at kindy stage downunder when I took a look at it for my weekly Canberra Times ski column back in August of that year. Having first had a shot as an already apparently too-old-for-this 32yo in Colorado earlier that year I had followed up with the local scene, getting to know legends like Geoff Sawyer along the way. With some of those early-adopter mates now well into their 60s, boarding surely has gone the “we’re never going to get old” route of rock music. And hey, 60s is not old. Ask Mick Jagger – 80s is not old. Ride on, rock on we say now.

But I was not Nostradamus then, so let’s wind things back to August 2, 1990 and see what you think..

Australia’s first great half pipe rider David Kelly at the 1990 Sim’s Australian Tiles, Buller © Owain Price

WILD hairdos, reversed baseball caps or bandanas, loud clothing, and a decidedly anti-establishment outlook are most people’s first impression of snowboarders. Just another generation of kids doing something different, with all the attendant cult emblems, jargon and affected attitudes.

Tomas Hsieh, the young Japanese-American founder of the World’s first snowboard magazine, International Snowboard Magazine, told me this was how it should be at the World Cup board contest in Breckenridge, Colorado.

“This is for young people, man. We’re not interested in oldies.”

Remembering all those “Want to die before I get old” rock musicians of my not-so-distant hippie-cult youth, who not only live but still churn out albums and cavort on stage, I ignored his advice and gave it a try a couple of days later at Arapahoe Basin.

Halfway through a two-hour lesson we hit the real slopes for a run down a long green trail, and the feeling you get when you first point the board down a fall-line is exhilarating, to say the least.

With weight well forward, the plank picks up speed quickly even on a novice slope. Just when the wind starts whistling in your ears and you think this is great, you realise how little you know about actually turning, and stopping, the beast.

Falls are frequent. You basically go over two ways: flat on your back, or down on your face. On the bright side, on steeper slopes there is no need actually to make a turn, as you can side-slip backwards and fowards in a zig-zag pattern on most boards.

Snow conditions make a huge difference to learning, with soft, slow snow being the best. Feeling vaguely competent after one day, I tried again on hard pack the next day with painful results. If conditions are icy, forget it.

From being a frowned-on minority sport snowboarding is reckoned to be the fastest-growing segment of the snow-sport market in the United States, where domestic alpine skier numbers have been static for several years. Breckenridge and other major resorts offer excellent facilities, including halfpipes, for riders, and instruction and hire facilities are readily available.

Similar anti-boarding attitudes prevailed here until recently, but with safety fears allayed and a market to develop, it is now allowed all over locally, and instruction and hire facilities are improving each season.

Dr Chris Bladin is president of the Snowboard Riders of Victoria. His research reveals that snowboarding is little more likely to produce injuries than skiing, if at all, and the incidence of serious injury, particularly to the knees, is less. One important factor to emerge was the much higher rate of injury to those using moon boots, or gym boots, rather than proper Sorel-style soft snowboarding boots.

Chris is the opposite of the classic “shredhead” image, being the mature side of 30, and a very serious guy, at least when he’s off his board.

Beginners should definitely start with a lesson, from the likes of Mt Blue Cow’s Adrian Gibbs. Like most of the small crop of board instructors, Adrian is still competing on the expanding board-racing circuit. It was a struggle climbing repeatedly up the short beginner’s slope, next to the first-time skiers, but worth it for the better sense of balance you pick up, essential for progressing to a competent, and safe, ability level.

Ash Muller was an early adopter who is still going strong © Ash Muller Archives

Our Ski Tip writer, Dave Burtenshaw (a Thredbo Ski School Supervisor) is working on a snowboard instructors’ manual with Geoff Sawyer, Australia’s first international board competitor (and founder of the original board shop downunder, the legendary Snowboard Hospital in Jindabyne).

Another problem facing budding board riders is the limited selection of hire boards at most traditional ski hires. To avoid the cost of stocking a range of soft boots, most hire boards are plate-binding models which let you use normal alpine ski boots.

Chris Bladin’s research indicates soft boots result in fewer injuries at the entry level, and having “begun” in both recently, I found the soft boots easier. All-round boards such as the Kemper Freestyle range are good learning boards, and Wellsmore’s Ski Hire in the middle of the Jindabyne shopping centre has an excellent range of boards and hire boots, one of the best in the mountains, making it a good first stop on your way to becoming a radical shredder.

A day’s hire costs $30. (Wow, that was expensive! 33 year’s later you can hire for $50 a day from Ski Co Cooma for example)

Down at Mt Buller last weekend those who have already made the grade were gathered for the first round of the 1990 Sim’s Australian Titles. As with Freestyle, Buller has been the leader in welcoming the new sport, being the first Australian resort to put in a halfpipe.

Events included dual-slalom, “free expression” and on Sunday the half-pipe, which featured some spectacular manoeuvres off the walls led by Dave Kelly’s twisting somersaults.

Dave competed with good results on the international circuit last northern winter, but he told me sponsorship is hard to come by. Certainly snowboard events make good spectating, at least when the best competitors are on show, and their future looks fairly rosy.

So forget your age, and give it a try: I noticed in the latest International Snowboarding an article on a 53-year-old rider. Given the high entry cost, chances are older people will be better able to afford it, too.

PS #1: not long after this column appeared I started editing ski mags as well as doing and needed to rapidly up my crappy ski skills to keep up with talent, so I never did get back into boarding much. Fat skis came along and meant powder was as easy on skis as a board too. But you never know, maybe next year in Japan I’ll have another lash with some of the grandkids..

PS #2: stay tuned for our feature on one of those never-going-to-get-old originals who is still rocking after 69 seasons teaching boarding to the World, Ash Mueller. He just cleaned up again at the Hotham Boardrider’s annual banked slalom.

At Hotham boarding kicked off thanks to the pow and the legend instructors like Ash Muller © Ash Muller Archives