Grays on Trays clips: Snowboarder Magazine

The publisher of was interviewed for the June 2004 issue of Snowboarder magazine. Here is the text of the interview. (Much of the text was edited out for publication.)

SNOWBOARDERMAG: As an older adult do you relate to the sport as it is today, or do you feel that youth snowboarding is a separate entity and adult riding is its own sport? I think the biggest divide is not age, but what kind of riding that people do. Working in the pipe and carving on the slope are two different, though related activities. If I ride up on the lift with someone 30 years younger than me, and we both ride down the mountain, we’re in the same sport, even though there’s a large age gap between us.

On the other hand, if someone is in the pipe and I’m freeriding, he’s in a different sport, even if he is the same age as me. Now, I certainly would admire his skills. But I think that riding in the pipe looks a lot like skateboarding, whereas mountain riding is more similar to downhill skiing. In one sport, you plan your jumps, landings, spins, and grabs. In the other, you pick your fall line and decide how you are going to descend the mountain. So I think that there are two different sports, separated not by age but by activity. (I’m leaving out hot-dogging skiers who work in terrain parks.)

There is a good reason why people often think that youth snowboarding and adult snowboarding are two different sports: youth riding is very oriented towards the park and pipe. It’s my impression that most adults who come to riding are coming to it from alpine skiing, so alpine riding is going to be more comfortable to them.

SNOWBOARDERMAG: Is something that you see as a national trend, like would you like to see their being a national Grays on Trays club, where do you want it to go? Is the site part of a trend? Definitely. The number of older snowboarders is increasing, no doubt. The median age of beginning riders has increased from 21 to 23, for example. Two resorts in Maine have as many adults in their snowboarding classes as they do in their skiing classes. A reporter for the New York Times estimated that a third of the boarders he saw at Sun Valley were “well past adolescence.” As the current, younger snowboarders age, the age of people in the sport is going to increase. Add into that some skiers crossing over as they age, and the sport is getting older.

Some snow sports areas, ranging from small skill hills in the Midwest, to destination resorts in Colorado, run snowboarding classes just for adults. I think that’s another sign that something is going on.

The first article I’ve found on the subject of older riders is a Popular Mechanics article from 1997. Since then major publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune have run articles about people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even older riding.

More recently, you’ve got John Kerry, who is about 60, on a snowboard. Here’s a senator who could become president of the U.S. You can’t get a much more high-profile example of an older person riding.

Would I welcome a grays on trays riding club? Sure. There are least 15,000 people in the 70-Plus Ski club. Why not a 30-plus riding club?

Let me say that I don’t expect snowboarding to become dominated by older folks. But I think there is some place for companies such as Burton or K2 or someone else to make some sales by appealing to adult riders. They could, for example, emphasize technology that helps you ride, and talk in terms that adults can understand. There is a growing number of products for women, so the marketplace is recognizing that customization in design and marketing can reach new customers.

Why a web site for adult snowboarders?

SNOWBOARDERMAG: Why do you think that there is a need for the gray on trays website? Two reasons: One, snowboarding is great, and I think more people should get into it. Two, there’s little out there that speaks in the language of the adult. When I look at snowboarding publications and web sites, I don’t easily relate to them.

First, you’ve got the language barrier. Now, I know that every sport has its lingo: sacrifice fly (baseball), unforced error (tennis), bogey (golf), and parallel turn (skiing). So when I read about someone doing a 720 or suffering a face plant, well, that’s nothing new. There’s always some terms to learn.

But then we’ve got the slang and colloquial language that doesn’t reflect the way that a lot of would-be adult snowboarders talk. I try to think that I’m not an old fogey, but I have a hard time saying “POW,” “freshies,” and “Duude.” If I read someone’s story about their latest exploits, and it starts out “School really sucked today,” well, that doesn’t reflect my world, either. For one thing, it’s been years since I’ve stepped into a school building.

Then there’s this image of snowboarding. It’s all about rebellion, being unconventional for the sake of standing out, or wearing your clothes in a strange way. Some of that puts off older people. I think “enough already. I don’t need this.” You may say that this is a superficial, and that older people ought to look past the attitudes. But I say that learning to ride is difficult enough on the physical plane, without having to enter a different subculture.

So what I hope to do with is to talk with adults in a way that doesn’t scare them off or make them think that they’ve got to talk like some teenagers do. I want people to know that they don’t have to pierce their tongue or dye their hair flaming red or risk life and limb to enjoy this great sport. I’m not asking existing publications and web sites to change their style or tone. But I would like to see something to reach the adult learner. That’s what GraysOnTrays is all about.

SNOWBOARDERMAG: What kind of have you gotten from the site? The hits are modest a this point; the most interesting feedback comes from people who write in. For example, I’ve exchanged letters from a man in Tahoe, who rides with his son. Then there’s a fellow in Minnesota. He’s about 10 years older than I am. He’s a powder hound, going to remote areas in Canada whenever he can. He’s invited me to out west with him when the snow is good. But he is a much better rider than I am so I don’t think I can keep up with him.

Do Adult and Young Snowboarder Mix?

SNOWBOARDERMAG: Do you think that the younger kids can learn something from the older people riding, and do you think the older can learn from the younger? What should we learn? Older riders can teach the younger crowd to try new things despite the obstacles. It isn’t easy to swallow your pride and learn something new, especially if it will be embarrassing, and awkward. Learning to ride can be like that. I think that people of all ages need to be open to new challenges.

What can the younger riders teach older students? How enjoyable riding can be. When I see a younger rider making a graceful ride down the hill, I’m inspired.

I think that for the good of the sport, both younger riders and older ones need to treat each other with respect.

SNOWBOARDERMAG: How are you treated on the hill? Ah. Great question. I know that some kids hate it when adults get on a board. It’s like we are invading their turf. But I have not gotten any negative reaction.

One young teenager, 13 years old, I would guess, was quite helpful during my first season. He offered some advice and encouragement one day, which turned out to be a breakthrough session.

Other than that, though, I don’t have much interaction with the younger set. The younger snowboarders usually avoid riding on the lift with me. I think a large part of it is that they want to hang out on the lift with their pals. And I must admit, sometimes I feel very out of place in the crowd.

I meet some older guys on trays every so often. (In fact, one day I met three others.) We usually encourage each other, since we know that it’s harder for us to learn. Most of the time when I find a fellow “gray,” he’s a few places in front of or behind me on the learning curve. We help each other out. Two of the guys, I specifically remember, were being trailed by their children, who were helping them out. I’ve seen one guy riding an alpine board, ripping up the place; it was obvious that he knew what he was doing.

At the local hill, I took some group lessons during my first season; there were five students and one instructor. Only one of the other students was over 21. After our lesson, he said something like “That was really cool, what you were doing out there.” Puzzled, I asked him what he meant. His reply? “I mean, for someone your age.” Hey, I ain’t dead, yet!

This year, I took a lesson out west. One of the instructors was in her 50s. All the students and the instructors were adults. We all had a great, though exhausting time.

I had gone out west as part of a ski party of about 20 people. They’ve been going to Colorado for decades, and I started making the trip with them a few years ago. Nearly everyone else in the group is in their 70s. A few of them gave me a hard time about riders who make deep carves in the snow, or who (they say) travel out of control at high speeds. But there was also a member of the group who has done some riding back home, so they couldn’t criticize me too much. Besides, I spent most of my days on skis.


The Off-Season

SNOWBOARDERMAG: What do you do in the off season? I golf, for one thing. The sport is a tease: in every round something good happens, something good enough to make me want to go back. I also shoot free throws, to help develop my eye-hand coordination for putting. Occasionally I’ll hop on a street bike, and I bought a pair of roller blades that I try from time to time. Once or twice during the summer I will ride jet skis in Lake Michigan with my parents. We have a blast jumping the waves. I also do some limited weight training. But week in and week out, I probably spend more time on a stair-stepper than doing any other exercise.

SNOWBOARDERMAG: I am convinced that snowboarding is better than golf, but what are some other retiree sports you think you could pull some people away from and into snowboarding? You must have looked at the section on the site called “Top 10 Reasons why snowboarding is better than golf.”

Well, first of all, golf is not just for retired people! Remember, Tiger Woods was wowing people with his putting skills when he was three years old. The latest phenomenon in the golfing world, by the way, is 13-year old Michelle Wie.

For most people, snowboarding and golf are both seasonal activities, so they can complement each other. My golf game is improving, so I’m not sure that snowboarding is actually better, but I thought it would be fun to catch the attention of an older crowd by making the comparison.

I know that many riders and skiers go mountain biking in the summer, but that’s not something I’ve done. Maybe some day–after all, I read that President Bush took a 17 mile ride the other day, and he’s not a young guy.

Obviously the sports that involve balancing on a board of some sort may draw people to snowboarding — wakeboarding, surfing, skateboarding, windsurfing, water skiing, and alpine skiing. Don’t forget plain old skiing. Supposedly, riding is easier on the knees than skiing, so maybe that’s one way that older folks will take up a snowboard.

I also think that riding personal water craft (jet skis) can be an entry point to snowboarding. If you enjoy riding one of those machines on the ocean or one of the Great Lakes–something with choppy water–you may like snowboarding. You’ve got the thrill of speed and the need to watch for traffic and read the terrain properly (you’ll even have “hits” in both activities).


Why Ride?

SNOWBOARDERMAG: How often do you get out and ride and at what mountain? Nearly all of my riding is at mini-hills in the Midwest. Last season I had a season pass, and got to my local hill once a week. Next season I may diversify and try some of the other areas around here. I also take an annual trip to Colorado. It’s always been about skiing, but this last time out, I took a day lesson on a board, and I will probably do that next season, too.

SNOWBOARDERMAG: What is the hook about snowboarding, what does it do for you? Since I’ve taken up snow sports a few years ago, I actually look forward to winter. That’s a good thing, since it’s so long here. If I couldn’t do something outdoors, I would eat potato chips all the time and gain 20 pounds a year.

So I ski around here, but skiing in the Midwest gets to be old hat pretty quickly. In my attempts to learn snowboarding, even a tiny hill becomes an adventure all over again. There’s simply the challenge of linking turns on a consistent basis, for one thing. From time to time, I also work at riding switch, which is something I’ve never done on skis.

When I’m satisfied with my ability to handle alpine riding, there’s always the terrain park, which is a whole new world. I don’t know if I will actually do that, but then again, I never thought I would be on a snowboard in the first place.

SNOWBOARDERMAG: Glad to hear you are shreddin. Keep it up! Thanks. I’m still learning, but it’s been worthwhile.

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