The Battle for Snowboarding's Soul

Commercials vs Culture: The Battle for Snowboarding’s Soul

by Fraser
Updated:

As a, cough, older snowboarder, I can’t help but notice the changing tides of our sport.

What was once a fringe activity, belonging to a close-knit community of powder-loving misfits, has transformed under the weight of commercialization.

Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads: does the heart of snowboarding lie in its cultural roots or in the glossy brochures of luxury resorts?

Here’s my honest opinion (not that you asked for it)

The Rise of the Corporate Giants

snowboarder chased by corporate greed

It’s impossible to ignore the influx of big brands and corporate sponsorships. They’ve stamped their logos on our boards and banners, literally. 

Initially, this surge brought excitement—more money meant more events, better gear, and broader recognition.

But at what cost?

As these corporations push to make snowboarding ‘marketable’, are we selling the soul of the sport for a slice of mainstream acceptance?

Sponsorship: A Double-Edged Sword

On one hand, sponsorships have allowed talented riders to pursue their dreams, traveling the world and pushing the boundaries of what we thought possible.

But there’s a catch.

These athletes are often bound to contracts. These dictate not only what they wear but also how they act and what they say.

Are we still rebels if our rebellion has a price tag?

Examples of Over-Commercialization

As we navigate the effects of commercialization (greed) on snowboarding, these examples illustrate the tension between profit and the sport’s OG ethos.

The Nike Experiment

Nike’s entry (and exit) in the snowboarding market is a perfect example of a large brand seeking profit over passion.

The company ventured into snowboarding gear in the early 2000s, launching a range of boots and later apparel.

(Admittedly, some of their boots were pretty darn comfortable).

However, by 2014, Nike pulled out of the niche market, having likely not met its profit expectations.

nike drops snowboarding

Many riders who’d found their perfect fit in Nike boots, were suddenly forced to restart their search for the holy grail (comfortable and responsive boots). 

This move left many questioning the brand’s commitment to the sport’s development – versus its bottom line. 

The Vail Resorts Expansion

The behaviour of Vail Resorts, Inc. represents exactly how capitalist and commercial interests are reshaping the local snowboarding scene.

By acquiring and merging numerous resorts across North America and the world (43 at the time of writing), Vail have created a near-monopoly in certain regions.

This expansion drives up prices and changes the character of once low-key, accessible resorts, making it harder for average snowboarders to enjoy their own mountains. 

This has prompted many local riders (myself included) to fly to far-flung resorts in other states – or even other countries!

I genuinely managed a tour of these Japanese resorts for less than it would have cost to road-trip around the states. Madness!

Luxury Resorts: Are They Killing The Sport?

The transformation of rustic lodges into luxury resorts is a testament to snowboarding’s rising popularity.

These resorts offer state-of-the-art facilities and impeccable slopes.

However, the question lingers: Who are these developments for?

While they attract tourists and revenue, local snowboarding communities often find themselves sidelined, priced out of the very mountains we once called home.

luxury ski chalet

Remember the days when snowboarding was about finding a group of like-minded degenerates and carving out a space on the fringes?

Now, it feels like the sport is as much groomed for tourists as the slopes themselves.

The original, gritty culture of snowboarding is being smoothed over to create a more ‘wholesome’ image.

Are We Riders or Products?

It’s hard not to feel like a walking billboard when every piece of gear, every lift ticket, and every competition is tied to a brand.

Our sport is becoming less about the adventure and more about the advertisement.

Is this the legacy we want to leave for the next generation of snowboarders?

Holding on to Our Roots

Despite the commercial pressure, we must strive to preserve the core of snowboarding culture.

Choose gear from companies that respect the sport’s heritage. Support local events that prioritize community over commerce.

Our loyalty shouldn’t be to brands, but to the community and the mountains (not the company who “owns” them). 

So, how do we keep grassroots snowboarding alive? 

The Power of Community

It’s up to us, the riders, to keep the spirit alive.

Let’s mentor young snowboarders, advocating not just for skill development but for a deep appreciation of the sport.

Let’s hold events that celebrate creativity and individuality, not just competition and profit.

What Would Terje Do?

Remember when legendary rider Terje Haakonsen famously boycotted the 1998 Winter Olympics?

His refusal to participate was a clear protest against the International Ski Federation (FIS), an organization then unfamiliar with snowboarding culture, controlling the sport’s entry into the Olympics.

Haakonsen argued that this takeover disregarded the sport’s roots, setting a precedent for future corporate dominance and governance. 

Sadly… he was right. 

So, What Can You Do?

Facing the wave of commercialization, you might feel like just one snowboarder against a corporate avalanche.

But remember, even Spartacus started with a single gladiator, and look how that turned out—there’s power in numbers!

*Stands on tiptoes in the Vail lift queue*

“I am Terje”
“No, I am Terje!”
“No, I’m Terje!”

Anyway, you get the picture…

Here are more practical steps you can take to make a difference:

1. Support Independent Brands

Choose to buy from independent brands that are deeply rooted in snowboarding culture.

These companies often invest a portion of their profits back into the community and are more likely to support sustainable practices. 

This doesn’t mean settling for substandard gear either. Check out boards from Endeavor and Telos for inspiration. 

2. Engage in Local Events

Participate in local snowboarding events (rather than these heavily sponsored facades by big corporations).

Local events often focus more on the joy of the sport and less on the competitive, profit-driven aspects.

Announcement: We will be touring the smaller, community-driven resorts ourselves this season. Expect good vibes, product giveways and free gear testing. Join the free newsletter to stay tuned!

3. Support Eco-Friendly Practices

Snowboarding relies on winter and snow (duh), both of which are directly impacted by climate change.

Support resorts and brands that implement eco-friendly practices. This could be anything from using renewable energy sources to enforcing stricter environmental policies.

4. Share Your Wisdom

Us older (and obviously wiser) snowboarders have a duty to pass down the ancient scrolls of snowboarding lore.

Spread the word about the sport’s origins and the importance of maintaining its integrity.

Share articles, create content, or simply tell stories that highlight the core values of snowboarding…

Style over spins. 

Powder not podiums. 

What Have I Missed?

In the spirit of democracy and community, I’d love to hear your voice on this. 

Have I gotten it all wrong?

Missed a key point?

The comments are open.

Let’s hear it!

Conclusion: The Future of Grassroots Snowboarding

Will we surrender to the allure of commercialization, or will we fight to keep snowboarding’s soul alive?

Sadly, I suspect the industry will keep chasing profits.

But every time we strap on our boards, let’s remember why we started and the community that holds us together.

Honor the trailblazers.

Make it count.

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