Now Showing on The Ski Channel: First Descent, The Story of the Snowboarding Revolution

Posted By: Zeke Piestrup on June 1, 2009 3:28 pm

I was the first snowboarder in Big Bear.  If I die today, that will be my claim to (no)fame.  Saw somebody snowboarding somewhere on TV, asked for one for Christmas, and boom!   It was 1984.  Snow Summit didn’t allow snowboarding, so I learned on the small hill in my back yard.  Hiked every step.  Loved every moment.  On the days Snow Forest, the small neighborhood ski resort, was operating, I was able to ride some real runs.  Burton Performer Elite 140.  The 1985 version without the swallow tail that would come on the following year’s model.  My boots were Sorels.

The day Snow Summit opened their doors to snowboarders was a big one.  Still there were very few of “us” that first day.  And it was an Us, as snowboarding in those early days was a tribe.  But, I certainly did not view it in the skier vs. snowboarder petty dispute that would arise soon thereafter.  I viewed it as Burton vs. Sims.  At this time I had switched allegiances to the Sims Blade and Burton was now the enemy. 

On a lift ride that introductory day, I met the “Sims” of my Sims Blade, Tom Sims.  At least that’s who he told me he was.  I was skeptical even with the plain-white, graphic-less board he was riding.  A test model, he said.  I decided to humor him, but the next week, sure enough, there was Tom Sims pic in a magazine.  He was that goofy-looking dude on the chair with me!  Not only was I in the tribe, I was riding the chair with Cult Leaders!

The tribe grew slowly at first.  The first season Snow Summit offered snowboarding lessons, the entire crew of instructors were 16 and 17-year-olds.  Me and my buddies.  We taught the “wheel” method.  But, mostly we snowboarded.  And gave interviews.  Nary a lift ride went by without skier inquisition.  What is that?  How does it work?  How much fun is it?

Complete answers for the curious can be found in the definitive movie on the history of snowboarding.  Now showing on The Ski Channel: First Descent – The Story of the Snowboarding Revolution.  A revolution for which I was quite unaware.  I was on the front-end of the bell curve, but I did not ponder the implications of the oncoming onslaught.  An extra in the crowd.

The real players of this movement who shepherded snowboarding from “a bunch of punk kids” to a billion dollar business with mainstream Olympic credibility are all in First Descent: Jake Burton Carpenter, Chuck Barefoot, Tom Sims, Jaime Lynn, Jim Rippey, Chris Roach, Todd Richards, Mike Basich and Tina Basich, Chris Roach, and a ton others.

In First Descent, the story of snowboarding’s history (narrated by Henry Rollings) is interwoven with a trip to the big, scary mountains of Alaska with five of the world’s best.  An every-generation crew with Shawn Farmer repping the 80s, Nick Perata repping the 90s, Terje Haakonsen repping all-time, and Shaun White and Hannah Teter serving as today’s American Idols.

Highlights abound.  But, Travis Rice’s surviving an avalanche makes this a must see.  A two-foot deep slab breaks off, an island of snow careening down the hill with Rice dead in the middle.  With his life on the line, Rice pulls of the impossible.  Traveling at the same speed of the avalanche, Rice ducks into the avalanche wave to get an edge on the hard, static layer below forcing a turn out of the straight-line death machine.  A move thought impossible, Rice pulls off the unheard and is rewarded with his life.

First Descent has it all.  The back story, the current story, and the cinematography to blow minds.  Find it: Look under “Sports”, you’ll see The Ski Channel, and click on First Descent.  It’s free on VOD!

When the Volkl Gotamas came out, my snowboard was retired.  But, I look down on my Gotamas and thank snowboarding for getting skiing out of its doldrums.  Ski manufacturers had stalled-out on a parabolic plane.  Snowboarding infused its rival brother with a rethinking.  Folks like Mike Douglas were part of that rethinking, and the elder two-planked sibling reinvented itself.  The new sport of skiing.  And make no mistake, skiing is a completely new sport.  Snowboarding is a big reason why.  First Descent, as a result, is not just a story for snowboarders, but for anyone who enjoys the thrill of flying down a mountain.

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Zeke Piestrup ( More Posts)

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