The Blip

Has snowboarding peaked? Maybe it’s already dead? Chris Moran reads the entrails

Words: Chris Moran

For a few thousand years, musicians were essentially court jesters; on a level with jugglers, story tellers or people who’d visited far-off-lands and returned with an interesting new vegetable. Sure, the people who wrote songs on a lute might have thought that they were creating great art, but in the pecking order of mediaeval life, their string-twanging was arguably less important than shovelling shit from the stables. And paid accordingly.

“Might we be witnessing the sad demise of our beloved sport? Maybe, dare we say it, snowboarding was a fad?”

Cut forward to the 1950s, and the advent of radio stations – plus the sudden boom in teenage spending power – meant things changed pretty dramatically. In the blink of an eye, musicians became millionaires, drove Rolls Royces into swimming pools, bought private jets and did unspeakable things to groupies at 30,000 feet. Needless to say, the pay for shovelling shit did not match this remarkable inflation.

And that arrangement worked pretty fine for a few decades. Vinyl morphed into cassettes, cassettes into CDs, CDs into minidiscs, and finally, minidiscs into MP3s – which was a pretty dumb move for the music industry, because by the end of the 20th century MP3s were sharable, and our modern overlords in Silicon Valley wasted absolutely no time sending most musicians straight back to their historical norm of being skint as fuck. From kings of the world to shit shovellers again in a mere 50 years.

This is what you call a blip – a historical irregularity masquerading (at the time, anyway) as ‘the norm’. And it only really becomes clear when you zoom back and analyse it with the benefit of hindsight. I grew up thinking that people like Rod Stewart had a god-given right to marry supermodels, live in tax-havens and pontificate at Wembley about world hunger. Why wouldn’t I? It was the 1980s – the golden era of pop – when stars were afforded god-like status. Even China – at that point an ultra-communist state with little interest in welcoming foreigners – went completely giddy when George Michael asked if he could prance about the Great Wall singing songs about pool parties. (Though, in fairness, maybe the CCP thought Club Tropicana was a socialist anthem? “Club Tropicana drinks are free, fun and sunshine – there’s enough for everyone…” Yeah, perhaps the theory checks out).

Anyway, yes, snowboarding. Where were we? Well, is it possible that – like our music-playing brethren – us snowboarders have just lived through our own historical blip? For a while, it seemed like the sport was on an ever-upward trajectory. From an outlawed activity pursued by a small hardcore, to the blue riband Olympic event and the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, snowboarding quickly cemented its own rock star status. But with hindsight, perhaps that explosive growth of the 80s, 90s and 2000s was always destined to burn out? In fact, might we now be witnessing nothing less than the sad demise of our beloved sport? Maybe, dare we say it, snowboarding was a fad?

“Anyone who can put a run down a superpipe or hit a modern slopestyle course has my full respect. But this progression has come at a strange cost”

Why would I think that? Well, for starters, rider numbers are dropping, seasonaires now tend to ski, and lift passes are getting more expensive. But most importantly (and let’s be honest here, folks) snowboarding is just not as cool as it once was. Now hear me out before you dismiss this as total bollocks. Sure, the level of athleticism and the sheer standard of tricks is mind-blowing; anyone who can put a run down a superpipe or hit a modern slopestyle course has my full respect. But this progression has come at a strange cost. Japanese pipe rider Kaishu Hirano hitting that sick seven-and-a-half-metre method was the best thing at the Beijing Olympics, when measured by the amount of social media shares it got and by a quick poll (in my own head, admittedly, but you know I’m right). So was he instantly on the cover of Honey-Nut Cornflakes boxes the world over? Nah, he didn’t even podium.

The act of snowboarding hasn’t itself changed, but the culture and participants certainly have, and not always for the better. Our pros are less rebellious, more training-focused, and – perhaps most tellingly – more openly competitive. Meanwhile, at the grass-roots level, the average rider is older, tamer and, if we’re honest, perhaps a bit more boring? I know, I know – that’s rich coming from an old twat like me. It just feels like, you know, the accountants took over. And what do we expect when we all dance to the tune of Mark Zuckerberg, a man who could be barred from a mortgage conference for looking too geeky.

Natural Selection Qualification Day

I’ll admit, it’s hard to explain exactly what I’m saying, but I’m sure you all agree that something has changed. In 1991’s Point Break for example, Patrick Swayze and his gang of ex-presidents robbed banks in order to fund their surfing and skydiving world tour. Do boardsports still enjoy such a badass reputation? No way. In 2022 Bodhi would be a YouTube prankster, filming himself falling asleep on strangers on the train, or surfing the 50-year storm in a sumo fat-suit for clicks. I mean yeah, I’d watch it, but there’s a solid difference between burning the clutch of a Mustang to get away from the FBI with a trunkful of 20 dollar bills, and running after people in order to get model release forms signed. (Yes, I’m aware of how flimsy my argument is if I’m using Point Break to back it up. Yes, my whole approach to this article bothers me. And YES, THE REFERENCE BOTHERS ME!)

In a nutshell, folks, we’ve sold out. Take the Natural Selection Tour. OK, I’m gonna qualify this by saying that OF COURSE Travis Rice is a living snowboarding legend who has nothing to prove to anyone, and OF COURSE it costs a lot of money to host an insane backcountry contest in the middle of nowhere. But was I the only one to watch those in-house adverts – where they talked about purchasing Torstein’s entire outfit at the ‘fast checkout’ and how viewers could buy NFTs of the event – and think, “Holy shit, is this a parody of The Office or are these guys just high on corporate poppers?” It was like going to a Sex Pistols gig in the 1970’s where Johnny Rotten stops mid-set to pull up a quick powerpoint presentation about the band’s quarterly profit margins. I mean come on, just gob on us Travis, for fucks’ sakes. Spit in our faces – it’s what we want! Give us that mosh-pit intensity. We want to be part of something real, something cool. Something with some fucking energy. Anything, ANYTHING as long as it doesn’t involve crypto or the phrase, “We’re forging a partnership with…” Oh and one last thing: I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve got as much interest in owning an NFT as I have in cooking my own balls on a raclette grill.

“It just feels like, you know, the accountants took over”

But speaking of ‘digital assets’, there’s a higher power here that’s leading the collective hard sell. And would you believe it, it’s the same people who have destroyed the music industry: our good friends over in Silicon Valley. Because as well as fucking over musicians, TV, print media and local businesses (yeah, we see you boomers – you’re not disruptors, you’re just greedy old men with your hands on the levers of power), they’ve swallowed up the snowboard community. We are – to the Googles and Facebooks of this world – nothing more than a ‘lifestyle’ demographic, a subset of people they can feed into their algorithms and monetise. The comedian Bill Hicks was right, EVERYTHING these days gets twisted by cock-sucking ad execs into a money-making opportunity. To bring it back to music, if Mick Jagger was an up and coming artist in 2022, there ain’t no way he’s putting a chocolate bar up someone’s fanny unless it was a branding collaboration with Mars and Only Fans.

And yes, I get it – it’s really, really hard to avoid Big Tech. Just take getting to the mountains. As well as the usual flight booking rigmarole, you’ve now got to contend with companies like AirBnB. And wow, when it comes to Silicon Valley piss-takers, then AirBnB really – well, takes the piss. Initially sold as a fun way to earn a few quid from your sofa bed, it’s ended up hollowing out the world’s best cities and overseeing the biggest transfer of wealth to landlords since William the Conqueror arrived in 1066 and divvied up the UK with the world’s first tapestry-based spreadsheet: The Domesday Book. And you can forget the whole promise of a cheap holiday. By the time you’ve checked out from your host’s property (‘host’ being an off-shore investment company based in the Cayman Islands) you’ll have been hit with a list of extras, add-ons and surcharges that make your latest E.On bill look like one of those once-in-a-lifetime bargains you see on Antiques Roadshow.

And the mad thing is: nobody forced us into this. We did it to ourselves. Which brings me neatly on to what might just prove the final nail in snowboarding’s coffin, at least from a UK point-of-view. And yeah, that’s BREXIT. Because long term, the thing that is gonna fuck the UK shred scene more than anything else – more than inviting in the accountants, or turning our pros into athletes, or selling our comps to the highest bidder, or letting Big Tech shaft us at every turn – is the fact that we have voluntarily turned our back on the nearest mountains. Want to do a season in the Alps and only have a UK passport? You’ve got 90 days maximum. Want to fund it by getting a job in resort? Chances are you’re shit out of luck. I mean, what would you say if you owned a bar or chalet company and could either spend two months sorting out visas OR just employ an equally capable Italian or Irish kid?

“To the Googles and Facebooks of this world, snowboarders are nothing more than a lifestyle demographic, a subset of people they can feed into their algorithms and monetise”

I was lucky enough to have done seasons in the 1990s and, with hindsight, what a golden period that was. You’d chuck all your stuff in a £500 Nissan Micra and point it in a roughly south-south easterly direction until you hit some mountains, where there’d be a card on a supermarket cork-board offering a seasonal rental for half of what you’d pay for, say, a one-bedroom student rental in Kettering. In the intervening years, not much has actually changed (the apartments in France are virtually identical) but the number of middlemen wanting to tax the process, and the amount of red tape that you have to go through now, mean that it’s a Prince Andrew-esque, royal pain-in-the-arse. #PizzaExpress #Nonce

God I hate Brexit. It really was the political equivalent of watching a YouTube video of a blindfolded man in a Richard Nixon mask putting his balls closer and closer to a raclette grill while his friends guide him in using the hot and cold game. “Back off Warchild, seriously” says the one with the mullet. Cue: sizzling noises, ambulance flashes and enough ad revenue to head to the Maldives for a few months. (Fuck it’s difficult to undestand modern ‘revenue streams’ sometimes; it was simpler when they robbed banks.)

And hand in hand with Brexit is the fact that we’re all now a fuck-load poorer. As Mick Hucknell put it, “Money’s too tight to mention” (before immediately riffing “ooooh money, money, money, money, money” – thanks Mick you twat, thought you weren’t gonna mention it?). Anyway yeah, none of us have any of it. What more can you say? Maybe we’ll all have to settle for a virtual snowboard trip in the metaverse next winter, where we can be gang-raped in the chalet by Nick Clegg and Zuck’s avatars, GTA style.

So, dear reader, you might be thinking, “Thanks for the downer, Chris. How are things gonna change, then?” Well, for such a gobshite, I’m sad to say that I don’t really know. Maybe snowboarding doesn’t have the right to always exist – at least not in the way it used to. Maybe, as Ian Brown of the Stone Roses put it: “Don’t be sad it’s over – be happy that it happened at all.” But with luck, maybe snowboarding will prove more resilient than I give it credit for. Whether it’s making the whole thing more affordable by living in a van, or a moment of political clarity where we reverse Brexit, or just a total collapse in modern society in which we all decide to make the most of our lives, I’m confident that there will be some green shoots.

“The final nail in snowboarding’s coffin, at least from a UK point-of-view, is Brexit”

What I do know is that if and when snowboarding roars back from the dead, it’ll be thanks to the youth. They might have to overstay their tourist visas, they might have to work cash-in-hand, and there might be the smell of burnt pubes and seared scrotum in the air, but the lure of riding fresh powder and slushy parks with great friends will always win out in the end. It sure beats working behind a screen and using our allotted breaks to live vicariously through some bullshit app that claims to connect us but in fact does the exact opposite.

Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.