Snowboarders are special animals who chase the perfect snow conditions, travel around the world to exotic snow spots, flood to high-energy parties and contests blasting high-voltage techno or hip hop music. They will spend all their hard-earned savings into expensive tech gear and stylish clothes. They have that strange way of talking and interacting.
The snowboarding culture began as a mix of rebellious youth and surfers looking to find a new way to ride the waves on land. What exactly does it entail ? How important is it today now that snowboarding has grown into a mainstream sport?
See also: How to live a life focused on snowboarding
Is snowboarding a subculture?
Why talk about a snowboarding subculture? The main reason is that historically, snowboarding was rejected by ski resorts and traditional winter sports organizations as the new sport was seen as a threat to the established and conservative norms of the ski culture.
Many skiers viewed snowboarders as reckless, aggressive, and irresponsible, while snowboarders saw skiers as slow, stuffy, and rigid.
As a result, snowboarding became a rebellious, outsider mentality and counterculture within the universe of winter sports. Nowadays, snowboarding has become mainstream and widely accepted, however the initial rebel, nonconformist spirit is till alive in the snowboarding community.
It started in the early 1980 when snowboarders were often banned from ski resorts who viewed them as a threat to the traditional ski culture. Snowboarders had to sneak into resorts or build their own makeshift jumps and halfpipes in the backcountry or abandoned urban areas.
Alternative snowboard-friendly independent resorts popped up in the U.S. and Europe. Countries like Canada, Austria, and Japan also were more open to snowboarding since the early days.
Over time, snowboarders created their own alternative events such as the (now super popular) Winter X Games in response to their exclusion from traditional ski competitions.
Also, the snowboarding community continuously organized protesting and lobbying efforts to pressure ski resorts into lifting their bans. As snowboarding grew significantly in popularity, ski resorts started to realize they were missing out of a large market, and lifted their bans in the 1990s.
Today, snowboarding includes a very diverse and international crowd with millions of fans and changing demographics. Skiers and snowboarders are becoming used to each other, showing more respect to each other on the mountain.
However, there still exist some tensions between the two groups due to the differences in mentality, technique, and etiquette.
Values of snowboarding
Again, for a long time the snowboarding culture revolved around opposition with the ski culture. While this is fading away, snowboarding has retained its core nonconformist spirit, rejecting traditional norms and adopting an independent and individualistic mindset and lifestyle.
Many snowboarders choose to live a mountain lifestyle, choose unconventional career paths, or decide to travel the world snowboarding. Check out my article on the snowboard community for more on this.
Snowboarders feel deeply connected to nature and have a profound love for the outdoors. They dream to explore stunning, untouched, extreme runs. The snowboard culture encourages efforts to preserve the environment and reduce riding impact (“Leave No Trace”).
The snowboarding community has retained its core sense of community and camaraderie. Snowboarders like to ride in packs, sharing the experience and pushing each other to improve. They support each other and often organize social events and parties among themselves.
Individuality and self expression are other core values of snowboarding. Snowboarders frequently add their personal touch to their riding, gear (e.g. with personalized artwork), and attitude (laid back vs technical vs aggressive…)
Creativity has also always been encouraged and admired in snowboarding, e.g. attempting and creating new tricks and lines, building new DIY park features, coming up with innovative snowboard designs – think rocker boards, split boards, etc.
Snowboarders as a community tend to listen to a lot of electronic and dance music (techno, house, electronic rock that get you pumped for riding) and hip hop (skateboarding roots). These are used in many snowboarding movies and events. Punk rock (aggressive e.g. for park riding), and indie rock.
Rock, punk, and alternative rock are also popular in the snowboarding scene, with some groups of snowboarders having a more indie or underground musical taste.
Note that the snowboarding musical subculture differs from surfing with the latter being more laid back with reggae and mellow surf rock at its core. The vibe at snowboard events is quite different compared to surf events, with snowboarding music being more energetic and aggressive.
Examples of bands that are popular with snowboarders include Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beasties Boys, The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, or The Prodigy.
Fashion is an integral part of the snowboarding subculture. At the core of snowboarding clothes is the need to keep warm and dry when riding all day in the snow, with high-tech, high-performance waterproof and breathable material.
However, style is essential for snowboarders, from technical jackets and pants to the most casual, everyday T-shirt or hoodie. Snowboarders are loyal to core snowboard brands such as Burton, O’Neill, Volcom, Billabong, DC, Etnies etc.
These brands represent the snowboard lifestyle and values, and identify snowboarders as being part of the tribe.
Snowboard fashion was initially driven by the rejection of traditional ski fashion in favor of a casual, streetwear-inspired style with baggy clothes (skate culture). Today, snowboard fashion has evolved to a more fitted and technical style.
It’s worth noting the convergence of snowboard and surf fashion, which lifestyle brands such as Quiksilver, Billabong, and O´Neill leading the path in boardsports fashion.
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Snowboard movies are an important part of the snowboarding culture, showcasing the talent, performance, and lifestyle of top riders and snowboard filmmakers.
“The Blizzard of Aah’s” (1988) is one of the earliest and most influential and pioneering snowboard movies, featuring snowboard legends such as Jake Burton, Terje Haakonsen, and Craig Kelly.
More recent movies like The Art of Flight (2011), Full Moon (2016), or As The Crow Flies (2017) push the limits of what was possible in the sport with newer shooting techniques and amazing riding locations.
Beyond showing breadth taking riding performance and tricks, snowboard movies also include interviews of riders and other members of the snowboarding community. This greatly contributes to nurturing and spreading the snowboarding culture, values, and lifestyle.
Snowboard video games
Snowboarding games were very popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, then declined in popularity as the 7th generation consoles appeared.
The genre is current on the rise again thanks to the 2022 Winter Olympics and the much anticipated release of the Shredders game on Xbox. Snowboarding games offer fantastic graphics and physics.
Hits include Steep, released by Ubisoft in 2016, Dark Summit, SSX 3, and Rider’s Republic. Older snowboard games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater are regaining popularity thanks to the retro gaming trend and software that lets you to play old games on newer consoles.
Snowboarding events that best represent the snowboarding culture include the annual Winter X Games, which brings together the world’s top riders competing in various snowboard disciplines.
Other major events include the US Open of Snowboarding, Burton U.S. Open, and Air & Style. These are important meeting events for the snowboarding community and include concerts, expositions, parties, and many other activities related to the culture of snowboarding.
There are also smaller-scale events such as snowboard competitions held at local ski resorts. These are very popular and a great way for new riders to build relationships and make friends.
Local events have become an important part of the culture of snowboarding, with many riders attending year after year to support the community.
Magazines also embody and propagate the snowboarding stoke and lifestyle. The most popular publications are Transworld Snowboarding (ended in 2019), Snowboarder Magazine, and Onboard Snowboarding.
Snowboarding mags feature news on upcoming events, interviews with riders and industry members, reviews of new products, and travel features covering the best spots around the world. They help riders learn about the snowboard culture and keep up to date on trends in snowboarding fashion and gear. They also help foster the community.
In addition to traditional magazines (paper and online version), websites like The Snowboarders Journal and Whilelines deep dive into the snowboarding culture.
The snowboarding culture is associated with a unique lingo that helps riders communicate and feel connected as members of the tribe. The lingo also provides shortcuts for describing specific conditions, tricks, and situations.
“Shredding” for example, means riding, which involves cutting the snow with your rails. “Stoke” is a term shared with surfers which refers to the joy and excitement of riding. “Gnarly”, also surfer talk, refers to extreme conditions such as a big powerful jump (or ocean wave).
“Schralping” means shredding aggressively. “Shredding the gnar” means performing an impressive trick in challenging conditions. “Pow” and “pow day” refer to powder snow. A “gaper” or “grom” is a newbie snowboarder.
“Jibbing” refers to performing tricks on objects like rails and boxes. “Chicken salad” is doing a mix of different tricks.
This article would be incomplete without mentioning the business culture in snowboarding. Snowboarding is a $300+ billion dollar market dominated but multinational groups like Amer Sports (Finland), Elan Sports (Slovenia), Athletica Sport Systems Inc. (Canada) etc.
However, if you’ve ever been to a big winter trade show e.g. the ISPO in Munich, you’ve probably noticed the very high number of grassroots small businesses and startups that truly live the snowboarding lifestyle.
Businesses that succeed in the snowboarding industry are those that involve hardcore boarders and offer products and services by snowboarders for snowboarders.
The power of the community will make or break a business, as snowboarders are very good at identifying the authentic vs “pure business”.
Snowboarding comes with a very strong and distinctive subculture that really sets the snowboard community apart from all others.
Of course, the snowboard subculture is a close cousin of the surfing and skateboarding ones as these boardsports have common historical roots and share many elements of riding, fashion, music, lingo etc. Many snowboarders also surf and/or skateboard in the off season.
Regardless of how much snowboarding has grown over the past decades, however, being a snowboarder still feels like being part of an exclusive, closely knit tribe with its own dreams, values, and heroes.
Cover image: “Philips O’Neill Evolution 2012 Snowboard” (CC BY 2.0) by thebluewig
Saturday 7th of January 2023
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