Did you know that the first snowboard was a children’s toy? Made by Michigan Engineer Sherman Poppen, the prototype Snurfer (Snow + Surfer) was the precursor to the modern-day snowboard. But when did snowboarding become an olympic sport? Well, the snurfer spawned a brand new realm of competitive sports which became increasingly popular, eventually taking it’s rightful place in the Olympics.
Snowboarding became an Olympic sport in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan after being officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1994. The sport initially included two competitions at its inception but has since expanded to include five.
In this article, I’ll explain when and how snowboarding became an Olympic sport and give you an overview of the main competitions within the snowboarding category of the Winter Olympics.
When And How Snowboarding Became An Olympic Sport
First considered an offshoot of skiing, snowboarding rapidly gained popularity in the United States of America during the 1970s and 1980s. By the 1970s, snowboarding had multiple national-level competitions.
Snowboarding was first introduced in the Japan Winter Olympics of 1998, four years after the International Olympic Committee officially recognized it. It has since featured in all subsequent Winter Olympics.
In 1998, the Olympics included two snowboarding competitions with four medal events. The committee eventually added more competitions to the category in the following years.
Types Of Competition In Olympic Snowboarding
As mentioned earlier, the snowboarding category in the 1998 Winter Olympics only included two competitions – the Giant Slalom and the Halfpipe.
In subsequent Olympics, more competitions made their debut. Below is a quick summary of the events added and the years they were first included in the Olympics.
|Parallel Giant Slalom||1998||Men’s, Women’s|
|Snowboard Cross||2006||Men’s, Women’s, Team|
|Big Air||2018||Men’s, Women’s|
The halfpipe is snowboarding’s most popular competition. In this event, competitors perform aerial tricks by snowboarding across a U-shaped depression in the snow.
Here’s an example of (the infamous flying tomato) halfpipe snowboarding:
The Olympic halfpipe setting requires a 600-foot (183-meter) long structure that resembles a pipe cut in half lengthwise, hence the name. The halfpipe walls are 64 feet (approximately 19 meters) apart at the lip and 22 feet (6.7 meters) high, at an incline of 16-18 degrees.
This event is open to men and women, and each participant is scored by the difficulty and execution of the aerial tricks performed. It is one of three freestyle snowboarding events in the Winter Olympics.
Parallel Giant Slalom
The parallel giant slalom is an alpine snowboarding event where competitors move between poles or “gates” as they go downhill. The event debuted as the Giant Slalom in the 1998 Winter Olympics, in which only one competitor would go at a time. However, the event changed to the Parallel Giant Slalom in 2002, with two competitors running the course simultaneously.
Here’s a video of what Parallel Giant Slalom competitions look like:
This event is open to men and women. Barring any disqualifying actions, the winner is the athlete who crosses the finishing line first. Safe to say, there’s some pretty gnarly crashes involved! Enter at your own risk.
Snowboard Cross is an event where competitors race against each other on a course involving turns, flat sections, jumps, and other obstacles. The event typically involves four to six competitors racing simultaneously down a narrow path.
Here is an example of the snowboard cross:
This event is open to men, women, and mixed-gender teams. It is the only team event in the snowboarding category in the Winter Olympics.
In this competition, the athletes are scored based on the time taken to complete the course, and those who make it to the finish line first – win.
My personal favorite! Slopestyle snowboarding is a competition in which athletes snowboard down a course consisting of ramps, rails, and other obstacles. Added during the 2014 Winter Olympics, this event requires competitors to use the ramps and rails to perform jumps and tricks.
Take a look at what slopestyle snowboarding looks like:
This freestyle competition is open to men and women. All competitors are scored on the tricks’ originality, execution, and consistency.
In Big Air, the athletes speed down a giant ramp to launch themselves and perform one impressive aerial trick with their snowboards. The event was introduced at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Here’s an example of Big Air competitions:
This freestyle event is open to men and women and features a 160-foot (48.8-meter) drop onto the ramp. Athletes are scored on the execution and intricacy of their tricks.
There’s been criticism in recent years that style has been overlooked in place of “bigger and better” tricks. For a while it became a game of whoever can do the most spins, wins. Thankfully, style is back and (hopefully) here to stay.
Hopefully I’ve now answered your question (when did snowboarding become an olympic sport?).
As you can see, snowboarding has an extensive and colorful history spanning several decades. Hopefully it will continue to develop for decades more to come (ignoring the looming threat of global warming).
At the time of writing this article, snowboarding currently has 11 medal events.
Which other snowboarding events do you want to see on the roster?