Young snowboarders try to find their place on the slippery slopes


"How does a snowboarder greet a skier?"

"Sorry, dude."

If you haven't visited a ski resort in the past five years, you may not even know what or who a snowboarder is. Snowboarders, also known as boarders, shredders or riders, take to the slopes on a contraption that resembles a 5-foot-long skateboard without the wheels. Riders stand at right angles to the heavy board with both feet firmly strapped on.

While skiers gracefully and quietly glide down the mountain, boarders, who usually travel in packs, look like surfers riding a wave of snow as they roar down the mountain, hips, knees and arms swiveling along.

Most shredders are young males between the ages of 16 and 25. Unlike skiers who usually wear sleek ski suits, boarders seem to have a thing for oversized pants, baggy flannel shirts, baseball caps, wild knit hats and other grunge or gangsta fashions.

For skiers not used to sharing the slopes with boarders, it can be unsettling to see what appears to be a gang of surfers hurtling down the mountain. And for snowboarders, it's hard to have a good time when skiers assume that you are up to no good and try to cut you out of the best terrain.

Snowboarders at the Carroll Valley, Penn., Ski Liberty resort are expected to follow the same rules of the mountain as skiers -- and that means not knocking anyone down.

But that's a sensitive subject at Ski Liberty and at other ski resorts where skiers and snowboarders share the same mountain. Can skiers and snowboarders get along on the slopes?

"Older skiers are a little leery of snowboarding," says Ski Liberty's snowboard supervisor and instructor, 22-year-old Jason Nightingale of Westminster.

"They're dangerous. They're careless and reckless. They have no control," says 50-year-old skier Avis Bennett from College Park.

"Skiers have a big conflict with us," says 22-year-old snowboarder and surfer James Reboler, from Virginia Beach. "They think we're out to destroy them, but we're not. They just don't understand."

"Most of us get along with skiers. There are no real problems . . . I see more skiers cut boarders off than boarders getting in the way of skiers," says 18-year-old snowboarder and former skier Dave Bernier from California, Md.

Says snowboard instructor Mr. Nightingale: "A couple of years ago there was a lot of tension, but things have settled down now . . . Most of the problems come from people who don't know anything about snowboarding."

"Snowboarding is a relatively new sport, but it's just exploded," says Kari Butterbaugh, Liberty's marketing director. Ms. Butterbaugh says that boarders now make up 10 to 12 percent of Liberty's lift ticket sales every day and that the number of boarders is growing.

Snowboard boom

According to the National Ski Areas Association's end-of-season survey, snowboarders make up 9.4 percent of the skiing population nationally -- an increase from 5.8 percent during the 1990-91 ski season. Because the sport is relatively new, the organization has been keeping track of snowboarders only for the past three years.

"Five years ago, I thought snowboarding was just a fad," says Eric Flynn, president and general manager of Ski Liberty. "But it's continuing to grow, and we're going to grow right along with it."

To keep up, Ski Liberty has about 50 rental boards and plans to increase that number to 100 within the next year, according to Tim Koons, Ski Liberty's rental manager. "We're getting to the point where the demand exceeds the supply," he says, adding that on the busiest days, Liberty rents out all 50 boards the first hour.

Part of the popularity of snowboarding, according to Mr. Nightingale, is that some people have figured out that snowboarding is actually not as difficult as skiing. "It's a lot easier on the knees," he says. "You also don't get tangled up in skis and poles." Mr. Nightingale says a lot of people feel confident enough to try snowboarding without taking any lessons.

Ski Liberty does offer snowboarding lessons. Out of the 240 instructors Ski Liberty has on staff, about 15 teach snowboarding.

"Snowboarding is a quicker learning process," says Linda Steinle, head of Ski Liberty's Ski School. "The stance is more natural. You have one foot in front of the other, like other sports."

The radical zone

Most snowboarders start out just trying to make it from the top of the mountain to the bottom. Advanced boarders hang out at Ski Liberty's half-pipe, a bowl-shaped section of the slope where snowboarders try out wild aerial moves.

Skiers are not allowed on the half-pipe.

"The half-pipe is the boarders' domain," Ms. Butterbaugh says. "They can get as radical as they want."

Boarders David Fulchiron, 17, Dave Bernier, 18, and Scott Stringer, 18, hang out at the half-pipe. All are sporting the latest jive-fresh outfits and look sharp as they attempt such maneuvers as 180- and 360-degree turns or more complicated moves, such as ollies. This trick requires the boarder to ride up the side of the bowl, jump up in the air, reach between his legs and grab the back of the board. But most boarders just try to just bounce off the edges of the bowl or jump up in the air.

For Mr. Stringer, the appeal of snowboarding is simple. "It's a lot more fun. You can do more things on a board than you can on skis. Snowboarding is more open. It's a freer form." He's skied before and says he'll never go back.

There's only one real drawback to snowboarding -- stopping.

There are two ways to stop on a snowboard. The right way is to lean into the board and drag one edge into the snow until the board comes to a stop.

The most common way is to just fall on your behind.

Of course, Mr. Nightingale says, "We don't fall, we lose our balance." A lot of boarders say they "catch an edge," when they lose their balance.

"No," says Mr. Fulchiron, "I fall. A lot."

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