This season marks the 30th anniversary of snowboarding at Grand Targhee Resort as well as the resort’s 50th year.
While snowboarders abound on the slopes today, it wasn’t always that way. In the 1970s and early ’80s, snowboarders were banned from using ski lifts, both at Grand Targhee Resort and many other resorts in the region.
In his 1988 film “Escape to Ski,” filmmaker Warren Miller said, “Today, a quarter of a million snowboarders in America have grown up riding a skateboard — with one foot in front of the other. Yet, some ski resorts still won’t let them use their lifts. What if snowboards had been invented before skis? Then the snowboard resorts wouldn’t let skiers use their snowboard lifts.”
“Dumb,” Miller added.
In the 1980s, two young Idaho Falls snowboarders experienced the resistance described by Miller at mountain resorts in the region. After falling in love with snowboarding, they sought to change Grand Targhee’s policy on the new sport because they wanted to ride what they considered to be the best hill.
Mark Austin, 48, and Barry Slaughter Olsen, 48, were friends at Bonneville High School who grew up skiing the slopes near Idaho Falls before eventually being drawn to snowboarding.
For Austin and Olsen, snowboarding was about having fun on the board and exploring the whole mountain.
“I could do so much more, go so many more places on the mountain and do a lot more things with the mountain on a snowboard,” Austin said. “This is really playing on the mountain.”
At the time, traditional skiers and ski resorts resisted the rise of snowboarding. Olsen said skiers would watch snowboarders doing tricks and jumping around and they would wonder “Why are they doing that?” and proclaim “They shouldn’t be doing that.”
“It was all about goofy hairstyles and loud clothing,” Olsen said. “And doing things that were pushing the envelope.”
After graduating from high school in 1988, the pair took a trip to Mount Hood, Ore., for a newly founded snowboard certification school. There they learned to teach snowboarding in the mornings and skateboarded on the roads at night.
Returning to Idaho Falls as licensed snowboard instructors, Austin and Olsen were frustrated they couldn’t ride their favorite mountain because Grand Targhee still didn’t allow snowboards.
“Targhee was a powder heaven,” Austin said. “It was the holy grail.”
Austin and Olsen decided to set up a meeting with new owners, Carol Mann and Mori Bergmeyer, who bought the resort in 1987. Olsen said he and Austin did their homework before the meeting, researching the monetary value and the growth of snowboarding.
They even made a video with interviews of ski shop owners, talking about skyrocketing snowboard sales.
“We knew that we had to make an economic case,” Olsen said.
Austin and Olsen wore khakis and collared shirts to the October 1988 meeting with the Targhee owners, hoping to reverse the “bad boy image” that West Coast snowboarding developed in the ’80s, Olsen said.
“We had a good meeting,” Austin said. “The time was right with a new owner, someone who had a vision for the resort.”
The owners were hesitant because there were insurance liabilities involved with the new sport.
“We had to be sure insurance would cover any possible mishaps,” Mann said. “The main issue was making sure there would be safety on the slopes.”
Austin and Olsen said they successfully convinced the owners to allow snowboarding. Mann said she doesn’t remember the meeting, but she and her former husband were planning to allow snowboarding anyway.
“It was really clear that a lot of people were loving that sport,” Mann said. “It was the right timing, the right place and it was a go and never turn back.”
Austin and Olsen were named head snowboarding instructors.
They took time off school during the ’88-’89 winter season to work full time as instructors (after convincing their parents that it would be a learning experience). They managed the snowboarding school budget, led instruction, did marketing and hosted events.
Austin and Olsen now live on the East Coast, and they still snowboard. They both will return, as special guests, to Grand Targhee in January.
“Those guys were really instrumental in getting acceptance of snowboarding at Targhee,” said Dustin Fletcher, Grand Targhee Resort’s marketing manager.
The snowboarding anniversary event Jan. 12-13 will likely include a quarter-pipe hand plant challenge (bonus points for rocking old school gear), a snowboard collector’s show and a social media competition for the best method (a traditional snowboarding trick), Fletcher said.