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Legends of Snowboarding

Lara Mullin, Sierra Sun

While the origins of snowboarding remain highly debatable, most attribute its beginnings to Sherman Poppen, who developed the “snurfer” in Michigan back in 1965.

Poppen’s invention – a board with a rope tied to the front – was nothing more than a sled that the passenger rode standing up, but it planted a seed that has changed the face of ski resorts everywhere.

Disillusioned with corporate America in the 1970s, designers Tom Sims, Jake Burton and Chuck Barfoot embraced the concept of the snowboard and aided in catapulting the sport into one of the fastest-growing activities among American youth today.

In the 1980s, renegade snowboarders were often ostracized from big name resorts and viewed by the general public as adrenaline junkies who aligned themselves with punk skateboarders and their poaching practices.

As more youth turned to life on one board instead of two, snowboarding gradually gained acceptance in the snowsports community, giving birth to hundreds of equipment and clothing companies as well as an identity for an entire generation of extremists.

Today, nearly all ski areas allow snowboarders (with the exception of Mad River Glen, Alta, Deer Valley and Taos) and the sport has earned a place in the Olympic games.

Major ski makers like K2 and Rossignol have even shifted their focus from old-school skis to designing the most advanced and durable snowboards on the market.

On Saturday, April 7, however, all of the latest technology and style was checked at the door as the eighth annual Donner Ski Ranch Legends of Snowboarding Reunion Tour hit the mountain complete with edgeless boards, neon ski wear and a foot or two of fresh powder.

The Legends event, which began as an association between Heckler Magazine and the ranch, came together with the United States of America Snowboard Association (USASA) last year for a Slalom race steeped in talent but not in traditional format.

On Saturday, riders attempted to make their way through the gates on squirrely boards less than half the size of their speedy offspring.

Perhaps fittingly, in honor of the event which remembered snowboarding’s not-so-distant beginnings, the chairlift at DSR shut down for an hour in the middle of the race – to commemorate the machinery of old and its unpredictable nature.

The stall trapped half of the race’s participants 20 feet in the air, though the small group of racers in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s did not seem to mind the delay.

“We’re snowboarders, it doesn’t matter what time we start or finish the race. As long as we are having a good time doing it – we’ll hang out,” said North Tahoe USASA Series Director Fred “Dog” Mertl.

Amile Janicot of Grass Valley came away with top honors for the day riding an early 1980s wooden Burton board, beating out second-place Rickie McKay and Kyle Franklin in third.

The competitors adeptly moved their old-style entries through the rutted and soft course, laughing at themselves and each other as they fell repeatedly on the new snow.

“It is not quite as easy without the advances of wax and edging that we have around today. Especially with all of this new snow,” Mertl added.

While the reunion was hardly the geriatric assembly one might expect to see for a “Legends of Skiing” day, it was truly a historical event complete with five bands, a never-ending raffle and some good laughs over ’80s fashions.


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