BOSTON — IF you're cool, call it shredding. If you want to get technical, call it snowboard skiing. But if you're like most people, call it snowboarding. Part skiing, part skateboarding, part surfing, snowboarding has gained tremendous visibility in the past few years, and has shed its only-a-fad image.
Snowboard sales have nearly doubled annually since 1985, to perhaps 65,000 units last year, says Paul Alden, president of the North American Snowboard Association. This year, 75 percent of all ski areas welcome the estimated 200,000 to 225,000 snowboarders in the United States, he says. That's up from only 12 percent in 1986.
This is also the first season that the Professional Ski Instructors Association of America has offered certified training programs for snowboard instructors.
There are some 175,000 snowboarders in Europe, and ``it's growing wildly'' in Japan, says Alden. Competition is worldwide, with racing and freestyle events. Europeans dominate the racing, while Americans have always excelled at freestyle, says John Gerndt, a 25-year-old who has been a world-class snowboard racer for six years. (One week from today is the final day of snowboarding's World Cup, to be held in Avoriaz, France.)
If snowboarding is no longer just a fad, has it come of age as a sport? Not quite, says Wiley Asher, senior writer for International Snowboard Magazine, based in San Francisco. ``We're still not `there' yet, because there's still a lot of resistance.''
Much of the resistance comes from its older sibling, the alpine (downhill) skier. A certain proportion of them ``resents their space being invaded,'' Alden says.
A larger obstacle has been snowboarding's image, which has also been part of its appeal: the young, adventurous wintertime surfer decked out in fluorescent colors, taking risks and being rebellious. They have to realize that they are skiers, just on a different platform, says Mr. Asher.
There's a skiing etiquette that many snowboarders need to learn, Alden says, noting that 80 percent of snowboarders were never alpine skiers.
The fact that many snowboarders are new ski-resort customers has prompted the industry - faced with a yearly growth rate of less than 3 percent - first to tolerate and now welcome the sport. Some areas offer snowboarding on select runs, others open all their trails.
Snowboarders are a dedicated group: ``On a bad or rainy day, you can bet that more than half of the people [on the slopes] are snowboard skiers,'' says Carolyn Crowley, night manager of Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton, Mass. This is the first year Wachusett has allowed snowboarding. Snowboard lessons are also offered.
Concerned that snowboarding might cause a higher density on the slopes, Wachusett wanted to ``start out slow and get a handle on it,'' says Ms. Crowley, echoing the thoughts of other ski resort people. Snowboarders tend to carve a wide, zigzag course as opposed to the narrower path made by alpine skiers.
The boards can also be noisy, and may sound threatening to beginner alpine skiers, she adds. (The scraping noise is less when the snow is deep and soft.)
Killington, Vt., a major East Coast ski resort, does not allow snowboarding. ``It's not compatible with our downhill skiing - it's purely a safety reason,'' says spokeswoman Laura Wittern.
Snowboarders and industry representatives contend that it is as safe as downhill skiing, if not safer for the individual. According to Alden, two injury surveys have been conducted so far and both show that the accident rate is the same as or lower than skiing.
At Steamboat, one of the largest ski areas in Colorado and the United States, snowboarding has not had as much of an impact on the ski patrol members as they thought it would, says ski patrol director Pete Wither. He has noticed, though, that the ``age group'' on snowboards tends to be a little less careful.
It's not a leisurely sport, says Asher, and it takes a lot of energy. ``It means being aggressive, adventurous,'' he says. ``It's physically demanding and therefore a different kind of fun.''
And the fun continues. Although some longtime snowboarders might not like to hear this, says Alden, ``We're seeing it become mainstream.''
As far as keeping the sport growing in the right direction, Asher says, ``It's the kids who are thinking - concerned with where the sport is going - who are going to make the difference.''
HOW TO TALK LIKE A SHREDDER
Many of these snowboarding terms are borrowed from skateboard or surfing slang:
Catching air: When snowboarder becomes momentarily airborne - on a jump, say.
Goofy-footer: Someone who rides a snowboard with his right foot forward.
Rad, radical (adj.): An outstanding maneuver or snowboard condition.
Rocket tweaking: Grabbing the nose of the board while catching air.
Shredder: A snowboard skier; also, a snowboard.
Shredding: Crisscrossing adeptly down the slope.
Tonar: ``Totally gnarly,'' i.e., radical.
Winter waves: Moguls.