Skiers brace as barriers to snowboarding fall

TAOS SKI VALLEY, New Mexico (Reuters) - Skiing purists are grumbling this year as they brace for an influx of snowboarders at Taos Ski Valley, one of the last ski-only holdouts in a culture war between the two pursuits.

A man performs as part of the "Big Air Back" show a day before the snowboard FIS World cup competition in Bulgarian capital Sofia December 21, 2007. Skiing purists are grumbling this year as they brace for an influx of snowboarders at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico, one of the last ski-only holdouts in a culture war between the two pursuits. REUTERS/Nikolay Doychinov

Snowboarders will be able to roar down the resort’s steep trails and challenging terrain starting in March, a victory for enthusiasts who have waged a long battle for what their bumper stickers describe as a “Free Taos.”

Snowboarders stand on a single board almost surfer style and don’t use poles. Their brashness and daredevil antics turn off some skiers.

“I’m afraid of snowboarders because they are crazy,” said 30-year-old Alina Appasova from Houston as she ate breakfast at a lodge before hitting the Taos runs. “The major reason I come here is because they aren’t here.”

Taos made the announcement as it opened its slopes in mid-December and it was the hot topic of conversation from the chair lifts to the bars.

“A bad snowboarder is worse than a bad skier,” snorted one man on a Taos chair lift, a view echoed by many. Some people muttered darkly of fatal collisions on the hill.

Some U.S. resorts have addressed the issue by providing separate facilities for the two sports. But Taos says it will open all of its trails to both.


Snowboarding has rocketed from its modest forays in the 1980s and the number of snowboarders in America is now close to equal to the number of alpine or downhill skiers, according to Thomas Doyle, president of the National Ski and Snowboard Retailers Association.

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In 2006, over 5.2 million Americans snowboarded according to data compiled by the National Sporting Goods Association. That compares to just over 1.2 million in 1988.

The two sports differ not only in style on the slopes but also in culture off them. Snowboarders tend to be younger and have a hard-partying, happy-go-lucky image.

Some think this will bring a breath of fresh air to Taos.

“I think it’s great. It will bring a younger crowd and a lot more energy to the mountain,” said Jason Hutchins, 25, a Maine native who works at a Taos lodge and skis every opportunity he gets.

The “generation gap” between skiers and snowboarders also explains why so many resorts have accepted the latter -- because families want to be able to hit the hills together.

“What made us change our policy was the family component. If you have a family of five with one snowboarder you don’t lose one client but the whole family,” said Taos Ski Valley general manager Gordon Briner.

Danny Romero, a 61-year-old native of Albuquerque and a Taos ski enthusiast, would agree.

“My grandson snowboards and I’d love to have him here,” he said as he headed for the lifts.

Briner said the resort will wait until late in the season to lift the ban so it can accommodate clients who had been banking on a ski-only experience. Agents linked to Taos have seen a surge in bookings for the period around March 19, when the resort opens to snowboarders, he said.

That will leave only three U.S. ski venues that prohibit snowboarders -- Alta and Deer Valley in Utah, and Mad River Glen in Vermont -- all of which are seen maintaining their policies for now.

“We are a niche market because of a lot of different reasons including the fact that we are ski-only,” said Eric Friedman, marketing director for Vermont’s Mad River Glen.

Mad River Glen is unlikely to bow to commercial pressure to allow snowboarding as it is the only cooperative, not-for-profit ski area in the United States.

Snowboarders bristle at suggestions that they are irresponsible and pose a danger to skiers, noting that they have learned to live with each other at resorts such as Park City Mountain Resort in Utah.

“For the most part we get along,” said Derek Johnson, a 17-year-old snowboarder from Salt Lake City. “If they start something then sometimes there’s a fight that breaks out. But most of the time, if you give respect you get respect.”

Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Additional reporting by James Nelson at Park City Mountain Resort, Utah; Editing by Eddie Evans