Snowboarding 101: Origins and Olympic history


Jump to a section: Origins | 1998 | 2002 | 2006 | 2010 | 2014


It all started with the “Snurfer” — essentially, a toy for children invented in 1965. The board had no bindings; instead, the user steered the board by use of a rope attached to the front.

With the Snurfer gaining popularity and attracting a few daredevil participants, the years that followed featured new products building on the Snurfer’s concept. In the late 1970s, Jake Burton and Tom Sims separately began to mass-produce their own board prototypes, paving the way for what would become the modern snowboard.

The competition scene began to flourish in the 1980s. One of the first major contests was the National Snowboarding Championships, launched in 1982 by a group of people that included pro Snurfer Paul Graves. The event, which was held in Vermont, soon came under the control of Burton and was eventually renamed the U.S. Open.

While the East Coast riders — led by Burton — were focused on racing, there was more of a freestyle revolution taking place out west. Riders began to shape man-made hits which were based on the design of skateboard ramps known as “halfpipes.” In 1983 in California, Sims organized the World Snowboarding Championships, an event which featured the first snowboard halfpipe contest.

As the sport continued to gain national attention, more ski resorts started allowing snowboarders on their slopes. By 1990, snowboarders could go to just about any major resort.

It was also at this time that the first terrain park was built at Bear Mountain in California. Based on the layout of skateboard parks that could be found all over Southern California, this snowboard park incorporated natural terrain and hand-placed obstacles for riders to session. This type of park soon became common at resorts across the country and would become the impetus for slopestyle competitions.

Snowboarding was one of the sports represented at the first-ever Winter X Games in 1997. A year later, it made its Olympic debut at the 1998 Nagano Games, with halfpipe and giant slalom contested. Snowboard cross was added to the Olympic program in 2006, slopestyle premiered in 2014, and big air will make its Olympic debut in PyeongChang.

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1998 Nagano

The first-ever gold medal in Olympic snowboarding went to Canada’s Ross Rebagliati for his win in the men’s giant slalom, but that distinction initially lasted just a few days. Rebagliati had tested positive for marijuana and was stripped of his medal. Fortunately for him, the Court for Arbitration of Sport reinstated his medal the next day.

Gold medalists:

 Gian Simmen (men’s halfpipe)

 Nicola Thost (women’s halfpipe)

 Ross Rebagliati (men’s giant slalom)

 Karine Ruby (women’s giant slalom)

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2002 Salt Lake

A pair of halfpipe contests gave the American fans in attendance plenty to cheer about. In the women’s comp, Vermont native Kelly Clark — then just 18 years old — overcame a bruised tailbone and broken wrist suffered in a practice crash to win Team USA’s first gold of the Salt Lake Games. The next day, U.S. snowboarders Ross Powers, Danny Kass and J.J. Thomas swept the men’s podium.

One of the most inspirational stories came from 29-year-old American Chris Klug, who won bronze in men’s parallel giant slalom less than two years after undergoing liver transplant surgery.

Gold medalists:

 Ross Powers (men’s halfpipe)

 Kelly Clark (women’s halfpipe)

 Philipp Schoch (men’s PGS)

 Isabelle Blanc (women’s PGS)

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2006 Torino

American action sports icon Shaun White began his sensational Olympic career as a 19-year-old in Torino. Wearing an American flag bandana over his face, White got off to a slow start in the qualifying round but bounced back to earn the highest score. Then in the final, White reeled off consecutive 1080s and a pair of 900s to take a commanding lead. With none of his competitors able to top him in Run 2, White was free to take a victory lap through the pipe for his final run. Hannah Teter won the women’s halfpipe contest to give the U.S. a sweep of both gold medals for the second year in a row.

In the Olympic debut of snowboard cross, it was U.S. racer Lindsey Jacobellis making headlines for a heartbreaking mistake. In the final, the 20-year-old opened up an untouchable lead over the rest of the field and had an easy victory in the bag. But with the finish line in sight, Jacobellis opted to entertain the fans in attendance by launching a method over one of the final jumps. It didn’t go as planned — Jacobellis crashed and was passed by Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden. Jacobellis, who recovered in time to get silver, explained what happened: “Snowboarding is fun. I was ahead. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up. Oh well, it happens.” The U.S. wouldn’t be shut out of gold medals in snowboard cross though – Seth Wescott had won the men’s race a day earlier.

In men’s parallel giant slalom, Swiss brothers Philipp and Simon Schoch became just the third set of brothers to go 1-2 at the Olympic Winter Games in any event. It was younger brother Philipp’s second straight win at the Olympics.

Gold medalists:

 Shaun White (men’s halfpipe)

 Hannah Teter (women’s halfpipe)

 Seth Wescott (men’s snowboard cross)

 Tanja Frieden (women’s snowboard cross)

 Philipp Schoch (men’s PGS)

 Daniela Meuli (women’s PGS)

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2010 Vancouver

A warm winter had left Cypress Mountain devoid of snow, so in order to hold the snowboarding events, snow had to be trucked in from northern Canada. But that wasn’t the only major operation that took place — in the leadup to the Olympics, rumors spread that a private halfpipe had been built in Colorado exclusively for Shaun White. It was there, in a place only accessible by helicopter, that White secretly dialed in his newest tricks, including the double McTwist 1260. All that training paid off for White, who locked up victory in Vancouver on the strength of his first run in the men’s halfpipe final. Able to take a victory lap on his final run, White decided to go for the double McTwist 1260 that was becoming his signature trick. He landed it, capping off his performance with an exclamation point and winning his second straight gold medal.

White was joined as a repeat champion by Seth Wescott, who won gold in men’s snowboard cross for the second consecutive Olympics. Meanwhile in the women’s race, Lindsey Jacobellis hoped to redeem herself after wiping out in Torino, but another crash — this time in a semifinal heat — resulted in a disqualification and no medal at all.

Gold medalists:

 Shaun White (men’s halfpipe)

 Torah Bright (women’s halfpipe)

 Seth Wescott (men’s snowboard cross)

 Maelle Ricker (women’s snowboard cross)

 Jasey-Jay Anderson (men’s PGS)

 Nicolien Sauerbreij (women’s PGS)

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2014 Sochi

Making its long-awaited Olympic debut, slopestyle did not disappoint. In the years right before the Sochi Games, trick progression had led up to the triple cork, and it was expected that a rider would need to have at least one — most likely two — triples in their run in order to win gold. For that reason, Canadian shredders Mark McMorris and Max Parrot were seen as favorites. But the judges were looking for something else that day, and they found it in Team USA’s Sage Kotsenburg. The charismatic 20-year-old, generally overlooked as a medal contender, mixed up his grabs to produce one of the day’s most stylish runs. On the final jump, he attempted a backside 1620 Japan grab — a trick he had never even tried before — and landed it. That helped earn him the United States’ first gold medal of the Sochi Games and also put the term “spoice” into the American lexicon for at least a few weeks. Jamie Anderson won women’s slopestyle the next day to give the U.S. a gold-medal sweep.

While Kotsenburg entered under the radar, Shaun White arrived in Sochi with high expectations for a three-peat in halfpipe. But competing in a pipe that was in a less-than-ideal condition, White was unable to put down the run he wanted. After crashing on his first attempt, White couldn’t land his new trick — the cab double cork 1440 — cleanly on his second run and finished off the podium in fourth. Swiss rider Iouri Podladtchikov, a good friend of White’s, was able to execute a clean version of that same trick during his run to help propel himself to a gold medal. In women’s halfpipe, 24-year-old U.S. snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington upset a field that included the past three Olympic champions (Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter, Torah Bright) to win a gold medal. Unfortunately, that would go down as her first and only Olympics. A year later, Farrington was forced to retire after it was discovered that she had a degenerative spine condition.

Alpine snowboarding picked up a second event for the Sochi Games, with parallel slalom joining parallel giant slalom on the program. Although Vic Wild had been born in the United States, he switched nationalities and began competing for Russia before the Olympics. Part of the rationale behind that decision was that he felt he would receive better opportunities with the Russian team. But there was another reason too: He had begun dating, and eventually married, a Russian snowboarder, Alena Zavarzina. Both spouses managed to reach the medal rounds in parallel giant slalom on the same day in Sochi. First, Zavarzina won the women’s small final to claim the bronze medal; then minutes later, her husband won the men’s gold-medal race. Three days after that, Wild won another gold medal, this time in parallel slalom.

Gold medalists:

 Iouri Podladtchikov (men’s halfpipe)

 Kaitlyn Farrington (women’s halfpipe)

 Sage Kotsenburg (men’s slopestyle)

 Jamie Anderson (women’s slopestyle)

 Pierre Vaultier (men’s snowboard cross)

 Eva Samkova (women’s snowboard cross)

 Vic Wild (men’s PGS)

 Patrizia Kummer (women’s PGS)

 Vic Wild (men’s parallel slalom)

 Julia Dujmovits (women’s parallel slalom)

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