The place has a rich history of craftsmanship. Local snowboarders, surfboards, and skiers started developing the noble art of snow surfing in the early 1980s.
The movement spread to Europe and North America and gained broader visibility in the 2000s. It still involves a lot of experimentation, but the equipment required is highly efficient already.
Snow surfers ride a board shaped explicitly for the mountains that combines aspects of the surfboard, snowboard, skateboard, and even sandboard. Some athletes even use wax to increase grip.
Unlike traditional snowboards, surf snowboards are not meant to be ridden using bindings. As a result, it is harder to keep a balance, more difficult to maneuver, and it is considerably slower than snowboarding.
You could say that a snow surfboard is a snowboard with a twist. Imagine a swallow-tailed board mixed with the 1965 Snurfer, and that’s nearly it.
They’re also made from natural materials – wood is the favorite one – but the whole concept states that each board is shaped for a certain and specific snow condition.
Snow surfboards usually feature fish, diamond or round tails, and rounded or pointy noses. Feel the Flow
In snow surfing, the goal is not to ride fast and perform eye-catching freestyle tricks. The snow surfer is invited to descend the mountain, work around its obstacles with style, grace, and flow, and feel every detail and texture of what lies beneath his or her feet.
Snow surfing mimics wave riding’s fundamental maneuvers – bottom-turns, cut-backs, power carves, lay back turns, and backside hacks – and transports them into the cold and white terrains without any special adaptation.
You can – and should – use your hands to slightly rotate your body, but the essence of it is to bring the joy of trimming a wave to the snow and to ride powder like an ocean wave.
As they ride and slide and flow down a slope, snow surfers draw long arcs across the mountains and generate huge buckets of powder snow at each turn.
Snow surfing is not about getting from one place to another fast. On the contrary, it’s all about connecting the dots in the smoothest way possible.
Although the snow surfing scene rejects direct comparisons with its relatives, in a way, the relationship between snow surfing and snowboarding is similar to the connection between long boarding and shortboard surfing.
Taro Tamai, Kenichi Miyashita, Osamu Okada, Kazushi Yamauchi, Atsushi Gomyo, Alex Yoder, Forrest Shearer, Chris Christenson, Gray Thompson, Beau Young, Nicholas Wolken, Timo Paarvala, Gerry Lopez and his son Alex Lopez are some of the most prolific ambassadors of the snow surfing revolution.
Snow surfing is here to stay. It has never been a vague, retro movement designed by mountain hipsters. It is a full-grown niche winter sport with a consolidated culture and equipment.
Snow Surfing Is Not Snowboarding
when Sherman Poppen lashed two skis together for his daughter, and then three years later when Tom Sims tried using a skateboard in the snow — snowboarding was born. And then, based on the whispers we’re hearing, there’s been another change and an evolutionary step to this magical, mystical thing: snow surfing.
Not just an ersatz, quasi-cool way of describing snowboarding, snow surfing — though it uses boards — is about a frame of mind, and has been since about 1985 when Japanese snowboarder Taro Tamai watched kneeboarders working a slope. Rather than seeing the mountain as something to be acted upon — carved, ripped, shredded — snow surfers describe it as something that must be worked with, involving a “flow” that must be embraced. Much how water surfers see the ocean.
And an even weirder twist: “Both can happen on the same mountain at the same time too,” says snowboarder and snow surfer Ron Isa. While snowboards are larger, more in keeping with single-fin traditional surfboards, snow surfboards are shorter, sometimes with blunt tails. Snowboarders go wherever they want, but snow surfers let the mountain suggest their run. Increasingly, resorts worldwide are grooming their runs to accommodate the more surf-oriented style. Especially after some favorable precipitation, with hillsides full of light, powdery and less-dense snow, maneuvering your board is less about the speed generated by the steepness of a hill — like with snowboarding — and much more about reading the ride right.
… it’s funny to think about a sporting event being designed with creative flow in mind.
“Powder is cool,” says Isa, “but gently groomed stuff works well too.” So with an eye toward a line down the mountain, snow surfers hunker down and further back on the board, typically lower and closer to the ground than snowboarders, and sweep into wide S-curves, with hands trailing, sometimes touching the ground. To the untrained eye? Probably virtually indistinguishable from normal snowboarding, but snow surfing — ever popular in Japan — is increasingly making a mark in the U.S. with special resort runs on the Eastern Seaboard as well as the West Coast’s Lake Tahoe.
“I don’t know if it’s because after you hit 30 you start thinking stuff like this, but I like the easy flow of it all,” laughs Isa. Unlike snowboarding when it first hit big, there’s no mountain flow disruption like there was when skiers first had to make room for the more squirrelly snowboarders. In fact, there’s a laid-back mountain ease, more like surfing. So then it’s no surprise that competitions have started to pop up — The Big Wave Challenge, Holy Bowly, Rally for Rocker and the Gerry Lopez Big Wave Challenge — far as far can be from the over-caffeinated X-Games.