Panel discusses Aspen’s place in snowboarding history
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – For a resort town whose flagship mountain was one of the last to allow snowboarders, Aspen figures with surprising prominence in snowboarding history.
So it was somewhat appropriate that a local panel that the Aspen Historical Society identified as the “Members of the Board: Pioneers of Shred” hit Aspen Mountain for a powder day Tuesday before gathering at the Wheeler Opera House to speak during the “Time Travel Tuesdays” program.
“I think that collectively there was 240 years of snowboard experience out there riding,” said panelist Chris Klug of Aspen, who won Olympic bronze in parallel giant slalom in 2002.
Klug joined fellow locals Larry Madden, founder of Alternative Edge and owner of Pride Snowboard n Ski Repair; Travis McLain, the Winter X Games gold medalist and Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club coach who owns Radio Boardshop; and Susan Saghatoleslami, a 17-year competitor who works as a snowboard pro for the Aspen Skiing Co., on the panel, along with Kevin Delaney, Jeff Grell, Chris Karol and Chris Tribble, whose histories intertwine with that of snowboarding in Aspen.
Aspen Mountain famously, finally opened to snowboarders on April 1, 2001, one of the final holdouts, along with Taos, N.M. (Alta and Deer Valley, Utah, and Mad River Glen, Vt., still do not allow snowboarders.) While snowboarding was still a new phenomenon in the 1980s and ’90s, gaining a foothold in Aspen necessitated looking beyond Ajax.
Snowboarders established a beachhead at Aspen Highlands, which wasn’t a part of the Aspen Skiing Co. until 1993. Back then, riding Highland Bowl necessitated getting up at 3 a.m. to hike to the top.
“We were willing to do whatever it took to ride the local mountains,” Klug said.
For the 1984-85 season, Grell and Karol proposed starting a snowboard instruction program, which Highlands denied for insurance reasons. But their presence here provided an opportunity to begin changing the culture from the inside, beginning with reclassifying snowboards as directional devices, like skis, rather than snowplay devices, like sleds.
“Other people were doing things, but I really think it made a difference when Aspen called,” Karol said.
In fact, it was at Highlands and the Aspen Thrift Store that Grell developed the highback (then HyBak) now ubiquitous on snowboard bindings.
McLain agreed: “Highlands was the epicenter of snowboarding in the world, in Colorado.”
But the history of snowboarding wasn’t all powder days and what Delaney characterized as drawing smiles in the snow: A video to open the presentation, “The History of Snowboarding in 2 Minutes Flat” highlighted the nadir, Time magazine’s anointing snowboarding as the “Worst New Sport” of 1988.
“We became a community really fast,” Delaney said. “Many resorts were considering banning snowboarding because it was getting unruly.”
Delaney and his brother later would move their adult snowboard camps from Copper Mountain and Beaver Creek to Aspen, further cementing the presence of snowboarding in the valley – and among a higher-end clientele.
“The reason I moved to Aspen is because this is the crown jewel in the winter sports crown,” Delaney said. “We had a very elite clientele. The question was, ‘Can I land a (Gulfstream) G4 in Aspen?'”
“Time Travel Tuesdays” continue through Feb. 28, before the “Define the Mountain” program begins in March. The next presentation is “AVSC – 75 Years of Greatness” on Jan. 31.
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