The history of snowboarding

An advertisement for the Snurfer

An advertisement for the Snurfer

While snowboarding became popular in the 1990s, its origin goes back to the early 70s, and probably much earlier than that. The Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum asks, “How old is snowboarding, anyway? Well, the short answer is: no one really knows.”

Still, we like to make sense of our origins, and since this page has proven to be one of the most popular ones on the Grays on Trays website, let’s get started. Here’s our attempt to make sense of it all.

A (very brief) timeline of snowboarding:

    • 1890s — Residents of eastern Turkey slide down mountains sideways, on wooden boards, using a ropes in the fronts and a primitive rudder (stick) in the back. You can read one story of this at HeliSki.
    • 1929. M.J. “Jack” Burchett is said to have one of the first quasi-snowboarding experiences. (Reliable sources, anyone?)
    • 1938. Gunnar E. Burgeson, Harvey W. Burgeson, and Vern C. Wicklund file a patent application for a “sled” that some claim is the first snowboard. The patent is granted in 1939. You can view the text of the patent, plus its blueprint, at the web site of the U.S. Patent Office. (Here is a direct link, though you may need to install some plug-ins along the way.) For more information, see our Wicklund Snowboard patent page. Denver Westword has an interview with Don Burgeson, son of Gunny, who has pieced together home movies to assemble what is arguably the first snowboarding video. The device was called a “Bunker.”
    • 1963. Tom Sims creates a “ski board” as middle school student.
    • 1965. A proto-snowboard is created when Michigan resident Sherman Poppen fixes two skis side side-by-side. He calls his device, which allow for “snow surfing” a snurfer. By one account, roughly 800,000 of the items are sold. On occasion, you can still buy one of these on eBay. The Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame has an extensive online archive of articles and photos about the Snurfer.
    • 1968. The first competition for Snurfers is held in Muskegon, Michigan, near the shores of Lake Michigan. Annual competitions are held for roughly a decade.
    • 1972. Dimitrije Milovich gets inspiration from riding on cafeteria trays while as a college student. He forms the Winterstick Snowboard Co, the first company making modern snowboards.
    • 1974. Snowboards get plastic, with Winterstick introducing the first snowboard with a p-tex base.
    • 1975. An article in Newsweek says that “Snow surfing (or ‘snurfing’) through deep powder is all the rage in Utah, where two snurfers have invented the ‘Winterstick,’ a 5-foot-long, 14-inch-wide foam-cored board with three small ‘skegs,’ or fins, on the underside like a surfboard.” The article also quotes Milovich, who says “It’s just one more step toward total freedom – freeing the skier from the strict rules of the mountain.”
    • 1977. Tom Sims creates a device he calls a snowboard. Sims was a skateboarder.
    • 1978. Fiberglass snowboard created by Chuck Barfoot.
    • 1979. Jake Burton Carpenter competes in the Snurfer competition with his own version of a snowboard–with bindings. Carpenter goes onto launch a new company (Burton), and thinks of calling his product a “Snurfboard.” Sherman Poppen, to protect his trademark, sends a lawyer after Carpenter, who changes the name of his board. Poppen later expresses his regret in an interview with Flakezine, saying “I wish I hadn’t done it now, because that’s when the sport became snowboarding.” He adds, “I think it would have stayed as Snurfer and the sport of Snurfing” had he not taken action. The year 1979 also sees what is probably the first use of a “snowboard” for commercial purposes, when Mark Halseth, Jane Halseth, and Paul Graves ride Snufers in a television advertisement for Labatts. The video is on YouTube.
    • 1982. First national racing competition, featuring slalom and downhill events, is held at Suicide Six, in Vermont. It later becomes the U.S. Open, a major event.
    • 1982 and beyond: Neon is the rage for snow clothing.
    • 1983. Jeff Grell develops a highback binding that folds down, a commonplace of today’s snowboarding scene.
    • 1983. First national competition for the halfpipe.
    • 1984. First modern board, with a deep sidecut, metal sidecut, and P-tex base, among other features.
    • 1984. With the James Bond movie, “A view to kill,” snowboarding hits the big screen.
    • 1985. Only 7 percent of U.S. ski areas allow snowboarding. This includes Buttermilk, which would eventually host the Winter X Games.
    • 1985. Breckenridge holds the inaugural Snowboarding World Cup Championship.
    • 1986. Jake Burton creates snowboard-specific soft boots.
    • 1987. Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) publishes first manual for teaching snowboarding.
    • 1988. The number of U.S. ski areas that allow snowboarding explodes this year, going up by nearly half.
    • 1989. By one estimate, 75 percent of U.S. ski areas allow snowboarding.
    • 1989. Releasable binding created by Carl Miller. Today, by contrast, most bindings are non-releasable.
    • 1991. First snowboard park established, Vail, Colorado. Ironically, Vail is one of the last resorts in the state to allow snowboards.
    • 1992. Doug Waugh creates the first Pipe Dragon, which establishes the halfpipe, at least for a while, as the face of snowboarding. In the words of Trent Bush (Colorado Snowboard Archive), “It was like overnight we went from wanting to be like skiers to wanting to skateboard on snow.”
    • 1993. The grunge look appears.
    • 1993. Snowboards are allowed at 91 percent of U.S. ski areas.
    • 1994. Noting that the market for skiing has been flat since the late 1970s, one industry observer says that “snowboarding is now an engine of replacement.”
    • 1997. Popular Mechanics becomes the first major non-sports publication to notice grown-up snowboarders.
    • 1998. Snowboarding becomes an Olympic sport, in Nagano, Japan.
    • 2000. The Wall Street Journal takes notes of adult snowboarders, followed in 2002 by the New York Times.


Leave a Reply