Snowboarders blaze 20-year trail at Vail |

Snowboarders blaze 20-year trail at Vail

Chris Outcalt
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyJustine Ferrington, 13, from Vail, Colo., rides the chairlift Friday at Golden Peak during Vail's 20th year of allowing snowboarding.

VAIL, Colo. ” Ohio resident Scott Levin considers Vail his home mountain.

He has a condo in Edwards and spends at least one week every month on the hill snowboarding. There’s no doubt in his mind Vail is still more popular with skiers.

“The popularity depends [upon] where you go,” Levin said. “At Vail, there’s no doubt there are more skiers, but at Breckenridge or Crested Butte it feels closer to 50-50.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s not a great mountain for snowboarders.

“Once you’ve got it down, Vail is a great place to ride,” Levin said.

The 1988-89 season was the first full season Vail Mountain opened its slopes to snowboarders ” Vail allowed snowboarders on the mountain for part of the previous season to test it out for the following year.

Now the mountain has three terrain parks composed of halfpipes, rails, jumps and boxes for freestyle riders. Snowboarders account for about 25 percent of the mountain’s ticket sales, said snowboard instructor Ray Sforzo.

“It seems to be working out pretty well,” said Sforzo, who founded Vail’s snowboard school and directed it for 15 years. “There’s less and less negative interface. Instead of the idiot snowboarder cut me off, now it’s just the idiot cut me off.”

Sforzo ” who no longer directs the school, but still teaches private lessons ” was one of five snowboard instructors on the mountain during the first full season riding was allowed. Now he’s one of about 250.

“Obviously it’s more mainstream,” Sforzo said. “It’s a pretty substantial part of our ski school revenue. A lot of kids are lured to snowboarding.”

Levin, 50, switched to snowboarding five years ago after skiing for 13 years. He thought it would be too much fun to pass up.

“It just looked like it would be a lot more fun in powder,” he said.

Snowboarding started to gain popularity in the ’70s, and the smaller resorts in Colorado were the first to allow riders on their slopes, said Justin Henderson, curator of the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum in Vail.

“The smaller areas allowed it first because they needed the revenue,” Henderson said. “Once it started to gain momentum, the bigger mountains jumped on board.”

The Berthoud Pass ski area ” which no longer exists ” and Eldora mountain were two of the first to allow snowboarding, he said.

The Aspen Skiing Co. was the last Colorado mountain to restrict snowboarding. The company dropped its decades-long ban of snowboarding on Aspen Mountain in 2001. New Mexico ski resort Taos Ski Valley opened to snowboarders in 2007.

Mad River Glen in Vermont, and the Deer Valley Resort and Alta Ski Area, both in Utah, still ban snowboarding.

Nick Schultz skied for three years before switching to snowboarding.

“It’s awesome, man,” said the New Jersey resident. “I’m so glad we’re able to come out here.

“My buddies were doing it, and I just liked it more.”

Vail has allowed snowboarding longer than 16-year-old Kentucky resident Tyler Brown has been alive.

“Skiing got boring so I decided to go snowboarding,” said Brown. “It’s going to be [more popular than skiing]; it’s getting a lot bigger.”

Skiing wouldn’t be the same today if snowboarding hadn’t caught on as a sport, Vail skier Michael Frieberg said.

“It’s had a huge influence on skiing,” said Frieberg, who spends most of his time skiing but snowboards a handful of days a year. “Skiing would not have gone in the direction that it went in if it weren’t for snowboarding ” I think it’s had a huge impact on mountain development and the culture.”

Both ski clothes and the technology have been influenced by snowboarding, Sforzo said.

“The most obvious is the dress ” snowboarding was responsible for banning spandex,” Sforzo said. “But once the skiers saw us making these pure carves, for a lot that was the lure into the sport.”

And it was after snowboarding got more popular that designers started to experiment with ski shape and flex, Sforzo said.

“The care and the float ” I think that was the inspiration in creating skis that would be able to be as diverse in terrain such as powder and crud,” he said.

Snowboarding helped solidify a sense of community in snow sports, Henderson said.

“It’s a family activity,” he said. “You might not go to an area if your kids can’t snowboard.”

Denver resident Justin Flannery is the only one in his family who snowboards. He skied for six years before switching. He’s boarded for the past five years.

“I just wanted to try something new, and I loved it,” he said. “It’s definitely catching up in popularity, and a lot more kids are snowboarding; it’s really great.”

Although it’s far less testy than was in 1988, Flannery still notices some of the stress between skiers and snowboarders.

“I think middle-aged people are a lot more cautious around snowboarders,” he said. “But as time goes on people are a lot more accepting.”

Sforzo still worries some resorts are one bad accident away from banning snowboarding again.

“I think there are just a few factions that feel that tension,” he said. “But I think worldwide it’s proven itself as a worthy sport.”

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