Snowboarding is a winter sport in which a person glides, turns, and jumps on snow using a board that is reminiscent of a surfboard. Unlike a surfer, the snowboarder remains attached to the board by wearing special boots that are secured to the board via bindings.
Snowboarding has its roots in the 1960s, when a popular winter toy called the "Snurfer" was invented. Essentially a very wide, short ski with an attached rope handle, the Snurfer enabled the rider to balance and ride downhill. One of the early users of the Snurfer was Jake Burton. His refinements of the Snurfer produced today's version of the snowboard. Burton snowboards remain one of the sport's most popular brands.
In the early 1980s, snowboarding had appeared, but was still a fringe pastime. By the middle of the decade, the sport exploded in popularity.
There are a variety of snowboard styles. The typical recreational snowboarder moves down the hill in a series of S-shaped curves, alternately shifting his or her body weight forward and backward to carve through the snow using the edges of the board. This type of snowboarding is known as alpine snow-boarding.
Many snowboarders will also incorporate jumps into their run. Most snowboarding facilities have a terrain park, an installation that houses snow mounds that are used as jumps and various types of rails that the snowboarders can ride up on and attempt to maintain their balance as they traverse. A terrain park is similar to a skateboard facility, where the rails and jumps allow for various jumps, spins, and other maneuvers. The latter include a 360° spin performed while sliding along the snow, a spin done while airborne, and grabbing the raised tail of the snowboard while airborne. This more adventurous snowboarding is called freestyle.
Still other snowboarders called freeriders will forgo the prepared terrain of a resort for the natural challenge of snowboarding down unprepared slopes. Snowboarding through glades of trees and through deep powder snow adds to the challenge of freeriding, which is usually the domain of accomplished snowboarders.
Competitive snowboarding events now include high-speed runs down the mountain, similar to downhill or giant slalom races in skiing, as well as events where the aim is to successfully accomplish as many jumps, spins, and flips as possible while negotiating a "half-pipe"—a bowl-shaped run with steep-walled sides. Snowboarders can also race down a prepared course as a group with the object of not only completing the course in the quickest time, but also avoiding collisions with fellow competitors. All these forms of snowboarding are now Olympic medal sports.
As with skis, the design of snowboard equipment reflects their intended use. A freestyle snowboard tends to be shorter, wider, and more flexible along its length than other boards, to make maneuvers easier to do. The board is symmetrical, with both ends being the same. Either end can be the leading end.
An alpine snowboard is meant to proceed in a certain orientation, similar to a ski. The board is not symmetrical in design; the tail is narrower than the tip. Still, the board can be ridden with the tail pointed downhill (a position referred to in the jargon of the sport as "Fakie").
Those snowboarders who crave a high-speed run will tend to use a narrower snowboard. These so-called race boards look much like a very wide ski. Their narrower design allows the rider to quickly shift weight from one edge to the other, which is essential to maintain control when moving quickly down the hill.
The placement of the feet can differ also. Freestyle snowboarders often opt to position both feet parallel to each other and perpendicular to the long axis of the board, to permit either end of the board to initiate a turn. In contrast, alpine snowboarders will tend to use one foot preferentially as the leading foot, angling that foot with the toes pointed slightly toward the front of the snowboard to provide more stability and control. Alpine snowboarders typically wear boots that are stiffer than other snowboard boots, also to provide increased stability.
Snowboard boots are fixed to the board by means of bindings. There are two binding designs. Both have a back plate that extends upward to provide support to the back of the foot and lower leg. In one design called the strap binding, the boots are physically strapped in after being positioned in the binding. This binding provides a very stable support. Strap bindings differ in rigidity and height of the back plate, depending on their use. For example, the increased control provided by a higher back plate is desirable for higher speed turns.
The second binding design automatically secures the boot in place as the snowboarder steps down. While eliminating the need to manually strap in the boots, the step-in binding does not provide as much stability and control of the snowboard.
Another recommended piece of snowboard equipment is a helmet. Indeed, many resorts no longer permit snowboarders access to the hill unless they wear a helmet. Optional equipment includes padding on the knees, wrists, hips, and gluteus.
SEE ALSO Snowboarding injuries.