Friday, November 23, 2012

Snowboarding in Sun Valley: A Dodo or a Phoenix?

New terrain park and superpipe spark snowboard hype


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

Snowboarders in Sun Valley this winter will be able to take advantage of a new Olympics-sized halfpipe planned for construction on Dollar Mountain. Photo by Mountain Express

Snowboarding has never been as popular as skiing in Sun Valley and in recent years, the sport has seen a dip in popularity both locally and nationally. However, new, snowboard-friendly facilities on Dollar Mountain this year have amped up excitement for sideways single-planking this season.

Sun Valley Co. General Manager Tim Silva said snowboarders represent only 10 percent of shredders on Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain.

“That’s less than the national and Rocky Mountain average,” he said. “It’s primarily a skiing mountain.”

According to figures from the National Ski Areas Association, the popularity of snowboarding in the U.S. peaked in 2004, with 6.3 million people participating in the sport that year. In 2004, only 10.5 percent of snowboarders claimed they were also skiers. Comparatively, in 2010, 6.1 million riders surfed the snow and a whopping 29.6 percent of them said they dabbled in double-planking.

A closer look at the history of snowboarding reveals a cruel irony concerning the sport’s prevalence: The original advantages of snowboarding over “old-school” skiing—particularly the abilities to ride on top of powder instead of sinking into it and to cruise with either end of the device pointed down the hill—have become arguably moot due to the incorporation of snowboard-inspired technology in today’s skis. Skis today look a lot more like snowboards—fatter and with twin tips—than they did in 1994, when snowboarding first became an Olympic sport.

“When snowboards first came out, it was a joke to go down powder runs with people on old-style skis,” said Jim Slanetz, owner of the Board Bin specialty board shop in Ketchum. “Then skiing became viable in powder and skiing came back.”

Brad Wood, shop supervisor of Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports in Sun Valley, agrees.

“Our snowboard rentals have gone down in the last couple years,” he said. “Newer technology in skiing such as wider skis and rocker tips have made it more fun to ski. Before, snowboarding had a big advantage.”

Wood said he snowboards and skis at “just about the same level.”

“I think skiing is cool again,” he said. “But for a while, snowboarding really took off.”

Rob Santa, owner of Sturtevant’s Mountain Outfitters in Ketchum, said he stopped selling snowboards a few years ago due to dwindling demand, but that he still rents them. He said skiing is more popular than snowboarding in Sun Valley because kids learn how to do it from their parents.

“Parents here want their kids to learn how to ski first, then at some point, maybe when they’re about 10 or so, some of them will pick up snowboarding,” he said.

Santa said urban kids and kids from the coasts are more likely than those from Sun Valley to snowboard first because they’re used to skateboarding and surfing.

“But snowboarding in the valley is not going to go away,” he said.

Andy Gilbert, Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation snowboard program director, said he moved to Sun Valley specifically to snowboard, and that there is a vibrant snowboard scene in the valley that has even drawn many skiers into its fold.

“Once you try snowboarding, it’s the greatest thing in the world and why would you want to go back to skiing?” he said. “There’s a group of people here who are die-hard snowboarders.”

That group of “knuckle-dragging” aficionados is known as the Ketchum Snowboard Army, or KSA.

“The KSA was initially kind of a joke,” Gilbert said. “In the early ‘90s, there were some people who were not so snowboard-friendly in the valley. KSA was a response. We made stickers, jackets, T-shirts. Some of the old ski guard took it pretty seriously. They didn’t like it much.”

Gilbert said the group has a number of honorary members who are skiers.

“Especially when snowboarding first became popular, we were more free-spirited than the older guard of skiers,” he said. Some skiers gravitated to us because of that.”

As far as the snowboard team is concerned, Gilbert said he didn’t want to “talk numbers,” but that interest in snowboarding “been in a downward trend” for at least the past six or seven years. However, he said a new terrain park and Olympic-sized halfpipe on Dollar Mountain this year is generating a renewed interest in snowboarding and more kids are signing up for the team.

“We are in a little bit of an upswing right now,” Gilbert said. “We’ve got some new kids this year. There’s an increased level of excitement particularly in the 10-11 age group. The park at Dollar is giving us some momentum.”

Gilbert said he thinks the valley is seeing a real come back in snowboarding that will continue over the next few years.

“The scene is really fun right now,” he said. “It’s been fun to watch it come back around. It’s an exciting time for snowboarders in Sun Valley.”

Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com

 




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