History of Snowboarding

snowboarding history

Snowboarding is one of the most popular winter sports in the world, with millions of riders taking advantage of fresh snow as often as possible. The sport also has a unique and intriguing history worth exploring to give you a better understanding of how it became so widespread. 

My name is Lorainne, and I’m a CASI-certified snowboarding instructor who has been riding for most of my life. I love everything about the sport, including its background and story that led snowboarding into the modern era. 

I wanted to provide you with an in-depth look at the history of snowboarding to inform and educate riders of all types. Whether you are a seasoned pro or just getting started with the sport, it’s good to have an idea of where it all began. 

I’ve done a bunch of research to combine some of the most interesting facts and information relating to the history of snowboarding. By looking into the past, you can better understand what the future might hold. 

Let’s enter the time machine and get rolling.     

Who Invented Snowboarding?

Every great invention starts somewhere, and the innovators of the past pave the way for the future. Snowboarding hasn’t been around for that long compared to other sports, and skiing is by far the old man on the block. 

A man named Sherman Poppen is usually credited for inventing the snowboard. This invention came about by accident when Poppen was trying to create a fun way for his daughters to enjoy the snow.

Image courtesy of SI

He attached two skis together with a rope, turning them into one board. This allowed Poppen’s daughters to stand up on the single plank, hold on to the rope, and control it (somewhat) as it slid down the snow. 

This first ‘snowboard’ was a hit with the kids, and Poppen’s wife saw commercial potential in the new invention. This backyard contraption would soon gain popularity outside of the Poppen family, and the sport now had a foundation to build upon. 

While Sherman Poppen gets the credit for inventing the snowboard, there are other anecdotal stories of people riding a single wooden plank down the snow that pre-date his era. There just isn’t anyone else out there who developed this invention beyond a basic level. 

People have also been sledding and skiing for thousands of years, and I genuinely think there were snowboarders around long before it was officially invented. Somebody had to stand up on a sled and realize that it was a lot of fun, right? 

When Did Snowboarding Begin?

Modern snowboarding began just after Poppen’s invention was created. His wife called the contraption a “Snurfer” because it combined surfing and the snow. This name stuck, and Poppen realized that it also held potential commercial success. 

This Snurfer has its original nylon braided rope and has its original paint on top of the natural wood finish. Image courtesy of Vintage Winter.

This happened in the early and mid-1960s, and that is generally the date that most people agree that the modern snowboarding movement began. Poppen turned the idea into a business and sold hundreds of thousands of Snurfers in the first year they went up for sale. 

The popularity and potential of snowboarding were apparent from the start, and mass production and marketing of the Snurfer made it more widely available for the general public. Things quickly went from a backyard toy to a sport pretty quickly. 

While I think saying that the 1960s is a good date to mark the beginning of modern snowboarding, I don’t think it reflects the true history of the sport. Humans have been traveling over the snow for thousands of years, and a snowboard just makes common sense. 

Skiing and sledding have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It’s not hard to imagine that somebody decided to stand up on a sled or use a single ski due to necessity or damage during this time span. 

There is no official proof or documentation of snowboarding existing before the 1960s and the Sherman Poppen Snurfer. However, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to believe that snowboarding began much, much earlier than that.  

If you look at things from an archeological perspective, skiing dates back thousands of years. There is evidence of early skies that date back to 6000 BCE. When the timeline gets stretched back that far, it becomes nearly impossible to think a board didn’t exist until 1960. 

I like to factor in this historical look at things when considering when snowboarding began. And I think it’s safe to say that the origins of the sport date back to the early evidence of people traversing snowy landscapes for survival and transportation.  

When Were Snowboards Invented?

The beginnings of snowboarding can be thought of in two different ways – from the history of snowsports, in general, looking at history, and from the modern invention of the Snurfer and how the sport took off commercially from there. 

The first idea of snowboarding was most likely created thousands of years ago by some ancient rider looking to have a little fun or simply experimenting with different ways to move on a sled or skis. 

The modern invention of the sport stems from the development of the Snurfer in the 1960s and the various models that appeared in the years and decades following that. 

So the idea of snowboarding was invented many years ago, but the modern invention has only existed for about 60 years.  

Poppen sold his idea for the board to the Brunswick Corporation, which led to mass production and a massive increase in the popularity and awareness of a new way to ride on the snow. 

Even though the Snurfer was the first mass-produced product that looked like snowboards as we know them today, you could also make the argument that this product wasn’t a real snowboard. 

They didn’t have bindings or edges and were pretty difficult to control. The Snurfer was a standing sled in that regard and wasn’t necessarily the only board invented that influenced the modern era. 

Tom Sims, the founder of Sims Snowboards, generally gets the credit for creating the first modern boards that provided increased performance and capabilities in the snow. 

Sims built his first board in the 1960s and founded one of the first legitimate snowboarding companies that still holds his name in the 1970s. Sims boards were the first to use multiple layers to provide more strength, stability, and slide in the snow. 

Tom Sims (1950-2012) was a former World Snowboarding Champion (1983) and World Champion Skateboarder (1975).

Timeline of Important Snowboarding History Dates

Here is a timeline of the most important events and dates in the history of snowboarding:

  • 6000 BCE – First archeological evidence of skis appear in Russia. 
  • 1965 – Sherman Poppen ties two skis together for his daughters to stand up on in the backyard. 
  • 1966 – Poppen sells his Snurfer idea to the Brunswick Corporation, which mass produces and markets them to the public. This effectively establishes the start of the modern era of snowboarding. 
  • 1960s – At some point in the 60s, Tom Sims builds his first snowboard using carpet, wood, and aluminum in a high school shop class. 
  • 1968 – The first Snurfing competition occurs in Michigan. This event was organized by Sherman Poppen and was a huge success. 
  • 1976 – Tom Sims founds Sims Snowboards and sells the first boards that more closely resemble modern models. 
  • 1977 – Burton Snowboards is founded by Jake Burton Carpenter. This is the first company to offer bindings to keep a rider’s feet better attached to the board – marking a giant leap forward in performance. 
  • 1979 – The first National Snurfing Championship was held in Michigan. This was the first competition to offer prize money for the winners. It was also the first time a board that wasn’t a Snurfer was used – Burton used a board he built instead. 
  • Early 1980s – Soviet riders improve the design of the Snurfer by including single and double binding styles to help increase control and performance. 
  • 1981 – A snowboard competition in Colorado called King of the Mountain brought together many early snowboard builders, allowing them to see each other’s products in action. 
  • 1982 – The first USA National Snowboard race occurred in Vermont. 
  • 1983 – Tom Sims organizes the first World Championship snowboarding halfpipe competition. 
  • 1985 – The first snowboarding World Cup happens in Austria, bringing increased worldwide attention to the sport. 
  • 1990 – The International Snowboarding Foundation was created to help build credibility to the sport’s competitions. This established various rules and standards that helped pave the way for future popular competitions. 
  • 1990s –  Ski resorts begin allowing snowboarders with some restricted runs at first. The sport starts to see a rapid increase in popularity. Many innovations in design happen during this decade as well.   
  • 1997 – The first Winter X Games was held, featuring several different snowboarding events. The games attracted nearly 40,000 visitors. 
  • 1998 – Snowboarding becomes an official Olympic event for the Winter Games held in Nagano, Japan. 
  • Early 2000s – The popularity of snowboarding continues to grow, gaining worldwide attention and becoming a major attraction for people of all ages. Snowboarding is now arguably the most popular winter sport. 
  • 2005-2006 – Professional snowboarder Shaun White cements his legendary reputation by winning every major competition during the season. His winter X-games performance of that year lives in infamy. This brings even more mainstream attention to the sport. 
  • 2010s – Snowboarding becomes fully established as a major snowsport and is no longer seen as a fringe movement. New technologies increase capabilities for the sport and its diverse athletes. 
  • 2020s – Snowboarding remains extremely popular, with millions of riders taking to the slopes every year.  

When Did Snowboarding Become Popular?

Snowboarding has enjoyed a relatively steady rise in popularity since the Snurfing craze of the 1960s. This early version of a snowboard was a hit, with many people living in places that saw considerable amounts of snow in the winter months. 

As the boards became mass-produced and more widely available, their popularity continued to rise. The first competitions held in the late 1960s and early 1970s also helped further solidify the popularity of the growing sport. 

According to the Brunswick Corporation, who developed the Snurfer and marketed them to the masses, they sold over a million of these boards in the decade after they were first released. 

This widespread appeal continued with more sophisticated boards in the mid-1970s when Sims and Burton models became available and opened up a world of new possibilities thanks to increased performance and control. 

As snowboarding continued to gain steam in the 1980s and early 1990s, the sport’s popularity followed. It was still considered a fringe activity and a bit of a novelty, but during the 90s is when things really took off. 

Increased media attention and legitimate marketing efforts put snowboarding in the public spotlight. This spread popularity to all ends of the globe and laid the foundation for the sport that still stands today. 

The height of snowboarding was probably in the mid to late 2000s. This era saw the most snowboard sales and drove the industry to a thriving status. Everywhere you looked, you saw something relating to snowboarding, and professional riders became household names. 

I don’t think there is one defining moment that marked when snowboarding became so popular. It grew exponentially over the late 20th century and became a full-fledged sport as popular as any other winter activity today. 

Each of the significant bullets on the timeline displayed in the previous sections marks an important milestone in snowboarding’s popularity. These moments all contributed to the worldwide success of the sport enjoyed today. 

When Did Snowboarding Become an Olympic Sport?

Snowboarding became an official Olympic sport at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. This represented the culmination of a push within the sport to gain mainstream attention and reflected the broad appeal with people worldwide. 

Several different large snowboarding competitions held in the 1990s helped build the legitimacy of the sport and drove it toward Olympic recognition. 

The International Ski Federations, also known as the FIS, recognized snowboarding as an official discipline in 1994, paving the way for the next step into the Olympics

The 1998 Winter Games features both men’s and women’s snowboarding competitions. Two separate events made the final cut for the Olympics – giant slalom and halfpipe. Both of these were huge successes and opened up the door for future games. 

At the next winter Olympics in 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the halfpipe competitions returned alongside the parallel giant slalom. In 2006, snowboard cross was added to the mix, which instantly became a fan and rider favorite.

These three events were the only snowboarding competitions for the next few Winter Olympics until Slopestyle popped up in 2014. This was followed by the Big Air competition in 2018. 

Snowboarding remains a very popular Olympic event, and I think the success of the Winter X-Games opened up the doors for worldwide recognition. Many of the events in the Olympics derived directly from this competition and wouldn’t have been possible without it. 

The Olympics also helped increase the popularity of the sport by reaching a wider demographic. The 1998 debut helped to push snowboarding into the mainstream eye and marks the beginning of its heyday.  

Snowboarding and Environmental Impact

Snowboarding is a fantastic way to get out into nature and explore the magic of the winter wilderness. It’s given many different people a look into the importance of caring for the environment, but it also comes with a few environmental concerns. 

There are several ways in which snowboarding can have a negative effect on the environment. While these impacts aren’t as harmful as other industries, they are still essential to know about and understand to ensure that future generations can enjoy the snow and mountains. 

Ski and snowboard resorts use natural resources and are located in wildlands where animals and plants live and breed. While many of these animals aren’t around during the winter months, some resorts can impact the natural patterns and habits of native animals. 

Many resorts have a hard closing date to allow animals back into the forest without as much disruption from humans to offset this impact. If you have ever wondered why your favorite resort closes with snow still on the ground, this is likely the reason. 

The process of snowmaking is another environmental concern with snowboarding and skiing. Making snow requires a lot of water and energy – two precious resources that aren’t always found in high supply. 

Most major resorts make their own snow to some degree, and they often use water that exists naturally to get the job done. This can negatively impact the water table and use a precious commodity that the local community and animals rely on for survival.

High altitude areas where many people snowboard are also more sensitive to disruption than other environments. Most riders don’t think about this when seeking out fresh powder, but it’s a valid concern. 

As the effects of climate change become more evident, many areas are seeing reduced snowfall, causing more people to venture into the high country. This can impact plants and animals that thrive in a high alpine environment. 

High altitude areas also take longer to recover than lower elevation flora and fauna. A little bit of human impact can have a more drastic effect because of this, and snowboarders need to be careful when and where they ride to avoid damaging the environment. 

The materials used in snowboard construction pose another environmental concern. Traditional epoxies and other materials used to build boards are often not that great for the environment and are full of chemicals that are difficult to dispose of. 

Many snowboard companies now use more plant-based and ecologically friendly products into their boards to offset this concern. This trend is being driven by consumer demand and company accountability, and it’s great to see.    

The Future of Snowboarding

Snowboarding has come a long way in a short amount of time. Even though humans have been sliding on the snow in one way or another for thousands of years, modern snowboarding has only been around for about 60. 

By looking at the past, we can take a glance into the future of snowboarding. Technology will continue to improve, making snowboards more capable and effective in a wide range of conditions. 

That will allow riders and athletes to push the limits of riding. They will explore lines that have never been ridden before while inventing new tricks that other riders will imitate and improve upon. 

Backcountry snowboarding will continue to grow in popularity in the near future as people realize they can often reach amazing snow without the crowds, even if it involves a lot more effort and heightened safety considerations. 

As riders take to the backcountry, snowboarding gear will continue to get lighter, focusing on high performance. This will help new technologies and materials develop that can be used for resort riding as well. 

Snowboarding will continue to grow in popularity, and the total number of riders will also increase in the future. It may not be quite as popular as it was about a decade ago, but the number of riders will see a steady increase due to a growing population. 

In my eyes, the future of snowboarding is bright. There are more possibilities today than ever before, and those will continue to grow as the sport enters a new era. It’s impossible to predict exactly how everything will shake out, but I’m excited to see the sport continue to grow. 

Snowboarding’s future will be defined by the diversity of riders who love the sport. It has a broader appeal and is more approachable than ever before. The more people that do any given activity, the more possibilities arise within it. 

Sliding down the snow is a very fun activity, and time won’t change that. Even if snowfall becomes erratic due to climate change in the future, indoor resorts with improved snow-making capabilities are possible. 

Snowboarding is here to stay, and its future will be written by the stories of many riders yet to strap into a board for the first time.  

Final Words

Snowboarding is one of the most popular winter sports in the world. Millions of people take to the slopes every season to enjoy fresh snow and get out into nature doing an activity they truly love. 

To better understand where snowboarding is headed in the future, a look at its history is necessary. When you realize just how far the sport has come in a short amount of time, you know that amazing things are possible at it pushes past the present. 

No matter if you are a casual rider who only gets up a few times every year, or a seasoned veteran who spends as many days on the mountain as possible, snowboarding is an amazing sport. 

Share your riding knowledge with others and help the snowsports community continue to write and develop a history worth remembering!

About Lorraine
I'm a certified snowboard instructor. My first experience with snowboarding occurred at an indoor resort. One run had me hooked, and it has turned into a lifelong passion ever since then. I'm here to share with you some of the tips and advice I have learned along the way.

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