Snowboarding Uniforms: From a Cultural Divide to a Uniting Force

This year marked Shawn White’s fifth Olympic Games and the seventh for the sport of snowboarding as a whole. That sentence means something to anyone, no matter their background. How did a sport not in the Olympics as recently as 28 years ago come to such prominence? As discussed by New Zealand sociologist Holly Thorpe, snowboarding “initially developed in opposition to skiing.” Even as snowboarding has become more widespread, snowboarders have maintained their unique style. In wishing to divide themselves from skiers, snowboarders have had much more freedom to develop the clothing and styles associated with the sport. In line with this, Thorpe discusses how the clothing in the sport went from ugly purple and teal to a more rebellious “Big Jean Fantasy” style as wealthier individuals entered the sport. This style, which we associate with early snowboarders, does not apply to the whole sport though, but to a group of snowboarders whom John Fry, inventor of the Nastar ski racing system, calls “So-Cal Skaters.” Snowboarders in the West disparaged those in the East, seeing their way of snowboarding as being “for dorks.” Naturally, anger from skiers and media attention gravitated towards these “So-Cal Skaters,” so this was the public image garnered by the sport as a whole. Holly Thorpe described this image, which was well established by the mid to late 1990’s: “Male snowboarders appropriated the fearless, aggressive and heterosexual representation of the urban gangster.” So how did this very individualistic and unorganized style translate into a competition defined by the teams that compete in it?

Hannah Teter of the USA reacts finishing her first run in the women’s snowboard halfpipe final at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010.
Photograph Credit: AP Photo/Marcio Sanchez (Reproduced with Permission Under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License)


Thank you to my family for introducing me to snowboarding and sparking my interest in the Olympics as a competition.


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