Now it is true that snowboarders don't look like they should audition for the role of Father Flanagan in a remake of Boys Town. "When he was four, my son, Cole, didn't want to try snowboarding," confesses Mitzi Sayler Hodges, Sayler's daughter, who runs the Donner ski shop. "He thought his hair would turn orange, like everyone else's." Some snowboarding culturists prefer to trumpet their individuality by sporting nose rings; asked why he got one, Jeff Brushie, a top professional rider based in San Diego, said, "Because everyone else was having their tongues pierced."
Body piercing is optional, and that is the point about this sport. Snowboarders can carve turns, do tricks, catch air, even ride down handrails or picnic tables without making a statement other than, say, "This is amazing."
And what exactly is snowboarding?
Take one board about five feet long, weighing maybe six pounds, with two bindings for boots. Now throw away the poles. And go. The sport combines elements of surfing, skateboarding and Alpine skiing.
"If you look at other sports, skiing had its origins as a form of transportation, auto racing was transportation, basketball was competition," said Jim Zellers, a snowboarder from California. "But the only reason to snowboard is to have fun."
Tom Sims, founder of Sims Snowboards, a leading manufacturer of boards based in Vancouver, and, at 44, one of the sport's grandfathers, says that neither riders nor the industry want to accept the concept of snowboarding as mainstream, but they may have to. The revolution is over; snowboarding won. It ended bloodlessly when, earlier this month, Regis Phil-bin did a snowboarding bit on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee. A stunt double boarded while Regis made faces for close-ups.
Until that moment snowboarders might have been able to dismiss the fact that only a dozen or so of the more than 500 American ski areas won't accept them. Or that more than 200 companies produce goods for the snowboarding industry. Or that the International Olympic Committee, through the International Ski Federation, the body that governs world skiing, is pushing Nagano, Japan, organizers to include snowboarding as a medal sport in the 1998 Winter Olympics. (Those rad IOC dudes.) Or that you can't turn on MTV without a snowboarder buzzing your head. Or that snowboard fashion recommendations have appeared in Seventeen and Elle. But once snowboarding was Reeeged, dumped into the lap of blue-rinse, sensible-shoes America and everyone got the joke, the sport could no longer cop an attitude.
"Now that it's allowed everywhere, I think it's more fun than ever," Sims says. "But it's true some people are bummed because they think it makes snowboarding uncool. It comes down to why you snowboard in the first place. Do you want a cool, underground sport or something that's fun?"
Snowboarding is already a booming above-ground sport, and the numbers are pointed straight uphill. There are almost two million snowboarders in the U.S., up 50 percent from 1993; the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) estimates that there will be close to four million boarders by 2000. The women's market is growing exponentially, more children are boarding, and there has been so much crossover from skiing that since 1988 Vail, to take just one chic destination, has increased its number of snowboard instructors from three to 72. As skiing stagnates—the NSGA says that the number of American adult skiers dropped from 10.8 million to 10.5 million between 1992 and 1993—snowboarding seems fresh.
"The feeling of boarding in deep, untracked powder is incomparable," says The Snowboard Doctor, a Santa Fe snowboard instructor who often goes by his given name, Michael Kott. "Your hands are free. It's as close to flying as anything."