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The Wedge

Jeremy Evans
Tribune staff writer
Photo by Dan Thrift
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One winter afternoon at Heavenly Mountain Resort, a snowboarder drops one of his gloves near Sky Express. As he unstraps from his board to retrieve the glove, a skier glides by, scoops it up and gives it to him. A fellow skier notices the act of kindness and says “Hey, don’t do that. He’s a snowboarder.”

Although the comment was made in jest, there was a time not too long ago when those words would’ve been fueled with animosity ” when snowboarders and skiers didn’t get along and when there was a divisive wedge between two groups of people after the same thing ” freedom.

Does the wedge exist anymore?

“I don’t think it really exists at all,” said 23-year-old South Shore snowboarder Dirk Dye. “As long as you’re out there and having a good time on the hill, then that’s what it’s all about. I think a lot of older people are skiers but I’ve seen them yelling at other younger skiers about this and that. So I think maybe those kinds of people still want there to be a feud, but I don’t think it’s there.”

Dye’s sentiments ring true throughout the Tahoe snowsports scene. Skiers and riders now mingle in terrain parks together. They can be seen dropping into chutes together, riding chairlifts together, enjoying life together.

In 1985, only 39 of about 600 resorts nationwide allowed snowboarding. Now there are only four resorts left in the country that don’t allow snowboarding: Taos, N.M., Deer Valley and Alta, Utah, and Mad River Glen in Vermont.

By the late 1980s, most Tahoe resorts had ended their resistance, but it wasn’t until the winter of 1995-96 that Alpine Meadows Ski Area finally succumbed and lifted its ban on snowboarders. The first California resort to sell a lift ticket to a snowboarder was reportedly Donner Ski Ranch in Truckee.

“It was in 1980 and a guy with a snowboard came up to my office and asked if he could buy a lift ticket,” said Norm Sayler, owner of Donner Ski Ranch. “I told him ‘Yeah, go downstairs and buy one.’ And he told me that they wouldn’t sell him one. So I called up the lift ticket person. They said: ‘He’s got a snowboard.’ And I said, “‘He’s got $10. Sell him a ticket. I want that money.'”

While the modern beginnings of snowboards took shape in the late 1970s, the first real ski technology was applied to the snowboard in 1980. That’s when Jake Burton applied P-Tex and other modifications similar to that of a ski to his snowboards. Soon after, the first national snowboard race was held in 1982 outside of Woodstock, Vt., and the sport quickly boomed. By 1988, snowboarding was an Olympic event.

However, not all skiers embraced their new snow neighbors. Many of them labeled snowbarders “young and reckless,” and thought they ruined moguls. But while skiers may have griped about the knuckle draggers, Sayler said snowboarding was the best thing to ever happen to skiing.

“Snowboarding saved skiing,” Sayler said. “Skiing was dead. The snowboard made skiers think about things. Skiers were going to have to do something.”

The evolution of the ski has now rejuvenated and attracted the younger generation. Fatter skis can slice powder better than the older skis. People with twin-tip skis can now explore terrain parks when just five years ago, that was a shrine essentially reserved for snowboarders.

“In that group between 20 to 34, everybody is snowboarding right now, but there’s a new generation of kids in their teens that are skiing again,” said skier Tom Bork, a South Shore local of more than 20 years.

“There’s a gap. But the new skis you can do more on them than you can on a snowboard. And I think that’s what a lot of the skiers in their teens are doing. They go into the terrain parks. There’s a whole new crop of kids coming out and doing that.”

Although this newfound and harmonious existence hasn’t swayed the decisions of resorts such as Taos and Alta, snowboarders believe it’s financially their loss.

“To me, I think they are idiots,” said Dye. “They’re losing so much money and I don’t see the reason for it. But they can do what they want. I’m just going to do my thing. It used to be there was way more riders than skiers. Now, I think it’s kind of evened out. It’s just about being out there.”


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