"I think it's a wonderful sport," says Betsy Pratt, president of Mad River Glen ski area in Waitsfield, Vt. "I have great admiration for what they do."
But they don't do it at her mountain, the only one in northern New England that won't accept boarders. Her reasons are simple: "We are a natural mountain, and we simply don't have the ramps, the obstacles, the things snowboarders want." But other mountains keep them off because the boarders themselves are the obstacles that the skiers don't want.
"Some skiers tighten up when they see or hear a snow-boarder because those boards make more noise than skis," says Nick Badami, part owner of two ski areas, Park City, Utah, and Alpine Meadows, Calif., that are among the snowboarding holdouts. "For us [the board ban] is just a question of polling our customers, who have been overwhelmingly opposed."
Indeed, until recently not even Jimmy Carter could have made peace between skiers and boarders, but at many mountains a truce has taken hold. Skiers had better learn to live with the shredders, as they call snowboarders, because snowboarding has definitely come in from the cold.
There will be no complete glossary of snowboarding terms in this story. This is because 1) the language evolves about every 15 minutes; 2) even if you can talk the talk, that doesn't mean you can ride the ride; and 3) a solemn promise was made to Eric Kotch, North American promotions and team manager for Burton Snowboards, who says of such frequent attempts to explain the sport's flavorful lexicon, "It's weak, it's condescending, and it segregates people, which snowboarders don't want. Basically, it makes us cringe."
But there is a distinct, if increasingly diffuse snowboarding culture in the same way that there are cultures of surfing and skateboarding—snowboarding's antecedents and cousins. Itinerant boarders are the ski bums of the '90s, in search of a way of life as much as terrain on which to play, working merely to bankroll their passion.
In the snowboard culture, competition was in during the early 1990s, but it's out in 1995. Manufacturers like Jake Burton, Sims and Avalanche support stables of pro riders, many of whom race slaloms or compete in half-pipes. But some do nothing more for their subsidies than free ride for the benefit of the cameras. (There are at least 100 commercial snowboarding videos.) Imagine Nike paying Michael Jordan all that money just to look pretty dunking basketballs.
The fact that competition is not viewed favorably would seem to fly in the face of the campaign for Olympic inclusion. Mike Jacoby, one of the top American riders, who defected from the International Snowboard Federation (the original governing body of snowboarding, started 12 years ago and still run by snowboarders) to the new FIS circuit to qualify for Nagano, says the attitude is an instance of misplaced "coolness."
"There are guys who say we shouldn't go to the Olympics, that uniforms aren't cool," says Jacoby, a 25-year-old Californian. "Well, once every four years, I'd be proud to wear it."
Exactly who dreamed up snowboarding is unclear. There is no James Naismith or peachbasket, although if you look at the collection in Jake Burton's office in Burlington, Vt., the first generation of boards seems just as primitive.