The Origins of Snowboarding in Utah

by STEPHEN KONKLER

Snowboarding began in 1965 with the invention of the “Snurfer.” Sherman Poppen, an engineer and father in Michigan, invented the first prototype of a snowboard as a toy for his daughter by attaching two skis together side by side and putting a rope at the very front of the board for control. (TransWorld, Part 1) Not long after, snowboarding took off nationwide, and it wasn’t long before fanatics made it out to Utah for the lightest snow on earth.

Although it’s not mentioned much in Utah’s history books, Utah has been a home to snowboarding, and a dominant destination for the sport since the early 1970s. Alta Ski Area, one of the oldest ski areas in the US, started out as a small mining camp in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon in the 1920s and 1930s. Alta opened its doors to skiers in 1936, and years later in the 1970s became the first ski area in Utah to allow snowboarders to ride the slopes, with Snowbird Ski Resort close behind. (Scheuerman, “Snowboarding”)

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Dimitrije Milovich rides his Winterstick snowboard. Photo by Alan K. Engen. Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

With a newfound sport on the rise and an open market demanding snowboards, a young man by the name of Dimitrije Milovich found his way to Utah and set out to invent the first snowboard without a rope for the rider to hang onto. (TransWorld, Part 1) With the help of famous surfboard shaper Wayne Stoveken, Milovich invented the first snowboard that used plastic for the base and metal on the edges of the board to help grip the snow. (Winterstick Advertisement) Milovich started out testing his prototypes at Snowbird and at Alta Ski Area. (Although Alta was willing to let Milovich test his newly designed equipment there, the area subsequently closed to snowboarders in 1984. It has yet to reopen to anyone but skiers, despite being on public land.) By 1971, Milovich had a couple of patents for his state of the art “snow surfboards” and had opened a shop to sell his aptly named “Winterstick Swallowtails” in none other than Salt Lake City, Utah. (TransWorld, Part 1)

Although the sport of snowboarding continued to grow, not only in Utah but also across the country, some skiers weren’t very happy to share the slopes with this newfound sport and the culture that followed. After a skier crashed at Stratton Mountain, a resort in Vermont, and sued the ski area, management was forced to create ski-at-your-own-risk laws and ban all non-traditional skiing sports. Snowboarding as well as telemark skiing were both considered too dangerous, and resorts started banning both all across the country. With few snowboarders willing to hike mountains to be able to ride, Milovich had to close the doors of his Winterstick stores in Utah in 1982.

But Milovich wasn’t done with owning a business. He and a man named Dwain Bush opened a windsurfing shop named Milosport. Later, it became a snowboard shop when the sport started to get back into the mainstream in the late 1980s. (Scheuerman, “Snowboarding”) Milosport is now the most popular snowboard shop in Utah, and has led the pack for snowboarding’s revolution in Utah since 1988.

After years of battling resorts for the return of snowboarding, in 1986 Beaver Mountain in Logan, Utah, was the first resort in Utah to open back up to snowboarders. (Halcomb, Part 1) After the sport of snowboarding stayed in the backcountry and off of the resort slopes for years, places like Brighton Resort, Powder Mountain, Sundance Resort, Snowbird, and many others started to see the return of snowboarding on their slopes. Although resorts all over Utah were welcoming back snowboarders, it wasn’t without stipulations. A rider certification card was required to use a snowboard at most resorts, to indicate that the rider could turn and stop without harming any skiers. (Scheuerman, “Re-search”)

Leading the pack in the fight to bring snowboarding back to resorts across the nation was a man named Dennis Nazari. Nazari was born in California and moved to Utah with his parents as a kid. Although Nazari spent most of his childhood in California, he was quick to pick up skiing and eventually snowboarding in Utah. After searching many ski shops in town, Nazari was able to locate and buy a snowboard at a local ski shop in Salt Lake City, which he rode primarily at Alta Ski Area, until they banned snowboards on Christmas Day of 1984. (Sheehan)

After Alta banned snowboarding, Nazari started the Southwest Surf Skiers Association, a program designed to get snowboards back on the slopes of resorts in Utah. (Halcomb, Part 1)

The SSSA was a program dedicated to educating people about the safety measures of snowboarding, and certifying that snowboarders could safely ride down the hill of a resort without injuring anyone else on hill. Nazari would drive up to Logan on the weekends to educate and certify riders. The rider would get an A, AA, or AAA, depending on how good they were at maneuvering their snowboard, with AAA being the best. (Halcomb, Dennis Nazari) After developing the idea of the rider certification card, Nazari brought snowboarding back to resorts all over Utah. (Sheehan)

Although snowboarding was becoming popular again in 1986, Milovich’s doors were still closed, which meant no one had anywhere to buy a snowboard. So in 1987, Dennis Nazari opened up a shop called Salty Peaks to cater strictly to snowboarding and the people interested in the sport. Not only did the shop sell the only snowboard gear available in Salt Lake City, but Nazari also started an official shop snowboarding team, dubbed the “Salty 8,” Utah’s first snowboarders to be sponsored for riding. All this was helping to make Salt Lake City and the rest of Utah a major hub for the culture and the sport itself. (Scheuerman, “Re-search”)

Utah is home to a very large ski and snowboarding community, so much that the license plates even claim the state has the “Greatest snow on earth.” Snowboarding’s culture and industry will continue to grow around the world as well as in Utah, while creating jobs at resorts, shops, local businesses, and elsewhere in Salt Lake City. With an industry booming and more people moving to Utah for the snow all the time, snowboarding will always have a home in Salt Lake City.

Stephen Konkler is a senior at The University of Utah, majoring in communication and minoring in design.

Sources

Erin Halcomb, “Dennis Nazari, an interview by Erin Halcomb,” March 28, 2012, Everette L Cooley Collection, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Erin Halcomb, “Josh Scheuerman, an interview by Erin Halcomb, part 1,” November 8, 2011, Everette L Cooley Collection, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Erin Halcomb, “Josh Scheuerman, an interview by Erin Halcomb, part 2,” December 6, 2011, Everette L Cooley Collection, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Paul J. MacArthur, “Snowboarding, It’s Older Than You Think,” International Skiing Association, December 1, 2016, http://bit.ly/2oVZwMI.

Josh Scheuerman, “Snowboarding in Utah: An Adolescent Sport Grows Up,” Sports Guide, Winter 2009, 10-14. http://bit.ly/2pspLva

Josh Scheuerman, “Re-search and Destroy: A Brief History of Snowboarding’s Roots in Utah,” SLUG Magazine, March 2001, 6-7. http://www.slugmag.com/pdf/147-March-2001.pdf

Sheehan, Gavin. “Salty Peaks.” City Weekly, August 242009. http://bit.ly/2nM5v75

“Snowboard History Timeline, Part 1.” TransWorld Snowboarding, http://bit.ly/2mqe7T7

“Snowboard History Timeline, Part 2.” TransWorld Snowboardinghttp://bit.ly/2mHJeW0

Advertisement for Winterstick, Newsweek, March 1975.

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