Snowboarding, a history

According to local history, residents of a remote village in Turkey’s Kaçkar Mountains have been riding sideways on flat, rectangular boards for some 400 years to make travelling in deep snow easier. Known as a lazboard, a rope is attached near the front for balance and the rider uses a stick in their rear hand for steering. There are also stories of Austrian miners riding a similar device, known as a ruariser knappenroesser, at about the same time. 

Widely recognised as the precursor of the modern snowboard, the 'Snurfer' was developed in 1965, by engineer Sherman Poppen of Muskegon, Michigan. Initially made by simply bolting two snow skis together, later models had a rope at the front for steering, riding the Snurfer did not require any special boots or bindings. 

In the late 1960s, Dimitrije Milovich, a surfer, met Wayne Stoveken, who made surfboards but had started designing ‘snow-surfboards’. Milovich, inspired by what he saw, started developing his own designs in 1972 and in the same year patented the Swallowtail, the first modern snowboard. With magazine articles in Newsweek and others generating interest he founded the Winterstick company in 1976. Exhibiting at trade shows generated interest from retailers and the sport of snowboarding grew steadily. 

Although welcomed in French ski resorts, in the mid 1980’s snowboarders were banned at many American ski resorts and the few which allowed snowboarding required riders to pass competency tests before being allowed on the slopes.     

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognised how popular it was becoming and its’ youth appeal (since 1990, 75 to 80 percent of the market has been in the 12 to 24 years old age group). The IOC wanted to include snowboarding at the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics, but the Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS) resisted, as they saw snowboarding as a threat to skiing. To overcome this the IOC gave the FIS the administrative power over Olympic snowboarding and the International Snowboarding Federation (ISF) was excluded. 

It is interesting to note that the first Para Snowboard World Championships did not take place until 2015, a year after its’ Paralympic debut.

Snowboarding, a Paralympic sport

Previously known as Adaptive Snowboard, Para snowboard only debuted at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games as part of the alpine skiing programme, although riders had been campaigning for it to be included since 2005. 

Attracting worldwide media interest, the two medal events in mens and womens snowboard-cross time trial for athletes with lower-limb impairments were seen as very successful. Following this success, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) introduced banked slalom events at the Pyeongchang 2018 Games.

Para Snowboard - new Paralympic Winter Sport

What para-snowboard is all about and how the experts define this new Paralympic discipline. Hear athletes explain the sport, equipment and rules.

Snowboarding events at the Paralympic Winter Games

  • 2014 Sochi, Russia - Standing snowboard cross, included in the alpine skiing statistics which show 40 countries and 214 athletes (158 men and 56 women) participated.

British snowboarding medal winners

There were no ParalympicsGB competitors at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. 

Disclaimer -
Some information from earlier Paralympic Games (i.e. 1960-1988) such as relay and team members are not presented in the IPC source data. Therefore, final results, medal standings and derived statistics may not be complete.

Important note on the definition of participants: Only athletes that appear in the official results books in the section of final results are included in the database and counted towards participant statistics. Data for 2014 and 2016 are accurate. Statistics for previous Games are under review by the IPC.
Important note on competition partners: Competition partners eligible for medals are included in the combined participant statistics until 2014. Statistics for 2016 and beyond consider athletes with an impairment and their competition partners separately.

Rules of para snowboarding

Athlete classification for snowboarding currently has three categories, SB-LL1 and SB-LL2 for lower-limb and SB-UL for upper-limb impairments, though the IPC recognise that ‘The sport is under development and with its growth the classification system will be refined gradually’. 

The impairment types covered are impaired muscle power, impaired range of motion, limb deficiency, ataxia (disorders that affect co-ordination, balance and speech), leg-length difference, hypertonia (decreased muscle tone) and athetosis (a type of cerebral palsy which causes almost constant involuntary movements). 

Class definitions -

  • SPORT CLASS SB-LL1: Athletes classified in the SB-LL1 sport class will have a significant impairment in one leg, for example an above knee amputation, or a significant combined impairment in two legs, for example significant muscle weakness or spasticity in both legs. This will affect their ability to balance, control the board and absorb the terrain. Athletes with amputations will use prosthesis during the races.
  • SPORT CLASS SB-LL2: Snowboarders in the SB-LL2 sport class will have an impairment in one or two legs with less activity limitation. A typical example is a below knee amputation or mild spasticity.
  • SPORT CLASS SB-UL: Snowboarders in the SB-UL class have impairments of the upper limbs, which impacts on the ability to balance when racing down the slopes.

 Athletes can use adaptive equipment including snowboard and orthopaedic aids. The Equipment Rulebook describes general rules:

  • Safety (should not harm the athlete, spectators or environment)
  • Fairness (regulated in our rules)
  • Universality (the principal components must be commercially available and affordable)
  • Physical prowess (no motor, computer, robotically components)

It also provides guidance on acceptable:

  • Orthotic devices – an externally applied device used to modify the structural and functional characteristics of the neuro-muscular and skeletal systems (For stabilising, support, compensation, protection, prevention).
  • Prosthetic devices – an externally applied device used to replace wholly, or in part, an absent or deficient limb segment.

Snowboard cross
The course may include features excluding: gap jumps, corner jumps, spines and double spines, cutting banks, giant slalom turns and negative banks.
In the qualification phase, athletes individually complete three runs down the course, their fastest run being used to determine their placing, from fastest to slowest. 
In the finals, the number of competitors in each heat is decided by the jury with the competitors racing against each other to determine their final placing.

Added for the Pyeongchang 2018 Games, banked slalom
The course is a pitched slope which should have bumps and dips, and preferably a U-shape/natural valley.
Athletes individually complete three runs down the course, their fastest run being used to determine their placing, from fastest to slowest. 

Governing bodies

Since 2018 GB Snowsport (GBS) has been recognised by the British Paralympic Association (BPA) and IPC as the UK National Governing Body.

Regional groups

The British Paralympic Association has created an online directory, Parasport, where you can search for and find out about sport and physical activity in your area. Disability Snowsport UK also has a wealth of information on ski and snowboarding groups around the country that are accessible and cater for those with a disability, visit their website for more information here.