Skiers may scoff, but snowboarders are finally being accepted by the slopes' old guard

Susie Tjossem will never forget the first, and last, time she stepped on a snowboard.

"Jake Burton came out, just before Vail decided to allow snowboarding, in 1987," says Tjossem, who was then the vice president of sports and recreation for Vail Resorts. Vail was one of the last ski areas in Colorado to allow snowboarding.

"He pulled up in his van with all these snowboards to have Vail Resorts people test as part of our decision-making process. They took us to the top of the lift, never having experienced snowboarding before, gave us a brief introduction and said 'Go for it,' as if it were the easiest thing in the world. Well, I body-slammed forward, backwards, forward, backwards, over and over again, the whole way down the slope.

"In the end, we all agreed it should be allowed at Vail," acknowledges Tjossem, who is now executive director of the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame. "By that point, we were already on the wrong side of history."

For the museum, that history dates back to 1976, when it opened in Vail, just as some of the earliest snowboarders were clamoring to be allowed on the slopes. Their homemade boards and makeshift bindings looked like death traps — and lawsuits — to ski-area operators and their insurance companies. But by 1977, Berthoud Pass Ski Area had snowboards dangling from its chairlift. Within a decade, nearly every ski area in Colorado had come around, and by 1998, snowboarding had become an Olympic sport.

It now accounts for 31 percent of all winter visits to ski areas, according to SnowSports Industries America, and each of the state's 25 ski areas now specifically caters to snowboarders with rentals, lessons and increasingly massive terrain parks. Even skiing itself has been influenced: Ski Halfpipe and Ski and Snowboard Slopestyle events will all make their Olympic debuts in 2014 at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

But change came snowplow-slow at the museum — formerly known as the Colorado Ski Museum. When Tjossem came on board in 2007, her first order of business was adding the word "Snowboard" to the name. "I'm embarrassed to say that to this day, the sign on the building still says 'Ski Museum,'" she says.

In 2008, Tjossem recruited the first — and still the only — snowboarder to its board of directors: Trent Bush, co-owner of the Boulder-based companies Brandbase, Technine Snowboards and Nomis Design.

Bush and fellow boarders David Alden and Kurt Olesek had been working on an online version of the Snowboard Archive (Olesek is also working on a book on Colorado snowboard history) and dreaming of some day opening their own museum. When Bush approached Tjossem about collaborating on it, she decided to bring him on. Since then, the three men have had free rein to build and organize the Snowboard Archive.

"Before I came in, we did have boardmembers in their upper decades who would argue that snowboarding just doesn't have enough history to warrant a significant section in the museum, that it just wasn't old enough," Tjossem says.

The very idea of snowboard "history," with its lingering whiff of 1980s neon zinc sunscreen, still makes some skiers scoff.

But on December 8, Tjossem is hoping to close the book on the contentious battle between skiers and snowboarders with the opening of the Colorado Snowboard Archive, a major collection of snowboards, gear and memorabilia that tells the story of snowboarding's rise to popularity in Colorado and around the world. The collection is taking over a room previously devoted to the Hall of Fame exhibit, making it the third-largest exhibit in the building, after the museum's prize collection of World War II-era artifacts from the 10th Mountain Division and its extensive ski-history exhibit.

"It's been a slow climb toward this level of acceptance and inclusion of snowboarding," Tjossem concedes, "but we're trying our best."

The timing couldn't be better: On November 4, the museum met in Denver with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame to discuss the creation of an International Center for Snowsports History and Art, a collaboration that could serve as a second outpost for both museums and would house the Mason Beekley Collection of skiing art and photography (now at the Mammoth Mountain Ski Museum in California). David Scott, chairman of the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum's board of directors, says the proposed site for the joint operation is in Denver's recently renovated McNichols Building — a site that the city has slated for cultural activities.

Despite her getting her ass handed to her by that snowboard in 1987, Tjossem has since become one of the sport's strongest advocates. "I never did have the nerve to try it again after that first day," she says. "I have nothing but respect and admiration for anybody who can make it down the mountain on a snowboard."


Bush has been snowboarding since the mid-1980s and got his first job at the Wave Rave snowboard shop in Boulder when he was still in high school. In fact, he proudly proclaims that he's never worked outside of the snowboard industry.

Alden, a professional snowboarder who rode for the Burton Pro team from 1983 to 1990, is a snowboarding safety pioneer who also got his start in the 1980s, giving snowboarding lessons. His brother, Rick Alden, is the founder of Park City, Utah-based Skullcandy, which makes high-end headphones, MP3 players, watches and other accessories for outdoor-sports enthusiasts.

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Shawn Carter
Shawn Carter

Great article on the evolution of thinking in the snowsports industry. Unfortunately the players show a great amount of local prejudice and as a result have either overlooked or omitted some of the most important history. "Pre-internet" tribal knowledge is priceless and hard to come by but with diligent research, historians can find kernels of truth leading to a wealth of significant and important information worthy of museum inclusion.

Good luck with this project

Shawn Carter


Great story...about a great new addition to the history museum.

William Breathes
William Breathes

great article Colin. Looking forward to getting some turns in with you this winter.

Mike Gagliardi
Mike Gagliardi

Stoked to come up to Vail and see this museum finally opened up to snowboard history.....there's some great stories, personalities, struggles and fun wrapped up in all that wood, p tex, plastic and fiberglass. Great job Trent, Dave and Kurt!

Ashley Denton
Ashley Denton

When I started skiing in 1975, I could have never imagined the idea of snow boarding. But technology never ceases to amaze me. Have you noticed that over the past few years skis are starting to look more and more like snow boards? They are wider and more balanced like a board… I’m a boarder and a skiier so I welcome the innovations… but I do have to give kudos to the riders who broke out with the new technology years ago, because it has made ski technology all the better. As it gets cold out there, one thing I'm thinking about though is that the only thing that can ruin an otherwise great day is if you haven’t thought through your clothing layering system for winter weather. So before you head out to the slopes this winter, you need to make sure you have the right outdoor layering systems in place. Then its all down hill from there! If you are interested, here is a link to my blog on outdoor layering systems. Happy riding:


I remember riding Breckenridge in 1984 on my Burton Performer 140 Elite. Sick board with the swallow tail and three skaggs on the bottom. That was fun back in the 80's, the half pipes were about 6 ft tall.

Dutch Booking
Dutch Booking

I was at that 1986 Breckenridge 1/2pipe championship!

Trent Bush
Trent Bush


I couldn't agree more with the "pre-internet tribal knowledge" comment. That was the real reason to do this project in the first place, as I never wanted a historian to base a project like this solely on research, as they would never get even 10% of what really went down in snowboarding, no matter how much time they spend.

I don't agree, however, with the "Unfortunately the players show a great amount of local prejudice and as a result have either overlooked or omitted some of the most important history" part. Between Kurto, David, and myself, we have been living in/working in/documenting/building not only in the Colorado, but the global snowboard industry every day since the early 80's. We are going to include as much of the early local history in the museum as possible, but space just won't let us tell the whole story. That is what this hopeful Denver expansion and our forthcoming web presence can only solve.

The boards Colin mentioned in the article are the ones that the general public can relate to, and comprise about 20% of what is actually in there, to hopefully generate enough interest for less informed/passionate people to come and check out the museum.

I totally understand the sentiment that this is just going to be another condensed Burton/Sims/Barfoot/Snurfer history of snowboarding, but it's not. Of course those stories are some of the most compelling and important, but Colorado was the crossroads of snowboarding back then, and luckily we had a first hand view of it, all the way to today. This includes all of the most influential riders, brands, retail shops, events, and artifacts that have gotten snowboarding to where it is now.

I would love to find out what you think we are missing, because truthfully, YES, we may be missing something important. This project is not going to be perfect in everyone's eyes, but I haven't seen too many other people taking it on, especially on a 100% volunteer basis. We spend our own time and money because it is important to us. If there was money in it, it wouldn't have taken almost a decade for this to become a reality, or someone else would have done it.

PLEASE (Shawn or anyone else) feel free to hit me at if you have any help you are willing to lend, stories to tell, or artifacts to share...


Colin Bane
Colin Bane

Shawn: I'd be curious to know if you feel the same way after getting up to the museum. It does tell some Colorado stories prominently -- this is the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum, after all -- and those were emphasized in my story, but the collection is actually quite comprehensive and very impressive... and growing.