A major new snowboard history exhibit titled "Colorado Snowboard Archive: Roots of a Movement" is now open at the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum in Vail, Colo. "We haven't had this kind of energy in here in long time," said Susie Tjossem, the museum's executive director, at a packed VIP reception on Thursday night. "This is a demographic that we haven't necessarily catered to in the past. In fact we've actually insulted them because we just haven't had a strong enough snowboard presence before now. This should go a long way towards making up for lost ground."
Tjossem, formerly vice president of sports and recreation at Vail Resort, was instrumental in bringing snowboarding to Vail's slopes in 1987 and formally changed the museum's name from Colorado Ski Museum to Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum when she came on as executive director in 2007. The museum previously had a small snowboard history timeline display and has inducted three snowboarders to its Hall of Fame to date -- Kevin Delaney, Jake Burton Carpenter, and, most recently, 2011 inductee Chris Klug, but "Roots of a Movement" marks a major new direction and embracement of snowboarding, Tjossem says.
Wendy and Julie Poppen were among the VIPs; their father, Sherm Poppen, invented the Snurfer in 1965. "My earliest memory is from 1965. My mom was pregnant with my sister and she was trying to get the rest of us out of the house to go play in the snow because we were driving her nuts," Wendy recalled. "We couldn't find anything to play on so we bound some old waterskis together and starting standing on them and sliding down. My mom yelled out the window, 'You should call it snurfing!' and I guess my dad thought it was a good idea."
Sherm Poppen later entered into a licensing agreement with the Brunswick Corporation to manufacture the boards that would become a precursor to modern snowboarding, selling more than a million of them in the next decade before Burton and others improved on the concept.
"It's totally awesome how far it's all come and to see, recognized here in the museum, the cumulative efforts of a lot of different people that lead to the groundswell," said Julie Poppen. "It's great to see all the pieces of how it evolved."
Ted Slater was also among the VIPs on Thursday: He says he got his first Snurfer as a Christmas present in 1965, and his ribbons and trophy for winning the the first Snurfer Championships in 1968 are now part of the museum's collection.
"The event wasn't much and winning it isn't much to boast about -- I don't think there was more than one or two of us who finished without crashing through the gates -- but we got this thing rolling and it's really cool to see it keep progressing," said Slater, who now lives in Telluride. "Frankly, I think snowboarding saved the ski industry. I really do."
The exhibit even boasts snowboards that predate the Snurfer, including a carpeted wooden board a young Tom Sims made in his 7th grade woodshop class in 1963 and two prototypes of the Bunker Sno-Surf, a snowboard patented in 1939.
Burton's early contributions are featured, as are pioneering innovations from Chuck Barfoot and a number of small companies now mostly lost to obscurity. There's also an emphasis on contributions from Colorado companies: "Chairman of the Board" Myron Knapschafer, who made the Hiper Snowboards popular on Colorado slops in the late 80s and early 90s, was among the VIPs on Thursday, as was Tim Canaday, who co-founded Swift Snowboards in 1983 and Never Summer in 1991.
David Alden, a former pro snowboarder who created the Colorado Snowboard Archive and the "Roots of a Movement" exhibit along with Kurt Olesek and Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum board member Trent Bush (owner of Technine and Nomis), says the night's most important VIPs were Ike and Lucy Garst, owners of the now-closed Berthoud Pass Ski Area, near Winter Park, Colo. The Garsts allowed snowboarders on their slopes and chairlifts as early as 1979, working with insurance companies to cover the sport in its infancy and paving the way for ski area acceptance in Colorado and around the world.
"If I could ask everybody in this room to be quiet and introduce just two people it would be Ike and Lucy Garst," Alden said. "Those two people made everything in this room possible. Without Ike and Lucy opening their arms to snowboarders and making a home for us at the crucial moment in our sport's history, it's possible that none of this could have happened here in Colorado."
Alden competed in contests at Berthoud Pass in the 80s, and eventually came to work on the mountain as, quite possibly, the world's first snowboard instructor: His old instructor name tag is hanging on the wall in the museum along with early contest posters and other memorabilia from the ski area, now a popular backcountry destination.
The exhibit illustrates the evolution of bindings, boots, soft goods, and snowboard videos and magazines from the 1980s through to the present day. Among the most contemporary pieces in the collection is Gretchen Bleiler's yellow Oakley snowsuit and the X Games bib she wore on her way to winning Women's Superpipe gold in 2010.
"Colorado Snowboard Archive: Roots of a Movement" will be a permanent display in the museum, according to Bush and Tjossem. It's also a work in progress, says Alden. "This museum wouldn't be possible if it weren't for a lot of people keeping old boards in their basements and hanging on to them until someone like us came along and recognized the value in them. If you have something that belongs here and would like to donate it, don't hesitate to contact us through the museum."