February 6, 2006
Snowboarding a boom sport
GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

Snowboarding represents one of the very few Winter Olympics sports that did not originate in Northern Europe.

On top of that, it represents one of the few winter events that hasn't been around for hundreds of years.

No, the credit for snowboarding's birth belongs to American Sherman Poppen.

In 1965, Poppen got the idea to put two skis together so his young daughter could "surf" down the hills outside of their Michigan home.

He put the words 'snow' and 'surf' together to create the 'snurfer' moniker for his invention.

In 1970, surfer Dimitrije Milovich began developing snowboards based on surfboard design with a rudimentary idea of how skis work.

His inspiration came from sliding on cafeteria trays in upstate New York.

The boards had metal edges, which allowed him to 'carve' into the snow.

The sport really took off in the mid-1980s when newer and better-designed boards came into existence and the brash, rebellious male teenage and college snow lovers brought baggy pants and loud music into the mix of the staid ski resorts, many of which promptly banned the activity from their slopes.

By 2000, snowboarding was the fastest growing sport in the U.S.

The halfpipe is the term used to describe the gully or U-shaped funnel cut into the snow so boarders can move back and forth from the tops of the two sides.

Originally, halfpipes were found naturally, then were dug out with shovels.

The greatest improvement came with the invention of the pipe dragon, a machine that cuts a nearly perfect, uniform halfpipe without the need for shovels.

The invention also led to the creation of the superpipe, a much larger and longer version of the halfpipe.

The superpipe is used in Olympic competition.

The sport was added to the Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, with separate men's and women's competitions in halfpipe and giant slalom.

In 2002 at Salt Lake City, the giant slalom event was changed into a parallel giant slalom competition.

In Turin, a third event, the snowboard cross (also known as boardercross and snowboarder X) has been added from the Extreme Sports competitions.

THE COMPETITION

The halfpipe competition resembles skateboarding with some key differences. While skateboarders use the same area of the pipe to perform their tricks during a timed run, halfpipe snowboarders have a starting point and progress down the funnel to do their manoeuvres on alternating walls until reaching the finish line about 100 metres away.

Runs are accompanied by music but the competitors do not choreograph their routines to go with it. The sound is used to create an energetic environment for both the athletes and the spectators.

The competitors are judged by a panel of five judges each with a specific area to judge. One judge measures the "standard airs" (non-rotational tricks), one looks at the rotations, another looks at the amplitude (height) and two look at the overall impression.

Twelve athletes advance from the qualifying runs to a two-run final. The runs are not totalled in the final as the athlete with the best score on either of the runs wins the gold medal.

The parallel giant slalom pits two athletes in a winner advances showdown. The two racers in each heat carve around gates on adjacent courses. They then switch courses and race again, with the competitior who has the best combined time advancing to the next round.

The snowboard cross event combines the racing of parallel giant slalom with the aerial tricks inherent in halfpipe.

The field runs in a pack creating a picture of speed and chaos akin to short track speed skating.

EQUIPMENT

The two main types of snowboarding are freestyle (used in the halfpipe) and alpine (used in the giant slalom). Each has its own equipment and differs significantly from the other.

Halfpipe boards are short to allow for tricks, wider to increase balance, and more flexible to allow the boarder to ride forwards and backwards. The boots are soft and made of leather/ rubber with foot and ankle support that allows a broad range of motion and the flexibility to do tricks.

Parallel giant slalom boards are stiff and narrow, which is ideal for manoeuvring through turns at high speeds. They are generally longer than a normal snowboard and feature a square back and low nose. Hard boots are worn for stability going down the course.

Snowboard cross boards are somewhat of a mix between the others, reflecting the crossover nature of the event. They are long for carving, stiff for stability and look more like freestyle boards than alpine (giant slalom) ones. As you might suspect, the boots are a cross between the other two styles: Stiffer than halfpipe boots but softer than giant slalom boots.

GOLD MEDALISTS

1998

Men's halfpipe -- Gian Simmen, Swiss

Men's giant slalom -- Ross Rebagliati, Canada

Women's halfpipe -- Nicola Thost, Germany

Women's giant slalom -- Karine Ruby, France

2002

Men halfpipe -- Ross Powers, U.S.

Men's parallel giant slalom -- Philipp Schoch, Switzerland

Women's halfpipe -- Kelly Clark, U.S.

Women's parallel giant slalom -- Isabelle Blanc, France