Mar 19th, 2018, 12:30 PM

A Snowboarder Among Skiers

By Izzy Christian
Image credit: Flickr/marleahjoy
The evolution of a snowboarder in Europe.

As a kid growing up in sunny Southern California, I became immersed in the surf lifestyle. I even used the words 'gnarly' and 'sick' to describe everything from waves to food. So, it seems only natural that I would begin my first time on the mountain as a snowboarder, right? Wrong. My parents are British, so the surfer lingo stopped as soon as I walked through the front door. Eye rolls and dismissive comments would ensue whenever my sister and I used these typical Californian phrases, and don't even get me started on the torturous teasing my cousins would take part in when I visited England for summer. I was given no option but to learn to ski. Skiing was only thing my parents knew how to teach, and an activity they had been doing most winter months until my sister and I were born. Don't get me wrong - they're not competitive skiers, but they do love to ski. I started skiing at the age of six and by seven I was pointing my skis straight down the mountain with not a drop of fear in my veins. I was lovingly called "the flying pink meringue" by my family as I careened past them down the mountain (my jacket was a rosy shade of pink and very voluminous). Though as I grew older, snowboarding became more tempting. I passed cool, older girls in the cafeteria on the slopes at lunchtime in their comfortable, baggy pants with sweatshirts on top and couldn't help but feel jealous of their swagger. 


Image credit: Flickr/taylormiles

So, at the ripe age of 11, I decided that I was going to take up snowboarding. My parents encouraged me to do what I loved and enrolled my twin sister and myself into a snowboarding lesson at Mammoth Mountain, California over our "ski week". I put away my pink meringue jacket and went to Sport Chalet to make sure that I had the newest Roxy snowboarding outfit. The fashion was more impressive in my opinion; sweatshirts and loose-fitting pants in bright colors replaced tight ski get-ups that had to look streamlined and chic. Snowboarders care less about how they look, in California at least. As I went through middle and high school, most of my friends decided to snowboard as well, if they didn't already. If you skied, you were the odd one out. In Mammoth, the ratio of skiers to snowboarders is roughly 50/50 but to my younger self, it always seemed like there were more boarders than skiers. As I got older, my experience snowboarding in California couldn't have been better. Getting off the chairlifts with my group of friends always consisted of sitting down, clipping in our bindings together, and setting off down the mountain at the same time, zig-zagging down the slopes in S shapes as one big group. The surf culture of my Southern Californian town had crossed over into snowboarding as we yelled to each other "Yo that black diamond is gnarly dude, don't go down there!" But, my perfect snowboarder world was shattered the moment I clipped into my binding at the bottom of the first chairlift in Lech, Austria.

My family moved to London in 2009 and my sister and I attended the American School in London. "Ski week" vacation in London was just a little different to that in California. I was 14-years-old when I went to Austria for the first time and couldn't be more thrilled to snowboard somewhere other than Mammoth, where I had torn up the same monotonous slopes for eight years. I was shocked to find that out of 12 people, only one other person was snowboarding other than my sister and I. He was the most fearless boy of the group and was up for any level slope, unlike me, who had digressed from a daring skier to a cautious snowboarder. The snowboarding lifestyle did not exist in Austria and it was not seen as a status symbol like back in California. Another shock to my Californian system was the outfit worn by the average European female skier. I had never seen a chicer woman on the slopes than those in a Moncler fur-collared jacket with a nipped-in waist and tight legging style pants (all black of course). I felt like the biggest outsider. Here, my baggy sweatshirt-and-pants look did not work in my favor. Before even setting off on that first chairlift in Lech, I had buckled my bindings only to realize that my snowboard had been resting on the back of someone else's skis. I was immediately scolded and yelled at in German. Dirty looks and comments were obvious as I became used to snowboarding in a European country surrounded by skiers. Not even my friends would wait for me at the top of the chairlift so I could strap my back foot to my board. Dorothy certainly was not in Kansas anymore.


Image credit: Flickr/ agodschild

Since I snowboarded in Austria that very first time, I have been back to Europe to snowboard with my family, and my thin Californian skin has become thicker. I no longer take notice of the stares that come with being the only snowboarder in a group of skiers and comments about the frequent stopping to buckle my binding. I wear my baggy snowboard clothes with pride and recently in even brighter colors than before. Last week I was in Cortina, Italy snowboarding and saw more female snowboarders than I had in Austria. I was also surprised by the lack of animosity towards snowboarding while in Italy, but it also wasn't peak season and there were hardly any lines for chairlifts. No chance for a similar run-in to happen like the one in Austria. I still felt like I didn't fit in at the sophisticated Italian mountain restaurants in my snowboarding gear, but this thought only lasted for a second in my mind before I sat down to enjoy my pasta like everyone else there. If there were any stares, I have officially become immune to them.

Image credit: Izzy Christian

In the United States, California especially, snowboarding is a lifestyle. With it comes language, vocabulary, fashion, and friends. On the other hand, in Europe, snowboarding is less common than skiing because it is very non-traditional and came on the scene roughly 20 years later. Skiing is the lifestyle and culture in Europe. As an American-Brit snowboarding in Europe, I feel like an outsider, but this is one of the only ways I can hold on to my California surfer roots across the pond. When I first started snowboarding in Mammoth Mountain, California, the main reason was to fit in with the "cool crowd" and the rest of my friends, but nowadays I'm proud of my difference among the skiers on the mountain in Europe. I ride my snowboard with a feeling of individuality, that most of the time no one around me is doing the same thing.