Article on Responses to Abusive Snowboarder Behavior

The following article originally appeared in the Spring 1993 issue of "Ski Area Management" magazine. Despite the article's age it still provides one of the best overviews of the causes and possible solutions to "abusive snowboarder behavior" encountered by some resorts.

It has been edited for this web site and is reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.


Snowboarding - Defining the Problem
by Wiley Asher

Some ski areas have encountered problems with abusive snowboarder behavior. Others, however, have had great success integrating snowboarders through on-hill structures and comprehensive management.

Defining the Problem

The problems of property destruction and abrasive attitudes stem from within the 'new school" faction of the freestyle snowboard community. New school riding is characterized by groups of riders doing skateboard-style tricks that use stationary objects, like snowmaking equipment and picnic tables, as ridable terrain. This style is quickly displacing half-pipe riding as the sport evolves.

Within the snowboard industry, new-school riders are considered the "second generation" of snowboarders; most take ski area access as a given and don't have the perspective of the "first generation" which worked for that privilege.

Most freestyle snowboarders respect the Skiers' Responsibility Code, but there is a small faction of bad apples causing the majority of the problems. The problems experienced by some resorts run the gamut from simple ignorance of ski area etiquette to blatant and complete disregard for property and the law. Others have no unique problems with snowboarders that they don't have with their traditional skiing guests.

Getting Perspective:

To understand some of the problems, an area manager might well try seeing things through the eyes of kids of the 1990's, who are challenged every day by guns in school, gang violence in the streets, a lack of values at home (if not violence there, too), AIDS and drugs. These are no longer urban problems alone, but have spread to the suburbs and into socio-economic communities that can afford to ski. You see it on the news; they live with it.

"Kids today are deeply angry about their world, and blame the generations before them tor ruining their future," says Dee LeBlanc, a University of Denver Law School professor and founder of The Meditation Center, a Denver-based group that has worked with urban schools to mediate disputes among kids, between gangs, on playgrounds, in lunchrooms, within families, etc.

"They didn't cause AIDS, they didn't pollute the environment, they didn't put the nation into debt," she explains, "but they understand that they're left to clean up the mess. Furthermore, the ones that caused the mess are constantly saying; 'NO' to them: no sex, no drugs, no skateboarding.

"Snowboarding can be a positive outlet for their aggressions, but when you say 'no' to them on the hill, you'll get a quick dose of their anger. Especially with two sticks on your feet and a ski area jacket, you're just another authority figure-the enemy."

"And if a patrol reprimands a group of snowboarders (known as a "posse"), verbal abuse may arise that a lone individual might never instigate. That's just simple group dynamics or mob mentality that can be seen from union pickets to kindergarten classes. Patrols must remember they are not confronting a gang, but a social group of friends.

Educating the Masses

The majority of snowboarders were not brought up in skiing families, but come from skateboarding, surfing or other non-alpine backgrounds. Thus, there is the further problem that they have no grounding in ski area etiquette.

As pointed out by Lee Rogers, snowboard director at California's Snow Summit; "Rules of surfing dictate that a dispute in the water is resolved by a fist fight on the beach." In 1993 Copper Mountain started an education program that they called 'Shredtiquette.' They passed out pamphlets listing the Skiers' Responsibility Code' and two additional rules: 'Never ollie or rail slide any man-made objects such as signs, tables, railings, hydrants, trash cans, etc.;" and 'Profanity is not acceptable.' Copper offered free board storage to those carrying the pamphlet and had a snowboard-suggestion phone number. Although the effort was well-intentioned and pro-active, it was generally considered ineffective, which frustrated Copper.

Many snowboarders felt they were being singled out and blamed for all the problems. It was suggested at a Copper Mountain town meeting that any future on-mountain education programs target all guests, not just snowboarders. Everyone agrees there can never be too much on-hill education.

It is understood that the responsibility of educating snowboarders cannot be placed solely on the shoulders of resort operators; all partners in the industry must do their part. Manufacturers need to re-evaluate their advertising and marketing images, retailers need to promote positive attitudes, the media needs to quit showing illegal maneuvers, and snowboarders need to start viewing themselves as members of a larger community of mountain visitors.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Many resorts around the nation have built snowboard parks which are often adjacent to, or include, a half-pipe. They feature obstacles that new school freestyle riders want, such as rail slides, snow mounds, whales, quarter-pipes, tree stumps and even the picnic benches the boarders ruined the season before.

Snowboard parks are effective because they give 'New Schoolers' a controlled environment in which to do their tricks. They can learn new tricks from each other, just as they do outside the mall on skateboards. It says 'yes' to the boarders. Snowboard parks not only better fit what snowboarders want these days, they are about one-third the cost for building and maintaining a half-pipe. They can even be changed easily throughout the season.

Total (Snowboarding) Quality Management

Building a snowboard park is only one aspect of a comprehensive program for integrating snowboarders. Vail has one central snowboard office that coordinates, and cooperates with, other departments. Squaw Valley enlisted the help of 10 local professional snowboarders: sponsoring them with season passes, thereby getting them on the side of the resort. The pros have been Squaw's best ambassadors and advocates of safe, legal and fun snowboarding because the boarders have respect for the pros. No hard cash was put out, either.

Mt. Bachelor, Oregon got even more mileage out of such a program by having their sponsored pros wear an area hat and/or patch when competing or doing photo shoots. Pros will get you increased exposure, and their board sponsor will welcome such a program because they currently pay for their riders' passes. And don't just go after the goody-goody boarders: it you empower the 'bad-boys" and get them on your side, their leadership will emerge and you will be cool in the eyes of the kids.

Having mountain hosts and/or patrols on snowboards helps because kids will respect the words of a peer. Patrols on skis are often seen as policemen whose authority is not heeded.

What about the fact that the "bad apples" of the crowd are usually the ones who won't listen to anyone, even pros and peers? Wire cutters and, if need be, prosecution. The snowboard industry supports a no-tolerance policy toward illegal behavior.



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