Live and Let Ride
During the 1984-85 Ski Season, Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado was the first major ski area to open the mountain to snowboarders. Snowboarders had been trying to get access to the mountain resorts for years, and after a few resorts hosted snowboard contests the - opening of the slopes became inevitable. In 1985 snow boards were shorter, slimmer, pointed and made of wood and thought to be potential weapons of destruction in the traditional skiing world.
Many skiers worried about the safety of the slopes. Resorts worried their bread-and-butter traditional skiers would avoid the slopes as reports of reckless boarder behaviors circulated among the skiing community. One news report documented neon head-banded boarders in florescent onesies barreling down the roofs of A-Frames on Main Street in Breckenridge. Such shenanigans gained many boarders the reputation of a rambunctious group of counter culturalists.
The following year, Breckenridge hosted the 1st Snowboarding World Cup and has hosted major winter events nearly every year since, however, that first year issued a rule that Borders could ride only on days with at least 4 inches of snow. Traditional skiers were up in arms. The concern that snowboarders posed an unnecessary risk to skiers abounded. Many agreed, including the National Forest Service.
Some ski areas held off snowboarders by citing a 40-year Forest Service permit. The permit says in short, ‘Resorts may restrict any type of skiing device that is considered unsafe to skiers.’ One such resort was the Alta Kio Resort near Salt Lake City, Utah. Alta is one of the three resorts in North America still closed to Snowboarders.
Controversy and outrage abounded for several years. Outrageous stories circulated and Dave Alden, the first snowboarding instructor at Breckinridge has been quoted as saying that “Snowboarders were an unusual clientele and a spectacle for the first couple of years.” Most skiers have a Snowboarder story – here’s mine.
In March 1985, my husband, Don, and I, in our mid-thirties, were skiers from Missouri and had looked forward all year to a ski trip to Breckinridge. News that snowboarders would be allowed for the first time on the mountain didn’t concern us much as neither one of us snowboarded, and didn’t see the harm. We were young and open to new things and didn’t think we’d encounter any of the strange beings anyway. Who would want to ski on one, squatty board?
Getting fitted for skis, suiting up, and that first blissful run of the week in fresh snow is a highlight of any ski trip. The weather was perfect. The sun was radiant, there was a crisp, exhilarating nip in the air, the powder was deep and fresh, and as we glided off the first lift, I noticed the mountain dotted with a strange sight – skiers on one board.
They were maniacs! Darting in and out of skiers – careening straight down the mountain, many unable to control their speed or boards. They clogged up the lift departures, crashed into other skiers, trees, and each other with seemingly little regard for life or limb. Young, dressed in baggy pants, jeans or onesies, long hair, brightly-colored head bands, and weird stocking hats in the shapes rastified dreadlocks, roosters and other assorted animals. They seemed determined to create chaos and disaster and were dressed for the part.
At the bottom of our first run people were milling around the lift in shock of what was to be called that first week - “Those damn, drugged-up, hippy, snowboarders!” On the lift going back up we debated what to do - coming to the conclusion we would NOT let the outlandish encroachers ruin our trip. They flew like demons down the middle – we would stay to the sides. They crashed frequently – we would watch out for them and ski defensively. We felt sure we would have the mountain back by afternoon, because surely, they would be worn out – in the hospital - or dead.
The plan worked pretty well, we rode higher up the mountain into the world of the double-blues and blacks and the snowboarders thinned out a bit, they stayed lower on the greens and bunny slopes, that first year, as they were still learning to navigate their vehicles of destruction. In the excitement of finally being allowed on the mountain, and being young, all common sense had left their brains. Apparently, ancient at 35, we were old compared to them and they looked at us like we, personally, had kept them off the mountain until this moment, and now, ha-ha here they were. Free!
Mid-morning near the middle of a long run we stopped off to the side around some other skiers to catch our breath. We were chatting about the current snowboarder dilemma when it came to our attention one of offenders was speeding straight at us.
He was out-of-control. There was a terrified, “OH! #*$%!” look on his face and we had only seconds to scatter. My brave, protective husband gave me a shove and the crazed snowboarder got him with a direct hit. They both went down and the boarder flew over my husband, rolled a couple times, and skidded into a snow-bank about ten feet away.
Now my husband is a big guy. Strong as an ox - brave as a warrior - but a gentle soul at heart. They popped up simultaneously. The snowboarder lost his board - but it was within his reach. Somehow, Don didn’t lose his skis. A few seconds ticked off while they shook off the collision, made eye contact like gunslingers, and my husband headed for him as fast as you can walk in ski boots with skis attached.
The boarder sensed danger, sized up his opponent, slammed his feet onto his board and took off like a bat out of hell - with a furious skier in hot pursuit.
One of the other skiers commented, shaking his head, “I wouldn’t want that big sum bitch after me!”
I wasn’t concerned. I told them, “Don’t worry, he’ll never catch him.”
We watched the chase progress furiously down the mountain until the snowboarder slowly pulled away from his follower and tore down the slope to undoubtably wreak further havoc. Don stopped to wait on me while we all skied down to him. He got a rowdy ovation, pats on the back and “good job” from the onlookers. I asked him what he would have done if he’d caught the kid and he said, “Ah…I knew I couldn’t catch him. I just wanted to scare him.” I imagine he did that.
About that time the ski patrol came out in force and a semblance of order was restored to the mountain. There were several snowboarders hauled down the mountain by the patrol, and on gurneys, and an abundance of colorful language littered the air that day from all parties; but we learned a bit about co-existence that first week and peace returned. For the most part.
Many years have gone by and we still ski. We’ve had no other mishaps with a snowboarder on that trip – or since. Some people ride the mountain on two objects – others prefer sideways on one board. The boarders soon got their snow legs, became proficient, and learned they didn’t own the mountains. They share the mountains - as we all do.