All willing to hop on board
Older riders prove snowboarding isn't just for young crowd
There once was an admonition to the young and rebellious: "Don't trust anyone over 30."
Well, don't look now, but snowboarding - once a sport for the young and rebellious - is getting on in years, and so are many of its aficionados.
Depending on where you date the origins of snowboarding, it's been a good 40 years since youthful winter daredevils stood on surfboards without bindings and hurtled themselves down the slopes.
And it's a good 30 years since Jake Burton Carpenter was perfecting his device - a lighter, more maneuverable snowboard with boots and bindings - that revolutionized the sport.
Snowboarding does not yet have its own version of 70-plus club or Silver Streaks - senior ski clubs. But there are plenty of fiftysomethings among the ranks, and there are murmurings of a "Grays on trays" club movement starting up.
Some of the older boarders, like Burton at age 55, simply grew up with boarding while others came into the sport later in life, often as a way to break the routine of years of skiing.
"We have a program called the Family Private," says Lisa Dutto, a 53-year-old snowboard instructor at Waterville Valley in New Hampshire. "This is when families - moms and dads and uncles - come with the kids and want to see what the whole thing is about. So they all take the boarding lesson together and it winds up being just a hoot. It's really neat to watch and fun to teach."
One of the first wave of snowboarding instructors 20 years ago, Dutto dispels the idea that older people are intimidated by a discipline that at its inception seemed little more than a radical fad.
"No, I think a beginner is a beginner, whether it's skiing or snowboarding," she says. "When you're a new person learning a new sport, you're still a beginner learning new mechanics."
But then there's that cultural thing. In the early days of boarding, practitioners reveled in making an alternative lifestyle statement on the slopes - they were the anti-skiers. Instead of being attired in trim, stylish clothes, boarders were studiously rumpled and baggy looking, borrowing much of their look from punk rock.
"That was a stylistic thing of those times," says Steve Farrar, 57, who was boarding at Okemo last weekend. "It was real. Kids then felt cutting edge with a whole new in-your-face thing. And [the rebelliousness] wasn't helped any by how thoroughly the skiing establishment rejected boarding, like it wasn't legitimate."
And skis themselves, once long, straight-sided boards, now have parabolic shapes with wide tails and shovels more reminiscent in appearance and function to modern snowboards.
"And remember, when skiing numbers went flat in the '80s, boarding infused new life into the resorts and lifted the whole ski industry," says Farrar.
But boarders have not budged toward the peppier, establishment styles of Alpine skiing. When European skiercross racers, preparing for the debut of their sport in next year's Olympic Games, wore Lycra Alpine-style speed suits to trial races, several boardercross athletes sneered at the suggestion they might do the same.
"That would be sketchy as could be," says 2006 Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott from Sugarloaf, Maine, adding that the skimpy suits would not stand up to the physical contact of the sport.
Another lifelong boarder, Lindsey Jacobellis, calls ski suits at a snowboardcross race "weird" and boarder Nate Holland points out that when a boarder wears standard ski pants to a halfpipe he gets heckled. "If they wore a speed suit some people would get really angry."
But if some stylistic differences remain, many of the older boarders have been skiers and simply regard two kinds of equipment. Somewhat typical is Jack Manheimer, a 52-year-old lawyer from Portland who began skiing as an undergraduate at Dartmouth.
"I began skiing late but got good enough so I could get down almost anything looking ugly," says Manheimer. "When my kids were young, we skied regularly in the late '80s. I used to ski with my daughter when she was 2 and 3. When I had her on the beginner slopes, I figured that was a good place to give the board a try.
"My 9-year-old son was getting into snowboarding and so I just switched completely to boarding. He's in college now and a manic snowboarder who rides a hundred days a year. Boarding is all I ever do now."
Manheimer has seen huge changes as boarding ages.
"It's so much more mainstream," says Manheimer, who got so serious about the sport he founded the US Amateur Snowboard Association. "Snowboarding doesn't get dissed the way it used to be. But I find it a more natural motion than skiing."
Several converts talk about a more natural feel to boarding. Shauna Farnell of Vail, Colo., skied until about 20 years ago, and now is found splitting her time in the Rocky Mountain back country between her board and telemark skis.
"There is something smoother and more seamless about snowboarding, not to mention that you can float on powder much more easily," says Farnell. "Snowboarders still have a reputation of being disrespectful. Then again, you can get idiots riding anything.
"In ski towns, I don't know why more people with such easy access to the hill don't go for more variety. I like it all."
"I was able to be a little bit successful right away, and that was really fun right off the bat," says Mammarelli. "You do have to hold your body differently and move differently. If your muscle memory is already working one way it can be a little challenging to change those patterns for a whole new way to move."
While the aging process may have brought acceptance of snowboarding at ski areas, there are some notable holdouts. At Mad River Glen in Vermont, a shareholder-owned ski area, boards are banned because the area does not groom and alleges that the way a board moves slides the snow off the trail to the side.
Two Utah areas, Alta and Deer Valley, still do not allow boards, despite the fact that more than one-third of ticket purchasers nationwide are boarders.
"Early on when boards were bigger and less flexible, there may have been some truth to the charge that boards plow snow off the trails," says Farrar. "But that was the Stone Age. Boards now are smaller, lighter, and they carve just like skis.
"Boarding has moved way beyond. So there are a few areas that don't like boarding, that's OK. We don't need them."