Snowboarding, despite the widespread illusion that it’s a wild sport indulged in only by wild-eyed teenagers hurtling wildly down mountains without sense or control, is actually a civilized and challenging winter pastime that’s an integral part of today’s ski scene. It has nothing to do with age, or attitude.

Teenagers snowboard. So do riders in their 50s. It was once an almost exclusively male sport, but at least 15 percent of the boarders swooping and pivoting down the slopes today are women. It’s estimated that about one third of boarders are also skiers. Burton Snowboards, which has been manufacturing snowboards since the late 1970s, estimates that 12 percent of the tickets sold at mountain resorts in the winter of 1994 - 95 were for snowboarders. The percentage is edging up annually.

Snowboarders, and the special industry that serves them, fight desperately to maintain the aura of being, well, different. Look, for example, at this ad by Burton in Powder magazine. It captures the freaky spirit of the snowboard universe:

Snowboarding is not:

Extreme or rad.

Olympic-hopeful or anti-hero.

Allowed at Sundance or banned at Huntah.

Eating buffalo wings in the lodge or spitting off the lift.

Wearing tennis bracelets or nipple rings.

Skin-tight or XXXL.

It’s you, scum.

Fundamentally, say the boarders, we are the exciting next generation of alpine skiing, pursuing a new snow sport that, as one aficionado described it, is “totally geared for descent.”

Snowboarding was begun in the United States in the last 1960s by ocean surfers trying to figure out what they could do on oversized skateboards on the snow. Today it involves equipment as sophisticated as the most modem skis, boots, and bindings. Its popularity has spread from the hills and dales of American resorts to ski areas around the world.

Ten years ago only a handful of ski resorts were brave enough to permit snowboarders to charge, loop, fly, and carve down their slopes. Today, only a handful of resorts, some major, some small, ban them. It’s smart, of course, for snowboarders heading for a new area to call ahead and make certain their boards are welcome.

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